The Beautiful Game…or is it a ‘match’?

Associate student Aaron is studying abroad with us from the University of Puget Sound in the US and looks at why you should make it a priority to see a football match in London, especially if it happens to be a derby…

Football. At times exhilarating, at times maddening, always entertaining. (And yes, I’ve quickly learned never to mention the word “soccer” here, even if the term originated in England as shorthand for “association football” … but I digress). It’s football!

Disclaimer: I am a huge Arsenal fan (sorry, “supporter”). I have been since I was lucky enough to attend a game (sorry, “match”) at the Emirates 10 years ago, and my passion has only grown since. I watch season after season from my home of Portland, Oregon, often waking up in early morning hours to catch the weekend’s action. In deciding to study at Queen Mary, I won’t go as far as to say being near Arsenal was the sole factor in my decision, but let’s just say it played a significant part. Queen Mary – and the east end of London – are wonderful places in their own right, and you will undoubtedly make many a memory outside of football, but wow: if you are a football supporter, London is the place to be.

I flew over from the United States roughly three weeks before the beginning of the semester at Queen Mary, and while traveling across northern Europe, I was fortunate enough to see four separate European games – Dortmund, PSG, and two international matches, one in Denmark and one in Amsterdam. Signal Iduna Park, the Parc des Princes, the Cruyff Arena – these are bucket list destinations, the places I could only dream about before coming over here. And yes, they lived up to the hype, but this post is about Arsenal first and foremost, and last week, I went to a proper North London Derby: Arsenal v. Tottenham at the Emirates. Nothing before it quite lived up to the experience I had on that day.

Having been to the Emirates before, I mostly knew what to expect. Given the season Arsenal have been enduring so far, coupled with the club’s extended decline over the past 4-5 years… well, the anxiety around the stadium was palpable. There was a lot of nervous excitement, and of course endless banter – what derby would be complete without it – but it felt as though the home supporters were bracing for another disappointing result prior to kickoff.

Also, for those who have never been to a football match in England before, prepare yourself for: drinking, and lots of it in quick succession, as you aren’t allowed to drink within sight of the pitch; food, not of high quality, but the pie with a pint is an integral part of the matchday experience; chants, mostly roaring on the home team, but inevitably banter towards whoever they are playing as well.

Anyway, I got up to my seat far up in the third deck about 30 minutes before kickoff, and immediately befriended two locals sitting next to me. Football supporters may drink and swear to no end, and appear off-putting at times, but if you’re wearing the same colors, they’re the nicest people in the world.

The match began, and before I knew it, Arsenal had scored. Cue utter mayhem! There truly is nothing like celebrating a goal against your hated rivals… and within the next half hour, two more. The passion consumes you; you lose sense of where you are for a moment and just jump and scream and act like a complete fool. It’s a wonderful, wonderful feeling – unless you’re Spurs supporters, of course, who left in droves after the third goal went in, serenaded by us home supporters with some songs I can’t repeat. The match settled down after that, but Arsenal never looked bothered, and ran out 3-1 winners in the end. The tube ride back across London was packed with utterly joyous Arsenal supporters and utterly miserable Spurs counterparts – I couldn’t have asked for a more satisfying ending.

So why should you make it a priority to see a football match in London, especially if it happens to be a derby? Or, for that matter, any match in Europe?

There’s something about a live matchday experience that just cannot be captured through a screen. You see these matches on TV, you hear the chants, you watch a winning goal and the chaotic scenes that follow, and you think to yourself, ‘yea, it’d be cool to be a part of that!’

Believe me, you will be blown away, particularly if you get as lucky as I did and are able to see the club you support come away with one of their best results in years. As an American, football culture – especially supportership – is not nearly as passionate back home, and so seeing European matches live simply puts into perspective how impressive of an atmosphere and history many grounds have. It’s undoubtedly worth your time, even if you aren’t that keen on football: who knows, maybe a random match will spark your interests, or at the very least, it will make for an enjoyable day!

English football, its detractors be damned, is a cultural phenomenon that should be cherished, and any foreigner who gets the chance to go to a match should take advantage of it. London has endless wonders to explore, and there is no shortage of activities to fit into your time here – but take my word for it, and make football one of them.


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