Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Hats and scarves.

This was written way back in November for the NYCanaries website (see link at right). It's written for an English audience and most visitors to Mondale will have already read it. Why re publish? I was a bit perturbed that the NYCanaries website wasn't maintaining an archives and when I found this on my computer. I thought why not? I don't really like republishing stuff from elsewhere but I'm a bit low on inspiration right now and wanted to preserve this within a domain of my own controlling. If you've seen it already, apologies. If not, check it out.

Hats and scarves.

Down the years many people have made good livings out of drawing comparisons between different cultures. To some extent that's one of the key reasons for the existence of NY Canaries. We are from another culture and yet we live here in the great melting pot, New York. Norwich fans are perhaps just another of the many ethnic groups with a furrowed brow and impenetrable accent. OK, we aren’t suffering from some wave of economic or political misfortune, we have not been forced to flee sunny Norfolk due to war or famine but we do have our problems.
At the time of writing we have yet to win a game in the premiership.

That’s why, in the absence of any good news from Blighty I've decided to think long and hard about some of the little differences between this sporting life, here in the US and there in the UK.
As we are all only too well aware there is only really one sport of any significance in the UK. That's right, football. I lived in the West country for eight years and have learned to love cricket and can sit through a rugby match without too much pain but for me, and millions like me it's football that matters, it's just the way I was brought up. That's probably why, upon meeting another 'Brit' I tend to get to the point, "What's your team?" most people have an answer and if they don't then you have to find another means with which to build trust. (Of course we are all caught in that embarrassing trap if the response is along the lines of "well, being born in Stowmarket I often used to find myself at Portman road")

Here in the States it's a bit different. Baseball is still the venerable uncle of American sport with tales of glory and sepia tinted memories but it really can't claim to be the universal American pastime that it once was. Nowadays it competes with football (the gridiron version), basketball and hockey. Accordingly it's much trickier with Americans, first you have to navigate through "what’s your game?" before you can find out if someone is a Met or Yankee, a Giant or a Jet even an Islander or a Ranger.

I have to admit that I've never been to a football game, a basketball game or a hockey game but I have been to plenty of ball games. That's where my comparisons are going to be drawn from.
Surprisingly, I think that football and baseball have more in common than one would think at first.
Many of the franchises are pretty old. OK, my team, the New York Mets is only 42 years old but they are in some sense the heirs of some of the tradition of the defunct Brooklyn Dodgers.
(I was once working with a Holocaust survivor who was telling me about her husband, "Oh you think I’ve suffered? He was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, that's suffering") Baseball as an organized sport is very much a game of the people hence the nickname, "America's pastime". Both are solid, working class games. A friend recently described the Boston Red Sox as a "good, honest blue collar franchise".
It's also, in its organized form about the same age as organized football is in the UK In fact; the Cincinnati reds were the first professional team in 1869. The first FA cup final was in 1872.

The seasons differ. As football fans are becoming experts in the brain twisting math of promotion and relegation, here in the US April brings opening day. A day that up here in New York rarely rises above 45 degrees and completely blows the myth that baseball is a balmy sport played in the midsummer heat. Around the time that City are bowing gracefully out of the Carling cup the baseball postseason begins. The playoffs are arguably the most exciting aspect of either sport (although I’m sure we'll all agree that it's more fun to win the thing outright). playoffs are obligatory in US sport. They certainly spice up the end of any season but I would be a bit freaked out if my team won the division, sitting on top of the league only to find that we had to go and play again for the chance to play for the title (But then as a Mets fan, that’s not a common occurrence). It's a bit like ending the football season and putting the top eight into the sixth round of the cup.

