I wanted to share with the NJ soccer community the opportunity I had to travel to London last weekend to go see my beloved Saints of Southampton play in the EFL Cup Final. Seeing a game overseas is an experience that will last a lifetime for any true football fan. The MLS can provide a great atmosphere and I recommend a trip to Red Bull Arena in Harrison for anybody looking to see a professional game. Although comparing that to a Cup Final at Wembley is like comparing Ham and Prosciutto. 85,000 plus fans turned out in a near equally divided arena and showed their intense passion for a sport that we can only hope one day reaches that level of intensity in America.
1st I’d like to answer the question at least 5 people asked me while in London – Why a Saints Supporter? Honestly I can’t explain exactly why, but after having to answer the question to people from the UK, why an American would travel all that distance for a single game? I had to come with something, so these were the answers I gave.
- Pochettino and Lallana. In 2013 when I first saw the Saints on TV, I loved the style in which they played in, which was heavily influenced by new Coach Mauricio Pochettino (now of Spurs). Adam Lallana stuck out instantly as a player with a significant future with his technical skill and flare which can sometimes be absent from the British game.
- Investment in Youth – I am a youth soccer coach. Their investment (from all their player sales) goes right back to their youth facilities, training, and scouting. They are world renown for the “Southampton Way.” Pumping out names like Bale, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Shaw just to name a few. Southampton is even in talks with youth programs in the USA to teach their methodologies, which I will jump at the opportunity to attend.
I am fully invested now and self proclaimed as the #1 American-Born Fan in the U.S.
The game itself was tremendous – I hope you watched – 6 goals (only 5 counted) back and forth momentum swings, and an atmosphere that was created by hours of adult beverages prior to kick off. Here are 2 videos prior of the teams walking out of the tunnel and a bit of the energy that was building before the 1st whistle. They are a little shaky, but that’s possibly because I was having some fun at pregame.
For a quick recap on the game it went like this…. The game started out tense, but both teams kept their composure. Sounthampton after 11 minutes found the back of the net via Gabbiadini and we all went nuts on our side of the stadium, just to turn around mid celebration to see United moving the ball up the pitch. We had no idea what happened in the stadium as the goal looked perfectly good and no replay was shown. We later found out from a supporter on the subway that showed us a similar article to this one if you want to see for yourself.
We moved on until the 20th minute when a harsh foul gave none other than Zlatan Ibrahimovic a free kick chance from 30 yards – which he buried and I knew he would. Down 0-1 was rough, but we kicked on and created chances and looked the better side in bringing it back. Then a 2nd momentary lapse put us behind as Lingard was allowed to literally roll a pass into the back of the net. 0-2 down our side of the stadium was literally silent (no booing) just silence. However a 2 goal lead is the scariest and one breakthrough before the half is all we could hope for to turn things around. Call on Mr. Gabbiadini again! 43rd minute he nutmegged de Gea and got us right back in it. When the goal was scored I immediately looked toward the Techincal Box and saw the panic in Mourinho’s body language.
1-2 at the half sparked the crowd and Southampton came out on fire to start the second! We earned 3 corner kicks in a row and the name you will not forget Gabbiadini popped up again and brought it level 2-2 and the crowd went nuts, including myself. Video Below.
What’s great about a Final at Wembley is the divided halves of the stadium. If a goal is scored, one side goes crazy, the other goes silent, and vice versa. I have to say the Southampton fans were just better and really sung their lungs out and got behind their team to put them back level.
The next 40 minutes were agonizing though, but Saints had better of the ball, hit the post, had a ball go all the way across the 6, and then the dagger occurred. It was a photographic moment that will lodge in my brain for eternity. The ball lofted up and Zlatan being freaking Zlatan and rising above everyone to head the ball home and seal the Cup win. It was a tough fate to accept, but Southampton fans stuck around and gave recognition to him holding the cup and the legend he is. They also gave their team a well deserved applause for what many writers believe was a fantastic performance deserving of a cup title for the Saints.
I am sharing this experience though because it is something all American soccer fans need to experience in their lives. That was my second European game ever (the other being a Champions League game in Milan that Mourinho coached as well against Chelsea). Both experiences are up in there for top 5 in my life, no joke. You can’t put a price on the memory you will create, the energy you will feel, and the passion you leave with.
It’s not just the game. It’s being in the pubs before and after, and total strangers coming straight up to you and talking about the game. Supporters from both sides congregating in designated areas and standing side by side in local pubs speaking with a general passion about the sport that you cannot find in the U.S…. yet. I actually ended the night sitting at a pub with 3 United fans being told how I “know nothing about bleeping soccer because it is football” and I loved every minute of it. No matter the result, I am happy I went, and if given the opportunity, parents should seek out the chance to take their kids to a game in Europe or abroad. It simply will create a new found passion for soccer and respect for the game that it is currently hard to reproduce in this country and something you will never forget.