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An ocean of difference

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Attending a European sporting event (specifically the UK) is vastly different than an American event in most ways. My wife and I, along with two friends from London, attended a soccer (football) match in Edinburgh, Scotland, between the hometown Hearts of Midlothian and the Falkirk Bairns.

The first thing that jumps out is the location of the stadium.

It's in the heart of a working class neighborhood. In the U.S., nearly every arena/stadium in the is in the middle of nowhere (at least those that were built after 1960). Very few actually sit in residential areas - Wrigley, Fenway and the Stadium come to mind, but the vast majority are more similar to the Meadowlands. And the Hearts aren't the only team like that - we also toured Chelsea FC stadium, which stands in the midst of a residential area.

The second thing that jumped out was the absence of parking lots. There wasn't even one in the nearby vicinity. Everyone either parked on the street, walked from their homes, or took public transportation. 

During the frigid game, I went up to the bathroom and concessions. [Quick aside: the bathrooms in Britain are, for the most part, great, because every lock and every toilet actually work. And they're surprisingly clean.] I asked for a beer and the girl laughed and told me they don't serve beer in the stadium. I was flabbergasted. A sporting event without beer, and in Europe no less?! Anyway, because of the temperature, I ordered something from the 'Hot Drinks' list called a 'Bovril' (I wanted to try something new), which I pondered how to pronounce before ordering. It turned out to be a simple cup of broth (could've been chicken, could've been beef), and it really hit the spot.

But the absolute strangest part was the technology (or lack thereof) inside the stadium. There was no clock/timer anywhere - on top of that, there wasn't even a scoreboard. Never mind one of those new-fangled electronic ones, but not even an old-fashioned, hang-the-wooden-board-with-a-number-on-it kind. It's somewhat understandable, because most soccer games don't have more than a few goals, but it's still just so strange to not see the score anywhere.

And the fans. They were certainly hardy, I'll give them that. They spontaneously burst into song at various points throughout, either following a Hearts goal or countering a song of Falkirk fans sitting in their own section. We got seats two rows from the field for 23 GBP each (about $35), and were so close we could see sweat on the players. Near the end of the game, when the Hearts had a lead and they kicked the ball out of bounds (meaning Falkirk would throw in), the fan that caught it tossed it up to his friend about 20 rows behind him, who proceeded to hide the ball under his seat for several seconds (they use the same ball virtually all game). He finally threw it back to his friend near the field. The Falkirk player was asking for the ball, so the fan threw it way over his head, causing further delay as the Falkirk player chased it down. Then the fan looked back at his friend, put his hand near his mouth in the shape of a gun, blew across the muzzle, and holstered it. Just normal homefield advantage.

They verbally assaulted the line man after a borderline call, normally beginning with 'bloody', and often followed by either 'wanker', 'bastard' or 'c*nt', along with the occasional 'fuck off' for variety. Good times.

Refreshingly, there were no songs from the PA system to get us 'fired up', no ridiculous stunts (I'm thinking of the Yanks 'YMCA' bullshit) - it was just all about the game.

We could definitely learn some things from them (with the obvious exception of the beer part).