The sky above Pasadena was still bright blue as a red sea of Manchester United faithful filled the Rose Bowl to see their recast club face the L.A. Galaxy on a sultry Wednesday night.
The 86,432 who packed into L.A.’s historic college football venue, greater than any UCLA Bruins crowd last season, endured a half-hour kickoff delay in stride as Manchester United’s bus got stuck in traffic. A police escort ensured that they didn’t have to reenact Michael Douglas’ breakdown from Falling Down’s brilliant opening scene, but it’s emblematic of just how hard it is to get to around this sprawling town. And the Rose Bowl is a particularly difficult destination.
Public transit is a rough route as the nearest Gold Line light rail station is a 45-minute walk away. And on this 87-degree night they were charging $5 for a shuttle bus that slowly winds its way stadium-bound through gameday traffic. It’s a painful memory but I took public transit to a UCLA game at the Rose Bowl last Fall. From my Santa Monica home, it was a three-legged course – an express bus downtown, then the Gold Line to Pasadena, and then the shuttle bus. It took three hours.
Driving there is no picnic either. The stadium sits nestled in the Arroyo Seco valley is surrounded by winding residential streets with few direct access points. On Wednesday, they charged $30 for the privilege of parking your car on the grass of a golf course and walking for upwards of half-an-hour south. No easy feat for those with small children or those wearing heels.
Still, fans thronged the entrance tunnel to greet Manchester United’s bus with Bieber-worthy shrieks. Those celebratory cheers rarely subsided during the overwhelmingly one-sided match. No doubt they’re raspy-throated today as they sang “Glory Glory Man United” after each and every one of their side’s seven goals.
The Galaxy were well-represented by the Angel City Brigade, who stood on the stadium’s north end and chanted all match long. Their best bit was serenading the L.A. Red Army seated to their right with “7th place, 7th place, 7th place.” Soon after Danny Welbeck opened the scoring, United’s supporters responded with a hearty “Scoooooorrrre-boooaaaard.”
Of course, it was an odd sight to sit there sweating under the southern California sun watching people root against the home team in favor of a city 5,000-some-odd miles away in drizzly northeastern England. It’s one of the many peculiarities of our now globalized sports culture. Walking the thronged concourse before the match, I saw a group of English Manchester United supporters burst into an X-rated chant at the sight of an Arsenal man. But the object of their derision was a befuddled American who could offer only a polite smile in return.
Isolated Dodger Stadium parking lot tragedies aside, sports enmity isn’t nearly as virulent here as it is across the pond. Face-to-face fan confrontations, even good-natured ones, are as foreign to us as tailgating is for them. Maybe it’s because we’re conditioned to be subservient to the insipid canned noise blasted by our stadium’s scoreboards. But you take the bad with the good; like our ability to drink beer in our seats, which is a joy unknown to Premier League patrons.
No doubt, many hoisted $13 pints in jubilation, or sorrow, over what they saw on the pristine pitch. Newcomer Ander Herrera impressed early, forgotten man Ashley Young had a scorcher, and 20-year old Reece James shined late.
It was a rotten Galaxy homecoming. They played at the Rose Bowl from their inception in 1996 through 2002. In fairness, the home side is in the middle of their season, and had played just four days ago in Kansas City. Manager Bruce Arena chose to not use Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane together while making liberal use of his substitutions. His counterpart Louis Van Gaal also dipped deep into his ample bench, but much to the vocal consternation of many in the crowd, couldn’t field Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.
The defending was poor throughout and United could pleasurably ping the ball around without pressure. The hardest tackle of the night was reserved for a post-match pitch invader. An athletic security guard timed the idiot’s half-hearted evasive steps and then absolutely leveled him off his feet and onto the grass in a Jadeveon Clowney-worthy move.
Once the coast was clear, a series of suited corporate dignitaries took to the pitch for post-match congratulations. Thousands of us then shuffled for the exits, taking our cue from the words “regional branding director” braying over the P.A. Louis Van Gaal may be angry with United’s arduous pre-season touring schedule, but the corporate sponsors must be ecstatic over this cash cow of a night. Outside, the surreptitious street vendors even made sure to emblazon their knock-off merchandise with the official sponsor logos.
Sated by the seven goals and lingering BBQ smoke haloing the grounds, we happily made our way past them on our long climb back to our cars and into the blessedly traffic-free night. All the sports radio talk on the way back was of an NFL season a month-and-a-half away but boisterous nights like this one will soon become too commonplace to ignore.