After a year of living in London and attending quite a few matches, I came home to my native New York just in time for the biggest fixture on the New York soccer calendar, the Hudson River Derby between New York City Football Club (NYCFC) and New York Red Bulls.

I attended six London derbies this year of varying intensity and hatred between the two sets of supporters. I attended three at White Hart Lane (against Crystal Palace, Chelsea and West Ham), two away derbies with Spurs (Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and Queen’s Park Rangers at Loftus Road), and one as a “neutral” (a Good Friday Southeast London Derby in the Championship between Millwall and Charlton at The Den).

I was curious to see what the atmosphere of a MLS derby was like and how it compared to London derbies.

Before this, I had never really given MLS much of a chance as I often needed a break from soccer after the Premier League season ended and the subsequent major international tournaments. Some readers of this website might label me a “Eurosnob” but this year I am making a conscious effort to try and follow MLS and its growing tradition. Unfortunately, as a Tottenham supporter who was raised by his father to root for Boston sports teams, specifically the Boston Red Sox, it is pretty hard for me to get behind either of the New York teams (please feel free to persuade me one way or the other in the comments). So, I decided to take this in as a neutral but root for NYCFC (as much as it pained me to root for a team owned by the Yankees) as they were the home team.

Entering the stadium was quite different from what I was accustomed to in England as all fans were forced to go through a metal detector to gain entry. I never was subjected to a metal detector on any of my five away days with Tottenham, although I was subjected to bomb-sniffing dogs at Stamford Bridge and two body searches in Florence. I also never had to go through any checks to enter any home ends so this caught me a little off guard.

Upon entering Yankee Stadium, the cramped concourses, disgusting toilets, miniscule leg room and vomitus food at London grounds like Craven Cottage, Loftus Road and White Hart Lane were gone to be replaced by a wide variety of delicious food, ample leg room and a cavernous Yankee Stadium. In terms of comfort, Yankee Stadium is way superior to any stadium in London except maybe Wembley and Emirates Stadium. Unfortunately, Yankee Stadium was designed for baseball and not soccer and that detracted from the overall experience and atmosphere of the match.

Both New York City F.C. and New York Red Bulls brought a sizable contingent of boisterous fans to the match. The NYCFC supporters section were placed behind a goal in the left field bleachers. I would say there were about 2,000 supporters in that section and they constituted what would normally be the singing section at many Premier League grounds. The traveling RBNY support was about 1,000-1,500 (in the official Red Bulls section) and they unfortunately were placed in the 300 level along the right field foul line. The two supporters sections were probably 150 yards apart from each other (with the Red Bulls supporter section at least 50 feet off the ground) so the two sets of supporters were more or less independent and not reactive to one another as is often the case in England. The rest of the stadium, which is where I was sitting (I was behind the left field foul pole in the Upper Deck), was roughly 75% NYCFC fans and 25% Red Bulls fans.

In the build up to the match, both teams conducted the traditional pre-match singsong that I had become accustomed to watching Spurs away from home. Unfortunately, I could not hear either sets of supporters very clearly because the PA system was blaring out pop songs at a very high decibel level, something I am more accustomed to seeing at other North American professional sporting events and not soccer matches. This was disappointing as the pre-match singsong is one of my favorite parts of a match as everyone is getting revved up. As the public address announcer read out the starting lineup for the visiting Red Bulls, the people in the supporters section for NYCFC yelled out “SUCKS!” after each player’s name. While this sounds like something that would be heard in Europe, it is not and I am more accustomed to hearing stuff like that at heated NCAA ice hockey games (although truth be told heated NCAA ice hockey games can create some really special atmospheres). This NCAA hockey type feeling was accentuated when during the national anthem the Red Bulls supporters screamed “RED!” during the line “rockets red glare.” Cornell University hockey fans have used the tradition of yelling “Red!” during the national anthem for decades.

As the players walked out onto the field, the NYCFC supporters displayed a few tifos. One of them read “Red Bull: Killing Soccer since ’04… Salzburg, Leipzig, Metrostars” which was a dig at the team being named after an energy drink. Another read “Now playing in New York City. Live! One night only” and the final one was a fake Playbill ad labeled “Jersey Boys” with pictures of Red Bulls players underneath it. These last two were clear digs at RBNY actually being from New Jersey, despite having New York in their name, which eerily reminded me of Tottenham fans singing “F*ck off back to Woolwich, North London is ours!” at Arsenal fans during North London derbies. New York City are trying to market themselves as the team for the people of the Five Boroughs, while the other two “New York” teams (Red Bulls and Cosmos) are representative of New Jersey and Long Island respectively. While this does seem quite petty, it does form the basis for animosity between the three New York clubs that is somewhat similar to the complex network and disputes between the 15 professional London clubs.

As the match kicked off, both sets of supporters were very loud and did everything they could to create a good atmosphere. Unfortunately, the acoustics at Yankee Stadium are not conducive to creating an intense soccer atmosphere that I had become accustomed to during big matches at White Hart Lane and other London grounds. I could barely make out the lyrics to the NYCFC songs and I could not make out any of the words to the Red Bulls songs unless they were chanting “Let’s Go Red Bulls!”  This was quite disappointing as the supporters did try their best to create an atmosphere, but the problem is that Yankee Stadium is too big and the fans are spaced too far apart from one another. A ground like QPR’s Loftus Road, which only seats 18,000 people, is much noisier than Yankee Stadium with 48,047 in attendance because the fans are right on top of the field and the noise is confined into a much smaller space. Maybe the noise levels were better on the lower levels but the fact that the traveling Red Bulls support was situated in the upper deck effectively meant that the two sets of singing supporters were acting as if they were in absence of their counterparts.

