This post was most recently updated on June 27th, 2018
Soccer’s popularity has skyrocketed globally, becoming one of the most widespread sports for people to both play and watch. However, Brits have been aboard this bandwagon for far longer than Americans.
If you’re traveling abroad in England and have the opportunity to catch either a Premier League, UEFA or minor league match, you will be experiencing a key component of British culture, and a slice of the local culture of the town or city you’re visiting.
Before you hit the pitch, here are some things every American should know before they head to the stadium.
9 Tips Every American Should Know Before Heading to a Football Match
1. It’s Not Soccer, It’s Football
In the United States, we call the sport “soccer,” which baffles most foreigners who call it “football.” Americans know the sport of “football” as one with pads, helmets, cheerleaders, and field goals. When you stop to think about it, the term “football” for “soccer” actually makes a lot more sense, since you are using your feet to control the ball. From here on out, we’ll call the sport by its proper British name.
2. Root for a Team
Before you head to England, do some research about the Premier League teams. You will get a sense of each team’s heritage, colors, and championship history. You don’t need to dive headlong into your fandom, but knowing a few key points about each city and their teams will give you something to discuss when you’re in the stands with die-hard fans. Not sure where to begin? Use this fun guide as your primer for picking a Premier League team to root for that might match your current sports preferences.
3. Learn Some of the Terms
Even if you’ve never played or watched a game of football in your life, familiarize yourself with some of the terms that you’ll likely hear when you attend the game. The field where the players are competing? That’s known as the “pitch.” The extra few minutes tacked onto the end of the match? That’s not overtime, that’s “extra time.” Knowing the small nuances of the sport’s language will help you both understand and enter conversations with local fans.
4. Don’t Expect to Tailgate
American football games, at both the collegiate and professional levels, are well-known for their barbecue cookouts, parking lots games, and party atmosphere. While you might visit a pub before the game, don’t expect fans to be getting rowdy in the parking lots in preparation for the match. Game day is a much more serious atmosphere, and fans are there to root for their club. If they want a plate of chips, they’ll get one at the pub afterward.
5. Tour the Stadium
If you have a chance to take a tour of the stadium on the days preceding the match, do it! Unlike many U.S. stadiums that are corporate-sponsored and lack a distinct identity, most U.K. stadiums are deeply rooted in tradition and history. For example, at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, you can see a clock with a date and time that is stopped to reflect the Air Munich crash of 1958 that killed half of Manchester United’s team. If you had skipped the tour, you’d be missing out on a crucial piece of the team’s past, and the touching way that it is commemorated in the present.
6. Don’t Get (or Expect to Be) Drunk
While you may have a picture in your mind of what a “soccer hooligan” looks like, be prepared that this is the exception and not the norm. At American sporting events, especially football, public intoxication is accepted and even encouraged. At a British football match you can’t drink alcohol at your seat, only on the concourse. Also, most stadiums serve tea at halftime, and some matches (like UEFA contests) don’t serve beer at all. Save your celebratory pints for after the match at a supporter’s pub.
7. Focus on the Game
There are no cheerleaders, commercial breaks, or quizzes on the jumbotron to distract from the game. Each match is approximately 90 minutes with a halftime break. Pay attention to the action on the pitch and throw around some of those new terms you’ve learned. If you look around, you’ll notice that your fellow fans are also keenly engaged on what’s happening in front of them. You will find it’s a refreshing contrast to American sporting events, where there are often too many things to distract you from the action.
8. Try Out a Chant
You’ll hear a number of chants going around the stadium at different times, some for specific players, some that are traditional, and some that are a bit naughty. Don’t be afraid to try to join in! If you don’t know the words, ask your neighbor, who will gladly fill you in.
9. Find a Supporter’s Pub
Surrounding most stadiums you will find supporters’ pubs, where fans of the local team gather before and after the match to discuss the game, players, championship hopes, a bite to eat and a pint. If you want to get a real sense of how the locals love “the beautiful game,” this is an ideal gathering spot.
By following these tips before you head to the match, and also on game day, you’ll be primed to have one of the most exciting and immersive experiences that you can have as a traveler. When you’re able to participate in a large event that has a great deal of meaning for area residents, you stop becoming a traveler and start seeing the city as a local.