Upon my return back home, The Gaffer asked me to share some more thoughts and observations concerning my trip to England. Although our trip had to be cut slightly short, it’s incredible just how much we were able to see, do and experience in just a few weeks. A rewarding journey I’m still recovering from.
Without further explanation, here are 10 interesting observations, some football related, some not, I garnered while in England.
- In London, Everything Costs – They don’t call it the most expensive City in the world for nothing. Things like wi-fi, going to the bathroom and even ‘staying in’ to drink coffee and have a muffin at a cafe are followed by an additional cost. Most hotels in the States offer free wi-fi when you lodge with them, in London we stayed in a Premier Inn for a few days where a 24 hour block of wireless Internet was an astonishing £9 – roughly $14. As far as the cafes were concerned, the cost to stray in and dine was approximately 5% or so more for the same coffee and pastry that you could easily take away and enjoy without occurring the extra cost. Lastly, shuttle buses from Heathrow to a near by hotel also costs a few pounds. In the states, these rides are almost entirely free, a service the hotel you’re staying at shoulders as a perk to their guests. In London, these short trips cost a staggering £4 for each adult just one way. That’s £16 total which cost the Chula’s $25.15 for a short ride to and from the airport.
- That’s no Moon, It’s a Space Station – Equally, London isn’t a city, it’s a small country in and off itself. As Laurence McKenna and Rob Smyth played navigator to our exploits, the tube, or Underground, served as our way through and across massive London. Boasting more neighborhoods, boroughs, areas and markets than one could shake a stick at, London also hosts more nationalities, tourists and non-English speaking residents or part timers than I had expected to see. “Where were all the English?”, I thought to myself as we strolled through the amazing Camden Market. Maybe others were thinking the same thing about this tall American strolling past, who knows?
- The Police Have EVERYTHING Under Control on Match Day – Granted, I was only able to experience two matches total – England v Montenegro at Wembley and Manchester United v West Brom at Old Trafford – but the laid back nature of supporters on match day was a welcomed observation. I know sketchy behavior still exists in English football, but it seems to have rid itself from top flight football in England thanks in equal parts to fans and police. The pubs and shops outside of Old Trafford on match day were packed and overflowing, yet everyone seemed to go about their business in an excited yet controlled manner. What an atmosphere!
- London’s Street Performers are World Class – Take the tube to Westminster station and cross the Westminster Bridge towards the London Eye and London Aquarium. Continue down the path walking parallel to the River Thames and there you’ll witness some of the coolest street performers in the world. If it wasn’t the Mexicans playing Jazz music or the Michael Jackson impersonator, it was the unreal living statues or the art students painting masterpieces on the sidewalk. Truly a free experience I’d recommend to anyone seeing London for the first time.
- How Did British Cuisine Get Such a Bad Reputation? – We ate not one questionable meal during the entire journey. Granted we were in nice areas filled with your choice on the world’s menu of food, but even Manchester offered delicious cuisine and not the bland, tasteless food I was told I’d experience. Manchester’s Pesto offered tasty Italian dishes in the tapas style, the Pubs in Euston had great burgers and fish and chips, while The Hobgoblin Pub in New Cross served delicious Thai food and fittingly, Hobgoblin Ale.
- Manchester Is My Kind Of City – Manchester offers the kind of smaller town vibe I was looking for as opposed to the insanity of London’s sirens and over-crowding. Although Manchester is no country town, the streets were less crowded as it’s not the tourist destination that London is. I quickly befriended the hotel owner and one employee at the place we stayed at for the weekend, The Copperhead Hotel. While we were 7 minutes walk from the City Centre, it was easy enough getting around on foot and catching a 15 minute ride by train to Old Trafford. Manchester, I’ll be seeing you again for sure.
- Be Prepared to Walk – Not really a surprise or an aspect of the trip I wasn’t already expecting, but if you’re headed across the pond for your first visit soon, make sure you’re in decent shape. Attempting to hire a car and drive myself was sure to prove an impossible feat for a myriad of reasons. Grab an Oyster card (which gets you around on the tube) and the city is yours, just keep in mind a massive amount of walking is needed to reach your final destination. In the States, we’re not used to walking as much as in Europe. This is O.K., now you know you can eat more food and drink more beer cause you’ll have walked it all off by the time you get home.
- Beer Drinkers, Welcome Home – I’m a self proclaimed beer snob. American domestics interest me in the slightest. Their weak, watered down taste features nothing in a beer I enjoy. When you go to the UK, you never have to worry about them. The much better European lagers are seemingly everywhere and are usually accompanied by a few local Ales or lesser known English beers. All are brilliant, tasty and available all day long. Also, pints in England a bigger than pints in the States, so enjoy a few pints before the match or a nice Ale with dinner.
- Communication is the Only Way – The one huge mistake I made pre-trip was not preparing an international calling plan for my phone. I live and breath by my iPhone and decided the best way to proceed with the trip was to turn it on ‘Airplane’ mode and just use it as a camera and on wi-fi when applicable. This was a mistake. Not having the 3G service I had been used to was a shock while not being able to look up directions when needed using MapQuest or Google Maps really put certain aspects of the trip in jeopardy. I was soon forced to purchase a temporary phone from Vodafone for £20 – roughly $30. This helped and is essentially a cheaper way to communicate with those on the ground in England as opposed to paying AT&T or Verizon those hefty international roaming fees. Basic temporary phones from Vodafone come with 100 minutes and 300 text messages, a savior for the trip.
- Get Your Match Tickets Before You Arrive – Unless you’re planning on attending some Championship, League One or League Two football, get your match tickets before you head over. Everything worked out fine in the end, but my decision to wait to buy United tickets until the weekend of almost proved disastrous. Thanks to the Guardian’s Rob Smyth and some last minute message board investigation, I was able to meet a fellow supporter 30 minutes before the match to buy tickets, definitely not the way you want to leave things. If you’re trying to avoid the fees involved with club membership etc., that’s fine, but still find some way to reserve your entry into your favorite club before you board your flight over. Keep in mind that the tools at your disposal to communicate with others to purchase something – your phone, the Internet – may not be available to you when in a different country. Making the trip over requires enough planning and patience already that you don’t want to leave one of the most important aspects of your trip, actually seeing the football, to chance.