As my son and I took our seats just before kick off at North London’s White Hart Lane, I looked down and noticed a small sign pasted on the back of every seat. It had a few words of warning, one of which instructed all fans to refrain from cursing.
After being denied the purchase of a lager just moments before because it was too close to kick off, I was impressed at the lengths English football has gone to in an effort to make the game more family friendly and safe for fans. I’ve read “Among the Thugs” detailing life with soccer hooligans. I’ve read about the horrifying Hillsborough disaster in 1989 that saw a human crush result in nearly 100 deaths. I know about the black eye English football has taken because of its former hooliganism culture. Could you imagine no beer sales at American baseball games? I think that would cause our own version of hooliganism.
But while I was pleased with the obvious efforts, I also couldn’t help but laugh when just a few minutes into the action a fan sitting directly in front of my 5-year-old son disregarded the cursing warning and voiced his displeasure with the ref’s questionable non-foul call by screaming, “You F-ing bloody wanker!”
Here comes the salty language from the man in black. Thankfully, my son was too engrossed in the whole experience to notice.
Fast forward a few months to the new Barclays Premier League season as I’m back home watching Tottenham play host to Norwich City on TV. I can only imagine what kind of salty language is being yelled out as Spurs start the game quite terribly. But as I listen to the opposing fans sing team songs at the top of their lungs it reminds me of American college football, a season that just so happened to start in earnest this same day over the Labor Day weekend.
As a southerner I’m well versed on the actions of college football fans. I’ve experienced my fair share of salty fan moments. I must say that fans at American football games don’t seem quite as imaginative as the Brits and their songs. But as much as the memory of the Spurs fan who disregarded the warning against bad language makes me laugh, so do my recollections of random – and kind of corny – football sayings: “Nuts and bolts, nuts and bolts, we got screwed;” “Hit ’em again, hit ’em again, harder, harder;” and “Blood makes the grass grow, kill, kill!” Wow, what imagination!
I can’t imagine what it’d be like to be a European attending an American football game for the first time and hearing such silly chants. Something tells me that minor “saltiness” wouldn’t be found offensive by too many from across the pond. It’s not really offensive to me, although I don’t think my kindergartener son should be yelling those chants quite yet.
And to the point, what does this have to do with travel? In my opinion it’s everything.
My experience of being an American attending my first English football game and enjoying the cultural sporting differences, that’s exactly what travel is about. The salty language could be uncomfortable but it was part of the experience and will probably be one of my lasting memories of our three-week trip to the U.K. and France.
My words of advice: Good or bad, take every unique experience on your travels and run with it. And if you happen to be an Arsenal fan and you find yourself at the Lane, just sing along. It’s kind of like the unwritten rule of not wearing anything with the Dallas Cowboys star in Philadelphia. Just follow the local sporting traditions for your own good and safety and let’s all sing along: “Oh when the Spurs, go marching in, oh when the Spurs go marching in. I want to be in that number. Oh when the Spurs go marching in.”