Lou Boyd (@LordLouCan) continues his epic New York sports club and beer pilgrimage.
Following my contrasting visits to the Cosmos and NYCFC, I thought I’d also take in some of the nation’s pastime, baseball, in person and some NFL and more MLS on telly for that armchair fan experience we see more amongst our Chelsea and Manchester United supporting neighbours.
Like food, sport is everywhere in this city, and with half a dozen sports (NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB, MLS, UFC) vying to be number one, it’s no surprise. I appreciate that football is light years ahead of any other sport in Europe and the UK – rugby, cricket, boxing, even athletics are no where near – despite the ‘Olympic legacy’ of some flats around a shopping centre in the East End.
Popping in to The Football Factory, in the Legends Bar in Manhattan, you’re in a sort of soccer hall of mirrors – 13 screens per floor showing every game possible – 20 or so Red Bull fans are in colours watching their near top-of-the-table team, away to Bruce Grobelaar’s old haunt, the Vancouver Whitecaps. Immediately my Cosmos t-shirt draws some friendly attention from the Red Bulls fans, similar to the way I find some Premier League club fans react when I tell them I’m a Bee. A sympathetic, but distant, good for you – as if I’ve announced I’m going to give chemo one last try or live as another gender.
The barman kindly decides that, maybe, a dozen screens showing the same game is sufficient and switches one to where I can catch Cosmos away to a Fort Lauderdale Strikers – immediately drawing two exiled fans of theirs over to the table. We discuss the travelling for players and fans across a huge continent and why areas like Florida (and London) compete fiercely between clubs of all sports.
Interestingly, there seems some tension between the sports, in the same way we laugh at the posh egg chasers of Harlequins down the road, although you may end up supporting a combination of each, not only based on geography, but maybe where you, or a family member, went to college. Here, even the majority of footballers have a college education, not paraded, spat-out or lionised from the point of being hormonally over-developed 15-year-olds, as in English football.
Both games are tense, nil-nil affairs, until Brentford ‘legend’ Bradley Wright-Phillips (BWP) scores what will the the Football Factory’s only live goal of the night, to secure a vital away win. The crowd at the bar celebrate and break into a song aimed at DC United – an older rival rather than NYCFC – the more ‘local’ rival. It’s all jovial and akin to a Celtic game in the New Inn.
As I take a piss on my way out the TVs in the bogs are showing post-match interviews with two ex-Bees, Mike Grella and BWP, who inform me that “New York is red”. In contrast, everywhere on the subway, I’m assured that NYFC is ‘the team that plays at Yankees stadium’ and even on the fringes of the City, in Irish East Yonkers, there is an NYCFC bar for football loving Americelts.
The tussle between a more established, older, but ultimately exiled club, and their younger, more noticeable, more local club, is evident. I made a choice not to travel to New Jersey to watch any sport, the same way I wouldn’t watch London Irish in Reading, London Wasps in Coventry or possibly have followed Brentford to Woking. It’s a quirk I’m glad has been kept out of English football after one mistake.
I go to watch the Yankees play Toronto, in the same stadium I’d been to watch the MLS. There are vocal away fans cheering their team, although they’re probably NYC based, and again, I’m amazed at the price (in a bad way), but (in a good way) by the service choice and comfort available. I wonder if the FA or EFL looks sideways at other sports for any lessons on how to treat fans?
I bopped my way ‘Warriors style’ down to Coney Island to watch the end of season local Minor League baseball derby between Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees (pictured above). The former is a feeder club for the Mets nearby in Queens, and the later, one of a network of feeder clubs for the Yankees.
Reminiscent of a Kev O’Connor testimonial, the team I’m supporting promptly implode and go down 5-0 – the highlight being a Joe Harte-sque error from the home team at the start, just to set the tone. These players all have a chance of making the Major League, so it’s a bit like Arsenal reserves versus Spurs reserves, or the mutated, malformed horror of the Checkatrade Cup, or is it scraping your youth academy for a B team?
Essentially, there is no competition between teams, more a karaoke stage for talented young divas to get swept up in to the big time. The crowd receives some great transfer news mid-game – Arielle, a Latino mermaid of a cheerleader for the home team, has been signed by the Boston Celtics! I’m reminded of when Terry Evans left football to work in rugby.
At the end of my fortnight of sport in NYC many of my thoughts around my beloved Brentford have been challenged and altered. It seems every football team here is on the move, or wants to be, and that rivalries and allegiances swiftly grow and die – much like us one year with the Walsalls and the Orients of lower league football – to the Fulhams and Rangers of the upper Championship.
One fan described the sporting overload as having a combination code of teams across sports – you can hardly go a weekend without one playing. As a current resident of Brooklyn, and with a TW8 honed love for the underdog, my American sporting teams would be the Mets, the Jets, the Nets and the Islanders, who’s rivals are funnily enough called Rangers.
The teams, and supporters, are developing, and I’m told there was even a first bit of NYC based hooliganism between NYCFC and Comos in the Open Cup – their version of the FA Cup.
The lack of relegation, or the glass ceilings below top flights, are probably what jars most after experiencing the Brentford rollercoaster of the last two decades.
I worry as well that, whilst the fans are doing there best to be authentic, the clubs are maybe chasing a rainbow, with a UEFA or FIFA style un-declared pot of gold at the end of it. The Cosmos hark back 25-plus years, and dress like the Jets NFL team – Red Bulls and NYCFC are branches of wider franchises – that dictates their colours and names. It makes me consider whether we need to examine who is the dog and who is the tail in the relationship between the Bees and FCM.
I encountered new sporting situations – a Mets fan complained to me that the Yankees logo is such a powerful fashion brand in the U.S. that his kids switched teams rather than be seen to wear the grey, orange and blue of Queens. I watched a bar full of NY Giants fans salsa in celebration at a late one-point victory, whilst bemused, but unhassled, Jets fans in colours watched their team beaten by point on the screen next to it.
Ultimately, I’m lucky enough to have travelled thousands of miles to spend my free time watching a pretty good standard football, played the right way, amongst friendly, feisty, passionate people, who could so easily have done something else. It’s clear to me, that whilst it’s nice to be important, it’s more important to be NYC.