Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stranger in a Strange Land

Its very odd for me to go into a match as a neutral. I generally watch Premier League matches where I am either rooting for United or rooting for the club that will help United maintain it's place - the lesser of the two evils. Its the same in the Champions League. You can say you're a neutral when you watch perhaps say - Everton v Spurs - but somewhere in the back of your mind you're always wondering how the match will affect you and yours.

Last night I went to see Chelsea play AC Milan in Baltimore. I made the trip down with two friends of mine who happen to be fanatical Chelsea fans. So I think it was rather obvious what I did - especially since I wanted a ride home. I rooted for Chelsea.

Since I wasn't allowed to wear any of my United gear ( jerseys, shirts, hats, buttons, etc ) without upsetting my friends I decided to borrow a white away jersey and go dressed as a Chelski supporter. I think it also allowed me to see things from a different view - and allowed me to see the fans in a different view. They cheered in my direction and waved their team on to victory.

I learned that Chelsea fans aren't so different from me. They care. They scream. They clap. They're somewhat informed. I'm sure if you cut them they bleed, and so on and so forth.

I had a good seat. A very nice seat. Section 102. Row 11. Seat 10. I had a great view and the team warmed up directly in front of me.

My thoughts on the actual match itself? The announcer was awful and I was embarrassed that those player introductions were being broadcast. Drogba's goal surprised me but was well taken. Zirkov really impressed me - he has good chemistry with the club and knows how to finish. I think he was a good investment. His game winning goal was the best of the match in my opinion and he deserved his "Man of the Match." I thought the Chelski defense did a shoddy job though. Their clearance was poor and AC Milan could have had more goal scoring opportunities had they been able to capitalize on it. Chelsea also needed to work on crosses - especially Anelka. I know it's only pre-season but its a problem I thought they had all of last season. It doesn't bother me all that much but its something Ancelotti should fix. Ronaldinho still had some class moves but I was as impressed as I'd have been three years ago.

My favorite moment was when Gooch came on as a substitute. The crowd exploded into chants of U-S-A, U-S-A. It was a touching moment and it made me proud. There were also cries of "Gooch" whenever he touched the ball. I truly wish him the best of luck in Milan.

I also saw some Chelsea players I forgot still existed. Pizarro anyone? I even saw Sheva - complete with new surfer guy hair. I saw him warming up and tried to convince my friend that yes, it was Sheva. No one around me recognized him with his long hair. I always feel badly for Sheva. Not because I think he's exceptionally talented but because he genuinely wants to play at Chelsea and it is unfortunate that he is the only person with that opinion.

Do I think Chelsea will win the League next year? I wouldn't count on it. Champions League - no. FA Cup? I'm sure they've a good shot but I'd obviously rather it go to Old Trafford.

I wasn't thrilled with the fact that few of the fans knew any Chelsea chants. I knew more than most people - one. I learned it about an hour beforehand. I can name scads of United chants so why don't they know theirs? You can't blame it on not going to matches and learning them. You can't blame it on distance from your club. I'm not sure what this says about Chelski fans - or American fans - or AC Milan fans since they didn't seem to have any either. The size of the crowd showed that we care about the game but I found the behavior of a lot of the people there very - uninformed? Some had vuvuzelas - previous blogs have made my opinion on those pieces of garbage - er, South African culture - quite clear. People sat around and didn't know what to do. Chelsea fans around me asked my friend and me who was on the pitch - do you not know the players' numbers for your own club? Can you not recognize their faces? I think that being a fan requires some degree of research into your club and its history - I'm sorry if people disagree.

I have to say one thing about the city though. Baltimore was great. The light rail was great. They let fans on for free - both headed towards the match and leaving the stadium afterward. It made for a cramped and hot ride but at least it was relatively short. Baltimore did a good job accommodating fans of all sorts - all signs read in multiple languages.

I had a good time. I certainly don't appreciate Chelski anymore. Or AC Milan. I have a little more respect for the fans who put in a good showing - Baltimore bled blue yesterday. I'll never make the sacrifice of donning a non-United jersey again but I was a good sport and saw a decent match.

Hey Man United - your new sponsor is American. Come over?

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