Having visited a total of 21 stadiums in the UK during my 20 years on the planet so far and having attended 30 matches over the last 12 months, I thought it was time to make the most of a holiday location and broaden my list. Over the summer I spent 3 weeks away on the west side of the USA and took this opportunity to watch MLS new boys and high-flyers Los Angeles FC at the Banc of California stadium. LAFC sit comfortably top of the Western Conference and Supporters Shield and soon enough they will confirm top spot and their guaranteed 2nd round spot in the play-offs for the MLS Cup. A win in this match would’ve secured first position in the Western Conference, however a tactical masterclass from Minnesota and general lack of creative spark from the home side resulted in LAFC losing their first home match of the season.
I have as much to say about the experience as a whole as I do for the match itself and I believe there are a number of amusing anecdotes worth sharing, therefore this article will be split into 2 releases (experience and match analysis).
Atmosphere was not something I was expecting at all and quite simply, I was wrong. In fact, this match had one of the best atmospheres of any match I have ever been to. In the UK, particularly the medium sized stadiums have a great atmosphere, but only for stages of a match. Usually what happens is that the ‘dedicated fans’ have a spell of chanting followed by 10 quieter minutes. The atmosphere is predominantly predicated on how the match is going. If a team have 5 minutes to score a vital goal, the crowd will be right behind them, however, if 30 minutes have passed without a goal, silence will often fall, meaning the atmosphere is very up and down across 90 minutes. Additionally, the majority of fans take to their seats no earlier than 30 minutes before the match, with many finally sitting down only right before kick-off. With 1 hour and 30 minutes left until kick-off, the main fan end of the Banc of California stadium was roughly 75% full and the drumming and chanting had already begun. For the rest of the night, the only time it stopped was for the national anthem and half-time. Quite incredible. The atmosphere was maintained throughout the entire match no matter what was happening on the field. LAFC conceded both goals in the first half, yet the fans remained loyal and didn’t call it an early night for their support. There was barely a pause for breath and in fact, with the amount of jumping from side to side that occured, the LAFC fanbase have almost single-handedly turned Davina McCall’s 30 day fat burn DVD obsolete.
The same however cannot be said for the Minnesota United fans. In fact, if I felt the desire, I think I could’ve gone and got to know them all really well during half-time. About 20 of them showed up, but baring in mind Minnesota is 1,800 miles away, I’ll forgive them on this occasion. There was no strict designated away section, meaning I was able to do a full lap of the stadium once inside, something I have not been able to do anywhere else due to fan separation. This did mean however that when Minnesota scored, you wouldn’t know it. There was genuinely no noticeable celebratory noise and if you were temporarily distracted, you could quite easily have no idea a goal had been scored. It was very strange.
The main noise that was noticeable throughout the match however, was the man next to me. The fact that Heineken’s were $14 dollars a bottle clearly had no impact on this guy. He was definitely a few bottles down by the time I got there and only added to his tally as the evening progressed. Now, I spend a lot of my time reading, writing and listening to football analysis across a wide range of sources. Guardiola this, Eddie Howe that. This man was on a mission to take my education beyond degree level. I have learnt a lot from his eloquent articulation and I would feel guilty not passing this knowledge on. Therefore, in inspirational quote form, I will present some key phrases. Take from them what you want. Please bare in mind that all of the following soon-to-be poster worthy quotes, must be mentally read out in a slurred LA accent.
“oh come on, he didn’t even give a corner-goal kick. OPEN YOUR EYES REF”.
“We aren’t gonna net it if we aren’t taking shots at net”. *LAFC player shoots just wide*. “Man, come onnnn, we’re not gonna hit the net like that”.
*Minnesota score from a perfectly valid counter-attack*. “Oh my gawd, the ref hasn’t even blown there? And now he’s given a kick-off instead of a free-kick? I’m done with this guy”.
“COME ON BRIAN, GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME” – In reaction to a man named Diego Rossi fluffing a chance, during a time in which no man named Brian was on the pitch.
And finally, to top it all off, this unidentified male has finally uncovered the simple yet effective way of breaking down a team playing with a low block defensive style. “Dude, are kidding me? Just run past all those guys and you’re through 1 on 1. I can see that here”.
Ok, now you have a greater understanding of football than Graeme Souness, let’s talk about food. There is one thing that the vast majority of LA residents are allergic to. Walking. Not to worry, LAFC have solved this problem for when the tummy starts rumbling. In the UK, if we want to go and buy a burger or a pie or chips and ketchup, we get up, walk down the stairs to the food stands and then buy some food. In LA, this is not necessary. If you’ve reached your daily target of 19 steps by the time you’re in your seat, you are still perfectly able to snack whenever you fancy mid-match. Permanently positioned at the top of the stairs were a number of food distributors, selling churros, peanuts, pretzels and candy floss. I genuinely lost concentration with the match for a minute or so and just burst out laughing watching the food operations unfold.
Throughout the game, these sellers were constantly waving snacks around and shouting “CHURROS, CHURROS”, very distracting for the minority that were trying to analyse the game. Most of the time, they were completely ignored and just became an annoyance, however, as we hit the 60-minute mark or so, business came to life. A bloke about 3 seats to my right decided that he could hide his craving for peanuts no more. “PEANUTS” he declared, waving his arms in the general direction of the food distributor. Once again, I detected another issue. The man who wanted peanuts was inconveniently positioned right in the centre of the aisle, therefore inaccessible to the food guy. Not to worry again. Myself and my neighbouring fans were here to help and we formed an incredibly efficient human conveyer belt. The cash was passed along one way and then the peanuts back the other. Happy food guy, happy lazy peanut-loving guy. It amazes me that this was successful having grown up near Luton. If you tried this malarkey at Kenilworth Road, you would have lost your money on the way there and had all your peanuts eaten on the way back. Food guy number 2 took a more Neil Warnock-esque approach, launching a big bag of popcorn right across multiple aisles to the intended target. The efficiency cannot be questioned.
Finally, the fan assistance did not stop there. LAFC have a number of chants, the most simplistic being a basic “hooh, hah”. This would seem easy enough to remember right? Something that even the laziest of fans could probably get to grips with. Well, LAFC clearly think differently, as when this chant began, the scoreboard and timer were both completely abandoned and replaced with a big screen ensuring that everyone got the words right. Yes, you read that correctly, they temporarily replaced the score and time with “Hooh Hah” in massive print. I have to say though, I had a 100% “Hooh Hah” record, so I guess I have to thank the I.T team for their help and sparing my blushes. If this wasn’t bad enough, the words to the national anthem were also displayed. Clearly they were fully aware that a significant percentage of the crowd would not have bothered to learn it.
So, did I broaden my live football experience? Yes. In so many more ways than I had anticipated. It was so interesting to experience football life outside of the UK and it is something that I want to further expand in the near future.
I am now aware of the existence of “corner-goal kicks”, popcorn lobbing, complete silence when a goal is scored and a man called Brian. I am also now unrivalled at the classic chant. Although, I’ve forgotten the words right now.
Written by Nick Pasquet
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