Football Observations from Across the Pond

by Ben Craske, a CAS third-year who is currently on his year abroad at University of California, Santa Barbara

College work has been snowballing recently, and I haven’t had much opportunity to sit and write another blog post. However, with the work ethic at UCSB, you work hard in the week and party at the weekend, go hiking, socialise, go to the beach, whatever your imagination and funds permit really. Unfortunately, this isn’t entirely accurate at the moment. The prospects of entire days to just crack on with the history book I have to read, the first Spanish test I have to prepare for, or the first essay I have to write for my Public History class, on top of my required reading, are too sensible to avoid I’m afraid. People who just see UCSB as a party school couldn’t be more wrong. As much as people party hard here, they’ve also had to work hard and attain good results to get here. I’m glad to be at a college that has the best of both worlds. Nevertheless, I thought I’d take some time out from that and write about a matter very close to my heart. Football.

For any American readers, by this I refer to the sport where you actually use your feet more than once in every 10-15 plays. And no, I will NOT use the “S” word in this blog (except in the tags, reluctantly). Exponentially more offensive than his four-letter counterpart, I feel myself wince a little bit inside every time this small language barrier forces my hand and makes me use it.

I have been to two UCSB football games, played some “scrimmages” (kickabouts for English readers) and taken part in my first intramural game. Based on those, there are a few things I have noticed about the beautiful game stateside;

  1. I have been pleasantly surprised at the attendance for our first team UCSB football games. There must be a good few thousand fans at our home games. This is much higher attendance than the average university game back home. Admittedly, I am a firm believer in away fans demonstrating just how fervent fans are as well as home fans. Back home, it’s all well and good having a near 30,000 capacity, and not being able to sell all your tickets for away games *coughWest Brom *cough* However, I do not think there are as many opportunities or instances of a large contingent of UCSB students travelling away. I suppose this is to do with travelling all over the country/state when school is on. However, the attendance at UCSB home games is unavoidably admirable.
  2. Moreover, the fans are very fervent and have a charming tradition: throughout the match fans throw tortillas onto the pitch! This is because our mascot is a gaucho and logically food being thrown onto the pitch is the best way to celebrate a goal being scored… clearly. Either way, it’s very funny and gives the UCSB fans some character which I’m sure is quite memorable for visiting teams.
  3. Now, as much as the team spirit is great here, the chants are abysmal. I have heard maybe 3/4 songs at the games. One of the most common has to be “OLE, ole, ole, ole…. GAUCHOS, GAUCHOS.” Simple but clear I suppose. More complicated, tuneful (relatively speaking, obviously, an English football crowd is never truly melodious) chants have yet to surface this side of the Pond.
  4. I have never seen any, but apparently at football games here, you have fans from opposing teams sitting together, with no separation whatsoever?!?! This would be suicidal back home. I find this quite hard to understand, but after speaking to other UCSB students, it quickly became clear that there aren’t such violent relationships between sports fans in the USA compared to England, particularly for football fans. English readers: can you imagine the Manchester United vs Manchester City / Liverpool vs Manchester United / Tottenham vs Arsenal  games with both sets of fans sitting together?! It would be an absolute bloodbath.
  5.  The style of football here is quite different too. I would say, generally, there is a tendency for attacking players to try and walk the ball into the goal. They seem to be trying to score the goal of the season with every run. Which, as is to be expected with such individualistic style in an inherently team-based game, doesn’t often pan out. Quite often the vocal Canary fan inside me is screaming “PASS THE BLOODY BALL YOU MUPPET!” However, as I’m among the home fans and critical encouragement doesn’t seem as common among fans here, I have to swallow my words, wince, but keep my trap shut.
  6. If there is a draw at the end of 90 minutes for the primary UCSB team, here they have an extra two halves of 10 minutes. This isn’t reserved for special situations, like in a European tournament or the World Cup-type event, this is just how everyday UCSB games work. I spoke to one UCSB fan near me at the first game, after expressing wonderment to Giles, and the American student told me that he felt that Americans don’t like tie games. If teams have played through 90 minutes, and you still don’t know who is the better team, they would rather continuing play until you can eventually establish the victor. I had to smirk to myself, as the rules seem to have been changed, purely because some Americans can’t deal with a game where there are no winners or losers. Talk about American Exceptionalism!
  7. Finally, fans over here take a much more relaxed approach to viewing the beautiful game. People will wander in and out throughout the game, some staying for the entirety, others catching just one half, others arriving 20/40/60 minutes into the game. My personal opinion would be that if you’re there to support your team, and support them properly, you need to be there for the full entirety of the game, through thick and thin. None of this, “Oh we’re 3-1 down at 79 minutes, we might as well head to the car to get a head start on the other fans leaving the game.

Our mascot, the UCSB Gaucho

In summary, I am enjoying the football scene over here. However, I have to keep checking myself, and reminding myself that I have been an avid football fan and season ticket holder for going on 14 years now. What I’m used to is very different from the reality over here. Moreover, England is one of the true homes of the beautiful game, with a rich culture of football. It’s very hard to beat, and unfortunately America just isn’t a superpower in this instance. Nevertheless, it is interesting to visit another country where football is a minor sport when compared to baseball, basketball, hockey and, of course, AMERICAN Football. Still, I am pleased that there is at least some football culture here, and not a bad one at that.

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