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Philly football

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


Even before Manchester United and FC Barcelona stepped onto the pitch in Philadelphia, before 68,396 fans packed into the city's brand-new Lincoln Financial Field for its inaugural event, the international friendly was already making history. Philly resident, Hal Cohen, was there to feel the culture amongst the largest ever turnout for a soccer game in the city. Did he witness America moving a step closer to becoming a football nation?
While many skeptics will say that football has still yet to conquer America, the numbers from a recent American tour of world powers like Man Utd, Juventus, Barcelona, and Celtic would say the sport is at the very least, colonising.
Over two weeks, these internationally known squads have played tune-ups for their league seasons in front of sell-out crowds. Almost 80,000 crammed into New Jersey's Giants Stadium a few days earlier to see Man Utd down Juventus 4-1. And, while the large international population of the New York area and the city's reputation as a vacation destination helped with attendance, how else but a genuine interest in football could explain the full houses in more homogenous locales like Seattle and Boston?
Philadelphia was the last stop on the Man Utd tour, and tickets for the event sold out in two days. While many were there to merely to take in the amenities of the long-awaited new digs for the National Football League's Eagles, the predominately Man Utd crowd clearly had football on the mind.
Many had traveled far and were as fired up for this exhibition game as if it had the significance of a pivotal late-season decider. On the subway down to the game, each car was cloaked in the traditional red jerseys of Manchester, as if Old Trafford was just a few stops down the line.
Seated next to me were two medical students from Chicago, one originally from India, the other from South Africa, who had attended the New jersey game as well, as it was only a two hour drive away.
"They announce Alex Ferguson as 'Mr' [instead of 'Sir'], but other than that the match was great," said the South African, commenting on how America had been handling the matches.
Traditional footballs had replaced the American version as the ubiquitous time killer of choice outside the stadium before the game. Canadians Steve Smith and his brother, visiting from Ottawa, were both finding the parking lot scene far more conducive for their pre-game festivities.
"My friends and I must've spent at least $2,000 in food and drink at this one bar last night. We were having a good time, singing our songs, and we got kicked out," Steve said. "The bouncer said we were being disrespectful to his culture, but there wasn't any swearing, just songs."
Dave Stewart from Manchester and his Canadian friend Christian were equally concerned about the traditional cheers sung throughout matches. "I'm worried that the crowd won't know the songs," Stewart said, "If you don't know, just listen to the section where all the noise is coming from."
Yet Stewart needn't worry. As Man Utd inched closer to victory, more renditions of "Glory, glory Man United" were belted out. Pity the poor Barcelona fan among them who tried sticking up for his side only to have his voice drowned out by the rest of the section.
Now with a suitable grass field and an apparent fan base to come to it, the Man Utd match will most likely be used as an example that a Major League Soccer franchise in Philadelphia could flourish. While logistics for that are being worked out, it's apparent that the popularity of football is continuing to spread its wing in the States, even in a blue-collar, (American) football rabid city like Philly.
"We know Americans accepting soccer will be a slow process," Stewart says, "Right now, it's mostly the younger generation but it's getting there. I mean we've seen quite a number of people wearing jerseys... even though they're usually for teams not even playing."
"OK" Christian, interjected sticking up for North America, "But at least they got the right sport."


Hal Cohen, August 2003


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