The Real (Salt Lake) Deal

It was inevitable. We seem to be on a crusade to attend games for all the professional sports teams Salt Lake City has to offer. This weekend it was the Real Salt Lake soccer game against the New England Revolution. Our daughter got a free ticket for registering for soccer, plus our kids each got a free ticket from the Mayor’s office for perfect attendance at school. So when our daughter’s team decided they wanted to go to a game as a class we decided to all go.

Rio Tinto Stadium is pretty nice. It’s hard to believe there are seats for 25,000 people. It doesn’t seem that big. We were about fifteen rows from the field, about even with one of the goals. Unfortunately we were also near the “Supporter Section.” Shall I start by saying that evidently when you call to buy group tickets they actually warn you about not sitting near these people?

Real’s supporters seem determined to provide the authentic soccer experience, right down to the hooligans. As we took our seats I could see one group of supporters already in place. I suspect they are from a local soccer club. Being “real soccer players” they decided to display their “class” and “professionalism” by taunting the visiting team while they warmed up, mainly by yelling profanity and repeatedly showing obscene gestures. Never mind the announcer had just completed reciting the code of conduct Yeah, real high-quality guys that made me so proud to be from Salt Lake. I secretly began wishing New England would beat Real.

Little did I know that worse was in store. Once the game started they mostly settled down. But higher up in the Supporter Section the party was just getting started. There was a larger group that came complete with drums, brass instruments, smoke machines, confetti and streamers (signs at all entrances forbid all of these items for the rest of us)–and at least a six-pack each pre-loaded in the tank. They settled into a drumming pattern (with bi-tonal, out-of-tune blatting brass accompaniment) and didn’t stop until half-time. It was loud, obnoxious, and made it difficult to concentrate on the game.

I now understand where football hooligans come from. They’re they people so driven to distraction by “super-fans” that they crack and go on a violent spree. At half-time they all ran off to the beer-stand, leaving their noise-makers behind. I was heartily tempted to gather a gang, rush their stands, and pitch their gear over the back of the bleachers to certain destruction on the concrete below.

Occupy Wall Street supposedly had a drum circle that played non-stop every day (and some nights) the entire time they were there. Just 45 minutes of this was enough to drive me batty. OWS kept it up for months. I’m surprised that when the NYPD finally went in it wasn’t with Gatling guns and tactical nukes. I swear no jury on earth would convict them–not if I were on it, anyway.

Of course the minute the second half began they were right back at it, and they didn’t stop until the end of the game. I swear I heard them all night in my sleep. I so much as see a drum and I start to twitch. Drums! Drums in the deep! We cannot get out! We cannot get out!

Oh yeah, the game. Well, Real won, 2-1. The game itself was pretty good. It’s like slow-motion basketball. It was fun to see players at that level of competition. These are big guys, running full out, using every part of their body, and coming within inches of each other. It’s amazing they weren’t all hauled off the field in body-bags. There were several injuries, as it was. At least a handful of yellow cards were given out, and a couple red cards.

But they have the skills, as they say. The goalies were especially fun to watch. Those guys must tank up on caffeine before each game to have the reactions they have. Most of the players are able to head a ball kicked 2/3rds the length of the field without it fazing them, and direct it right to someone they hoped to pass it to. They can kick a ball from sideline to sideline and have it withing feet of their intended target.

It was a hard-fought game. Evidently this makes it seven straight that Real has won from the Revolution. I can see why. RSL seemed to be in control of the game, even though New England scored first. Their goal-line defenses were fanatical. They penetrated the Revolution’s defense more regularly. We seem to have a pretty solid team here.

But I can’t say I’m eager to see another game. Part of it is culture shock. I somewhat knew what English soccer crowds can be like, but somehow I never thought they’d be able to import that to America (let alone staid Utah). And perhaps they haven’t, but they’d succeeded with at least part of it. The club has an anthem, and everyone is expected to sing it repeatedly to start and finish each game, plus any time they score during the match.

I’m not an enthusiastic sports fan. I’ll cheer my side, but I won’t sing anthems. Sorry. Nor will I join the crowd in booing the referees or jeering the other team’s mistakes. It was a fun game to watch, but the atmosphere there seemed over the top somehow. I prefer a sedate, family-friendly baseball game. Even the Jazz game seemed better somehow. Perhaps I’m just wasn’t prepared for “soccer as religion”. One bright spot was that we were only a few miles from home.

Perhaps my experience would have been more enjoyable had we been farther away from the Supporter Section. They really made it hard to enjoy the game. I may give RSL another chance some day, but I’ll make sure our seats are far away from that end of the stadium. And perhaps knowing what to expect will make it a bit easier to take. I’ll at least know to take ear plugs and/or aspirin.