Friday, December 2, 2011

Culture Vulture

In case you were wondering, but were too scared to ask:

Lisa wound up giving a talk on Monday at UCL. I got to go, which was a treat. It had been a long time since I'd been in an academic setting and I was pretty nervous. There were about 40 Neuroscience PhD candidates there. I was out of my league.

It's about what parts of words you actually pay attention to when someone is talking. 

I was too scared to take any other pictures. 
The talk went well. Some of it also went over my head. It was cool, though, to get to see another family member nerd out on something. Her research is impressive. 

I went straight from there to my first English football match. 

Yea, that's right a football match. And it was the Monday night match, which meant it was televised (a rip off of American Monday Night Football, but without the cheerleaders).

You'll remember my buddy Dom from the Thanksgiving post:

Yea, he's in a suit. That is a Charlton scarf, though.  

Dom's been supporting Charlton Athletic Football Club since he was about nine years old. He's seen them go from crap to awesome and back to crap. Over here, the professional soccer is divided up into four or so leagues. It's a hierarchy and Charlton used to be in the top league. Now they're in the 3rd, which is the lowest they've been since Dom has been going. But they're currently at the top of the league, which would mean an automatic rank up next year (if they keep their spot).

He goes with his dad and brother - the three of them have season tickets next to each other; they've had those seats for 10 years. They know most of the people in the section. The security guard knew Dom by name, razzed him when we came in, and introduced himself to me. 

It got me thinking and comparing this sporting event to the ones I'm used to in America. Going to see Charlton was a blend of high school, college, and pro American sporting events. 

High School: Everyone knew each other - at least well enough to give a head nod and "Y'allright?" to one another. Dom saw a guy outside the arena as we were eating our pregame fish & chips (love it), exchanged niceties, and explained to me that the guy sits two rows behind him - and has been for several years. Also, the security getting into the game is about as tight as a high school game. We had just purchased cups of tea (to help with the digestion, surely) right before going into the game - from an outside vendor. They let us bring those in, no problem. Sure, they checked our tickets (mine was 10 pounds), but they didn't mind us bringing in tea (and a water bottle). Instead of lots of lights and scoreboards all over the place, they have one big screen TV that takes up the only section where there aren't seats. I'm sure it's massive, but it looks small from the other side of the stadium. 

College: The facilities themselves resembled an American football stadium. There were no name brand concession stands, but food was available. The footpath along the perimeter of the arena was asphalt. The seats were about as comfortable as you'd expect - no arm rests. Capacity is just over 27,000, but there were 18,000 there Monday night. Like college games, there is a distinct home and away seating arrangement, rife with raucous fans. 

Pro: Obviously the players are making money. Average for this league, Dom's brother told me, is about 40-50k GBP per year. The next league is around 6 digits, and the top league has players regularly making 7 to 8 digits per annum. Also, you can bet on the game while you're there! That's right, Mom, you can walk up to the betting booth and bet just before the game starts! Freaking amazing. Also, they sell alcohol at the game. And the cheers - the cheers would only be appropriate at a pro ball game. 

The only appropriate one I heard all night:
Top 'o the league, top 'o the league...Charlton Athletic, we're top 'o the league! 

The visiting team was riding a 46 game "no losing" streak (soccer accepts a tie as a "no loss"):
Stick your fucking record, stick your fucking record, stick your fucking record up your arse! 

There was an opposing player who is on the heavy side. Whenever he missed a play:
You fat bastard! You fat bastard! You fat bastard!

Whenever the opposing goalie kicked the ball across the field:
ooooOOOOO! Bullshit! Gaaaahhhh!

I got a kick out of hearing 18,000 people cheer in a British accent. I know they used to have a problem with violence and hooligans at soccer games, but I wasn't the least bit intimidated by those cheers - they just made me giggle inside my head. It's a funny complex we have about language variation, especially Americans and Brits. I constantly think people sound proper and well-mannered over here (even if it's cockney it still makes me kind of giggle), and everyone tells me they think I sound wise because of my accent. Talk about hilarious. I've been called lot's of things, but certainly not wise. Well, maybe wiseass...

At first I thought the fans were more knowledgable about the sport than American fans are about their sports. By the end of the game, I came to the assumption that everyone just claps when something obvious happens. Since possession changes so much in this sport, I think they just clap when one guy dribbles for longer than 2 seconds or when one pass is made without being deflected. I could be wrong. 

Left section: the visitor's section (we got there early - it wound up getting pretty full on all sides)

Our section (note the guards in orange jackets - they're the ones who know Dom).

This entire section was filled with fans in black jackets, yelling the entire time. 
We went into the halftime, up 2-0. Dom assures me, "the thing about Charlton - you can't trust 'em. Two to nothing is better than one nothing, but you can't trust 'em." He's had enough experience watching his team blow the lead. I was just happy to have seen two goals. I was always socialized into thinking soccer was really low scoring and not fun to watch. I've enjoyed a few games of World Cup soccer, but have never gotten into it. Well - this was quite the experience. I was having fun. And - lemme tell you - being inside the stadium when a European team scores a goal - that's something. Everyone was out of their seat way longer than if any American football team scored a touchdown. I was even jumping up and down with my hands in the air. I didn't even know I was doing it.

The halftime show was Andrew Henderson, the curent UK Freestyle Football champion. 

Then I started noticing that thing people say about Brits - I'm not sure there's a word for it - it's more a mindset than anything else. Here is this kid, out there on the field, trying his best to wow people with his football tricks, 18k people staring at him, lord knows how many more watching on the television, and Dom says to his brother, "Thing about it is you know he'd be awful on the pitch." (translated: the kid doing all these tricks with the ball wouldn't be a good player on the field)

About the same time, two different guys were saying the same thing independent of each other right behind me. 

I just rolled my eyes and enjoyed the show. 

One final observation:
There was a row of about 8 older men behind us. They were absolutely, 100% the stereotypical peanut gallery - you couldn't find anything better. They were all old, had classic cockney south London accents, shifting between haters and coaches, had all the answers, all the insults - it was great. And they were horrible - they were yelling some stuff I won't even post on this blog (I mean c'mon - it's a family blog!). I think they all buy season tickets to go out with their friends, get away from their wives, get drunk, and yell at the ref. I mean, that's what it seemed like to me

And the ref was bald, so the first few times the one guy behind me yelled, "Cut your hair, baldie!" or "You're a twat, baldie!" I thought he was yelling at me. I was having visions of a violent altercation between me and five or so drunken retired men right there in the stands, embarrassing Dom and his family, embarrassing myself, getting kicked out, etc. When in Rome, am I right? Luckily that didn't happen. 

The visiting fans drove about five hours to get to the game. On a Monday night. That meant they had to take off work and wouldn't be back till at least 1am. 

And they lost. 

Yea, Charlton broke that 46 game no-loss streak and sent them packing back up to the north country. Everyone left, chanting, Stick your fucking record, stick your fucking record, stick your fucking record up your arse! Over and over and over again.