International Break


By Matthew Bird.

If, back when I was 16 and asked what I’d be doing in 20 years time, then I doubt being drunk in a car park in Kansas City 4 hours before kickoff at the USA v Guatemala game would have been my first answer.

The thing is, I am not American. Not yet at least (November 2nd I take my oath) and Kansas City is 240 miles from where I live. So thinking about it logically I have no business being at this game. Had I have still lived in Manchester, I never would have gone to Wembley to watch England. It’s expensive, a hassle to get in and out of, and the fact that the FA don’t take the England games out to the provinces any more irks me, people in Newcastle and Lancaster are just as English as people from within the North Circular. So be it San Marino or Spain, I would not go on principle.

However the USA do take the game throughout the provinces, in fact actively seem to realize that a game in New York may get scant regard with all other entertainment options available for the consumer dollar, but for September’s Jamaica game was front page news in Columbus Ohio with a fantastic atmosphere to match.  So along with some friends from St Louis, we traipsed to Kansas City for a liquid orientated few days talking football.

I keep hearing how on 606 and talkSPORT that FIFA and UEFA need to do something about the international breaks because they interrupt the season blah blah blah blah. Because let’s face it, in the UK we are so self-centered we actually believe that the world governing bodies should bow down to the Premier League and the wants and fancies of their fans.

It is too a degree is an argument, one that I held up until recently. My regular Saturday is usually rising at 6am to watch the first game of the day, some breakfast while waiting for the 9am fixtures to get going (3pm in the UK) and then your late game is my 11:30am game. So basically I watch 3 games on a Saturday, and 2 on a Sunday. So it’s hard not to agree with a sentiment that FIFA is robbing me of my league football.

However, on any given weekend in England you can watch Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole, Joe Hart or Steven Gerrard. You can even go and watch Andy Carroll if it floats your boat. Any given weekend.

On the opposite side of the fence, the chances for someone in Montana to watch Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Geoff Cameron in live action are few and far between. With say, 14 international breaks per year, and 50% being away trips that leaves the probability of around 7 home games for the USA in any given calendar year. Including the vast distances of the country, even most of these are inaccessible for the majority. So for a minute, think about the other side of the fence. The international break may be a pain in the neck for someone in Stalybridge, but for some in other parts of the world it’s an anticipated godsend and the only chance to ever see their players in the flesh.

So we drove, 15 of us in a minibus across Missouri from St Louis to Kansas City. We were pretty drunk and bursting for a slash within 50 miles. The miles fell away, once thriving expansionist towns of Kingdom City and Boonville were used as refueling stops. Finally after 3 and a half hours we arrived at our destination.

The group, officially named “American Outlaws” that I travelled with have chapters all over the country and they laid on a magnificent night at Kansas City’s power and light district the night before the game. I met Ian Darke, a commentator for ESPN and Alexi Lalas whom I chastised for the goal against England back in the day. I really began to feel that this wasn’t a match, it was an event in which the match was the cherry on top of the cake. When you’ve only got 7 chances a year to stage your top players, you have to be able to make the most of it.

The game itself was played at Livestrong Park, a smaller but state of the art venue in a commercial district. We walked from our hotel to the tailgate*, a uniquely American experience of sitting around for hours before a sporting event having a barbeque and drinking a plethora of beer. This lasted 4 hours. I don’t know about you, but I can get pretty bladdered in 4 hours with nothing else to do but drink. From the tailgate we marched en masse to the stadium, only about a mile or so and this I found both weird and amusing.

In the Guardian Football weekly podcast, Barry Glendenning always mocked those whom ‘marched’ anywhere from a place they always drink at to a game they were going to anyway. I had this in mind as walked to the ground but I was three sheets to the wind so I figured what the hell.

USA 3 - 1 Guatemala, Livestrong Sporting Park, CONCACAF qualifying, 16 October 2012English FA take note here. My ticket cost $36, beers in the stadium cost $4. Making minimally around £30 to watch a national team of European league calibre players play a World Cup qualifier. Also the notion of sitting in the stands in full view of the game while having said beer is a foreign one to me even after 12 years in the States.

The game itself finished 3-1 to the USA. Dempsey bagged a brace, and I think in my stupor I maybe saw it was Carlos Bocanegra with another. But to be honest a win is a win. I enjoyed the game, but I enjoyed the event and everything else asides that went with it. There are rumours that the USA will play Mexico in either Columbus or Kansas City in the next round of qualifiers and I for one, can’t wait.

*tailgating comes from the lowering the gate at the end of a pickup truck, sitting on it, and getting drunk……. you know, King of the Hill kinda stuff.

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