What the New York soccer derby was like for an American who spent time in England

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!

 

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