I should also note that American fans’ chanting is very different from English fans singing. Most of the chants I heard from NYCFC fans did not have a tune to them and were chanted at very similar cadences to the more traditional chants you hear at NFL, NBA or MLB games as opposed to the songs that have a tune attached and are much easier (at least to me) on the ear. However, it is good to see that Americans are trying to create their own fan culture that sort of combines English and South American fan cultures. While that culture is not quite there yet, it definitely has great potential to improve and transform into something fantastic.

Six minutes in, New York City took the lead through Tommy McNamara and the stadium erupted. Someone in the supporters section let off a smoke bomb, something I had not seen since Watford’s promotion party at Vicarage Road at the beginning of May. Some fans from that section threw ribbons out onto the field. The enthusiasm and the rabid support was an amazing sight to see.

The match eventually settled down. New York City continued on the front foot for much of the first half, but Red Bulls finally got into the half and dominated the last five minutes before halftime.

There was a very annoying, unknowledgeable fan sitting behind me who overreacted to each and every play as well as a drunken fan to the right of me who was shouting out hockey references such as “shoot it! This isn’t a Rangers Power Play!” which slightly ruined the experience for me as I have become very accustomed to watching matches with very knowledgeable (or silent) audiences. Midway through the half, a loud roar was heard around the stadium during the middle of a passage of play, which confused me until I looked up at the Jumbotron and saw Frank Lampard sitting next to Andrea Pirlo, confirming the rumors that NYCFC’s signing of Pirlo is imminent. This led to the crowd chanting “We Want Pirlo!”

The halftime playlist of songs contained many songs that were specific to the Five Boroughs such as “No Sleep ’til Brooklyn” or “Brooklyn We Go Hard,” (a song that I learned when attending a pair of Brooklyn Nets games last season) underscoring the notion that NYCFC are the team of the Five Boroughs.

The Red Bulls came out firing in the second half and equalized right after the restart through Bradley Wright-Phillips. The Red Bulls section went wild at the goal with the familiar sound of loud, distant cheering when the home team concedes. However, now that I am now used to segregated seating in English stadiums, it was quite odd to see many people sitting in my section stand up and applaud the goal.

The goalscorer, Wright-Phillips, reminded me of a nasty song that Tottenham fans sang at Bradley’s brother Shaun when I was at Loftus Road in March. Given that it was about a member of their immediate family, it could easily be transferred to Bradley, but I am pretty sure I was the only one out of the 48,000 at Yankee Stadium who was thinking along those lines.

Red Bulls were in the lead six minutes later and similar scenes were repeated. Some fans in the sections adjacent to mine started chants of “Let’s Go Red Bulls,” which made me feel like I was at a Mets-Yankees game at Citi Field as opposed to a soccer derby.

During the second half, the NYCFC supporters’ section did the bouncy, which was one of the coolest things I have ever seen and I had never seen it successfully pulled off in England.

Red Bulls added a third in the 75th minute through Matt Miazga, and for the celebration he ran to third base and pretended to hit a home run to the traveling support, making light of the ridiculousness of playing a soccer match on a field that has baseball imprints on it. After the Red Bulls’ third, the proceedings were fairly academic. However, a group of Red Bulls fans that were wearing black shirts at the beginning of the match (most of the travelling support was wearing red) decided to take their shirts off in the last 10 minutes, which was pretty funny. At full-time, the Red Bulls players applauded their supporters and did the traditional hold hands and run towards the supporters, while the NYCFC fans started to slowly file out of Yankee Stadium.

After the match, I decided to walk over to where the Red Bulls supporters were situated to get a sense of the atmosphere. When I got there, they were all chanting “New York’s Red” in front of NYCFC supporters. If this had happened in England, there would have been a fight. Fortunately, American supporters are less aggressive in nature and the NYCFC fans just continued walking with long faces. The elation in their celebrations seemed very real and very genuine after victory over their “noisy neighbors.” Although the teams have only played twice, there does seem to be some animosity between the two clubs as both matches were very heated on the field. Both sets of supporters have legitimate reasons to dislike their counterparts and as a result there is understandable elation at victory.

Overall, I found the experience to be a good one but very different from my experiences this year in London.

In terms of animosity between fans, it seemed to be somewhat on par with Millwall against Charlton, minus the inappropriate chants and the police forcing the Charlton fans to stay behind for 40 minutes after the match. The two teams dislike each other but there is not any real hatred (Millwall’s main rival is West Ham). I did not hear a single chant from NYCFC supporters that were specifically aimed at Red Bulls (other than the pre match tifos), which cannot be said about the Spurs against Chelsea and Spurs against West Ham derbies.

Although the rivalry does seem a bit convoluted and a marketing tool to spark interest in soccer in the New York City area, it does seem to have worked for the time being.

What worries me though is that NYCFC’s attendance can suffer once the novelty of having a team at Yankee Stadium wears off, similar to how fans stopped flocking to the Barclays Center to watch the Brooklyn Nets once that novelty wore off. NYCFC needs a new stadium to create a better match day atmosphere, as Yankee Stadium is just not a soccer stadium and the sound does not carry well.

I love that NYCFC (and Red Bulls) are trying to create their own fan traditions that do not just copy the British or South Americans but instead integrate their ideas into their own distinct American soccer culture.

When I first started watching soccer passionately five years ago, the thought of seeing 48,000 people cram into Yankee Stadium to watch an MLS match between two New York City teams would have been unfathomable. Soccer has grown so much in this country and it’s amazing to see it continue to increase. While I still prefer the English atmosphere as that is what I have become accustomed to, the MLS creates a great, family friendly matchday experience and have left themselves with a ton of room to grow with a burgeoning fan base.

Fortunately, I only have to wait one more day for another New York derby as New York Cosmos head to Red Bull Arena in the US Open Cup Round of 16 and I’m really looking forward to it!