As a 22-year-old American postgraduate student at the University of Reading, I’m in heaven.
Let me explain. Like an already massive and ever-growing number of American kids, I grew up playing soccer, and continued playing until I went to college. Watching soccer at its highest level, though, was difficult. Major League Soccer, when I was younger, was nowhere near as popular, successful, and competitive as it is now.
The Premier League hadn’t yet come to television in the United States as it does now, but times have certainly changed. Trust me. By living in England at the moment, I can watch far more Premier League games on TV in a given week in the US than I can in England.
I’m looking forward to getting home for Christmas and spending my mornings and early afternoons watching as many of the festive fixtures as I can. The jam-packed schedule at this time of year is the busiest part of the Premier League season, and there’s no place I’d rather be than home to watch it all.
With that said, however, as much as I love being able to watch games on TV, there’s nothing quite like attending a match in person. Television simply doesn’t capture the atmosphere of 30,000-40,000 fans chanting on any given matchday. It is an experience that is indescribable, other than to say that if you ever have a chance to go to a Premier League game, you have to do it.
As someone who loves soccer, though, I don’t just love the Premier League. I studied for a semester in London last year and was able to get to a number of games, including Fulham v Wolfsburg in the Europa League quarterfinals. I watched my favorite club, Aston Villa, on their away trips to Chelsea, Portsmouth, and Fulham. I saw Q.P.R. host Cardiff in the Championship, and League One Brighton host Bristol Rovers at the Withdean Stadium (perhaps the worst ground I’ve ever attended). Being in London was great; tube and train links to almost any stadium in London and cities beyond are fabulous, and travel was easy.
I’ve been in Reading since the beginning of October. Travel hasn’t quite been as easy, I must admit. Trains in England are now much more expensive than they were last year. That hasn’t stopped me from going to games, though, and here are some of my personal highlights:
Reading v Derby County (October 18): Sitting right next to the Derby bench, I watched their manager Nigel Clough repeatedly curse his own players with some of the worst expletives you’ll ever hear, and engage in entertaining banter with the home supporters in the crowd. The match ended 2-2, with all 4 goals coming in the last 30 minutes of the game. Oh, and Robbie Savage performed a Strictly Come Dancing routine on the field at halftime with his gorgeous partner.
Aston Villa v West Brom (October 22): This was my first trip ever to Villa Park, which gave me goosebumps when I saw it, despite the fact that the stadium is in the middle of a terrible neighborhood. On top of that, this is a heated local derby. West Brom stole a 2-1 win against 10-man Villa, and from my seat in the famous Holte End, I saw a penalty scored and a penalty missed, as well as that (incorrect) sending off.
Fulham v Wisla Krakow (November 3): £10 for a ticket to this Europa League game seemed like a great deal to me, and I was rewarded. Fulham won 4-1 with Andy Johnson scoring one of the best goals you’ll see all season:
Villa v Norwich (November 5): My second trip to Birmingham was successful, with my boys winning 3-2 behind a great performance from Gabby Agbonlahor. My seat was right next to where some of the Norwich staff and players who couldn’t fit on the bench were sitting, and it was fun talking to them throughout the 90 minutes. Not as high-and-mighty as I expected professionals in their position to be. On the contrary, they were all decent guys, even in defeat.
Swindon Town v Aldershot (November 26): This was the most dominating performance I’ve seen, with the home side thoroughly deserving their 2-0 win and playing some great stuff on the way. Just as entertaining, though, was watching Swindon boss and West Ham legend Paolo di Canio, in typical Italian fashion, gesticulating wildly with his hands, talking excitedly throughout the game, and looking immaculately stylish in his expensive Italian clothes while doing so.
Television is great – don’t get me wrong – but you’re relying on the producer to give you views of everything. At a game yourself, you can watch whatever you want, and the beauty of soccer is you can see something different at every single game. It is the only sport where a team can be significantly worse than its opponent for 90 minutes and still win, or significantly better for the duration and still lose. As I said above, if you ever have a chance to attend a match in person, you simply can’t pass it up. You never know what you’ll see.
This Saturday, I’ll be going down to the South Coast to watch Southampton play Blackpool, and the hosts have won 19 league games in a row at St Mary’s Stadium. Even so, with the way Ian Holloway likes his teams to play, I wouldn’t be shocked if Blackpool came out of there with a result, and again, that’s just what is so special about this game we love so much.