No relegation. As they say in New York "don’t even go there". That's great news for us Mets fans as it means that it can never happen to us. I do not want to talk about this, it's hard enough to even write the word but it's true. No relegation in American sport. Weird?
Americans seem much more able to transfer their allegiance. I know lots of people who have moved from place to place and whilst holding a soft spot for their 'home' team they are able to aggressively support their 'new' team. Now I do have a weak spot for Bristol Rovers (if only because they made me grateful for City's first division mediocrity back in the mid nineties) but nothing, ever, not ever would question my passion for all things yellow and green. I've lived over a third of my life away from Norfolk but changing teams? Not gonna happen.
Along side the whole baseball thing you can spend the winter months following a football team. I don't really do this although if push came to absolute shove I guess I would have to root for the Jets (rhymes with Mets you see).
It's agreeable enough to watch this stuff on a Sunday afternoon and I recently found myself watching a whole Saturday of college football and sort of understanding and enjoying it but as a man who puts rugby quite a way down his list of sport to watch and play (bowling is higher) It's unlikely that this game will ever hook me.
Hockey? Clueless, although it’s an invasion game with goalies and strikers and all that but my heart has been lost to baseball.
Basketball is incredibly fast and exciting and it's certainly the game that you will see most of when you wander the neighborhoods of this city. I do have a passing interest but no, it's proper football then baseball.
The singing at ball games, whilst fun can be a bit lacking in the lyrics department. Most teams will have something along the lines of "Let’s Go Mets" (replace team names as appropriate) There is quite a bit of banter as there is no segregation at games. I recently watched game 6 of the American league championship in the bleachers at Yankee stadium. I hate the Yankees and was rooting for the RedSox but I had to keep my sweet little mouth tight shut. The banter/abuse that was being dished out to RedSox fans was pretty funny but all the same I'm glad it wasn’t me getting the treatment. I do yearn for a sweet rendition of 'On the ball City' or even 'If I had the wings of a sparrow'. I have been known to intimidate others. Once at Yankee stadium (I don’t know, I just seem to end up there) I was watching the Baltimore Orieles with a friend. We were so loud in our support for the Orieles that we actually managed to scare some Yankee fans away. A proud moment, almost as proud as the time I single handedly started a chorus of "On the ball city" at Highbury back in the days of the old clock end and when it was still called Highbury.
The food at an American ballpark is pretty bad. For a nation that prides itself on the ability to eat really bad food really well the sporting event is the place to be. I'm not talking about the tailgating that goes on when people get out the grills and roast half a cow before a football game. I would like some of that, no, I'm talking about dodgy hotdogs, cotton candy and pissy, overpriced beer (although another moment of some pride involves getting a beer vendor to spot me in a crowded Shea stadium at 100 yards. Yes, he was 100 yards away and he saw me waving madly and came right over to satisfy my thirst). Now listen, no one would ever drag me to an English league ground for a romantic meal with one, obvious exception( thanks Delia) and at least you can get a bit beered up inside an American sports event but then again an American sports event can last for 3 or 4 hours and has lots of breaks during which you can go pee or buy more beer. A football game has one break during which time your fellow fans are also trying to use the loo or buy food, I've never really understood the desperate need for a pint of warm draught flow Courage beer during the 15 minutes of half time underneath the Barclay. I once saw a chap trying to enter the upper Barclay with his gal. They were holding pints. They were turned away. I don't suppose that would happen at a rugby match. Norwich is full of truly delightful pubs (and some even have tellys so you can watch results and highlights), why not wait an hour and get a decent pint in a comfortable atmosphere?
So there are some cultural differences and many similarities between the two countries. It has to be said that both places do love their sport and take it very seriously. The fans (that's us) provide as much of the amusement and spectacle as the teams.
One final thought.
I think it comes down to hats and scarves.
Baseball caps have been fashionable in the UK for a few years now but they aren't really traditional football gear. On the other hand I can't see Americans getting into scarves as a token of allegiance. When push comes to shove I think it's all about hats and scarves. That's why, on a chilly day in Brooklyn I can be found sporting both a city scarf and a Mets cap

1 comment:

weasel said...

Why don't you have an archive? I have an archive. Or at least I used to- has he changed everything around?

I really like this piece even though its justification in reality is spurious at best (Mr. NCFC ballcap owner).