We have forged some strong links over the “Pond” in the four years since we started our blog, ironically off the back of a visit to a “soccer” game in Orlando which was billed for publicity purposes as Columbia v Mexico, but on attending blatently wasn’t. We have interviewed some of the best known exponents of the round ball version of football who are based in the states, such as TheOffside.com’s Daryl Grove and EPLTalk.com’s Christopher Harris as well as players such as Miami FC’s Martyn Lancaster. But we had never got a real insight into what the American’s call Football which at the top level is better known as NFL.
We like to model ourselves at TBIR Towers a little bit like Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, sitting around all day thinking up ways to bring amusement to the general public. So when they brought out the fantastic “An Idiot Abroad”, featuring Karl Pilkington, we had an idea. What if we send our overseas based writers off to watch the local sports and get them completely immersed in the experience? Genius if I say so myself. Two quick phonecalls later and we had arranged for our Englishman in New York Luge Pravda to hot foot it down to the new Giants stadium at silly o’clock in the morning for a game. Over to you Luge:-
“The opportunity to stick to my one year old, less than prodigious, maxim to see the New York Giants in the flesh once a season (a season that yields only 8 guaranteed home games unless playoffs are secured) arose last week, thanks no less to Mr Fuller in London and to my sports fanatic colleague Andy Mack (the same Andy who last year as a show of thanks for that seasons Giants visit, I treated to the joys of Millwall vs Wycombe Wanderers at the New Den). Having sought, and gained approval from the Current Mrs Pravda, a day of NFL and a visit to the New Meadowlands stadium (in New Jersey – after all what New York teams would really be seen playing “in state” ) on what was to be a beautiful Sunday was confirmed.
Kick-off was 1pm. This translates into 3 or so hours of tailgating. Tailgating just doesn’t happen to the best of my knowledge in the soccer environs, at least as far as the UK is concerned. My theory is the Victorian grounds in built up areas preclude large car parks (aka parking lots) where mass BBQing (or grilling in American parlance) is so positively encouraged. For those who have walked underneath some poor soul’s bedroom to get into the ground at Kenilworth Road will know exactly what I mean. A massive expanse of car lot wasteland is what is required as well as police tolerance, social acceptance and enough meat to feed, well a few dozen or so Americans. All granted in the US at most stadia I am led to believe, perhaps with the exception of downtown arenas for basketball. Anyway, I digress. Tailgating is a business given much care and due diligence. Only on Friday did I witness an email from one of the tailgater commanders that all food and drink supplies had been allocated to the 50 or so fans in our group, and that 5, yes FIVE, grills would be required.
I set off from Port Authority Bus Station on 42nd Street on a bus headed direct to the New Meadowlands Stadium. The stadium, which is a rebuild of the old stadium (whose footprint is sat on what is the new car lot), is home to both the New York Giants and New York Jets NFL franchises. And it is in Rutherford, New Jersey. Last time I checked New Jersey and New York were distinct states. A long standing identity problem; doesn’t Queens or Brooklyn have room? Perhaps more importantly, this rebuild is co-owned by both teams, whereas the predecessor was known as the Giants Stadium for one reason – they owned it! Designed by Swedish architects Skanska, it is said to be the most expensive stadium in the world, at $1.6 billion. At today’s exchange rate that is only small change over £1 billion. Wembley isn’t too far behind by my reckoning but does have a lot less space for tailgating activities. Can you imagine if you pitched up in Wembley stadium car park with 50 mates and lit a BBQ? SO19 would be down on you like a flash.
I arrived at 10am on the dot as a skeptic had tweeted that I might not be a hardcore Giants tailgater. A beer in hand at 10.01am suggested otherwise, although as I would point out as the afternoon wore on “This fizzy pop beer is not a real drink – give me a Theakston’s Old Peculiar all day” in a more and more slurred state.
As those who follow my twitter feed will have noted the following is a list of tailgating facts:
– When I arrived I had already missed breakfast of egg and bacon bagels. Heaven knows how long everyone had been in the parking lot but someone did mention what a beautiful sunrise it had been.
– Someone brought 41lbs of ribs. That is nearly 3 stones of ribs. Our family basset hound used to weigh 3 stones and he was enormous.
– There were at least 100 hot dogs waiting to be grilled. The ham I tasted ( a “spiral ham” kept shouting Andy’s uncle, the proud cook of said ham) was more delicious than any ham I have ever tasted
– Like shrimps? Sure, here is an industrial size shrimp cocktail
– The group started playing egg tossing, not a rugby euphemism, rather a game involving throwing an egg to your partner from ever increasing distances, a game adopted by numerous English football clubs although the egg is replaced with beer bottles.
– The music blaring from people’s SUV’s (Big cars – Ed) was reassuringly Uncle Sam: “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield, “Jump” by Van Halen and so on. Bring out the Stars’N’Stripes.
– A group next to us decided it was perfectly acceptable and fitting to burn a Detroit Lions jersey – can you imagine what would happen if a group of West Ham fans set fire to a Millwall shirt outside Upton Park?
Apparently the set up of a tailgate party is similar to the Pimms and Quiche parties held in Twickenham’s West Stand car park whenever England play rugby but as I have yet to experience such a cultural high (and with rugby ranked 19th in the list of most popular American sports behind the likes of Korfball and Marbles I doubt I ever will) I cannot comment. What I can tell you was that I had a fantastic time – up until someone mentioned the W word – Wayne. I had tried to block the pain of the going’s on at Old Trafford out of my head but as soon as someone found out I was a Red they were quick to offer their opinion.
At 12.45pm people started packing tables, chairs and tupperware containers full of food into SUVs (Big cars again). We headed across the packed parking lot towards the monolith on the horizon. After ascending the stadium on a series of escalators to the top level we took to our seats. And not bad seats to boot.
Now I am not an expert when it comes to NFL game play, far from it. But I was sat with the expert, Andy Mack . The Giants went down 0-7 early on (Detroit scored a touchdown) , but then leveled and pushed on to a 21-10 lead. Even with my limited knowledge it was clear this was a methodical, somewhat perfunctory performance. The usual Giants players had good (read efficient) games: Quarterback (the bloke who throws the ball) Eli Manning, Running Backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs (Aaron Lennon and Adam Johnson). These are the names that are always spoken on a Monday morning in those water cooler moments during the season, and obviously for good reason.
Andy pointed out that the defense (that is defenCe) was focused on reducing the Detroit Lions Quarterback (ball thrower), Shaun Hill (basically smacking him to the ground irrespective if he has the ball). Hill is only the second choice Lion’s QB (ball thrower) so this was obviously a good strategy that paid off. Hill was pressured and then got injured. The Lions were then onto their 3rd string QB (ball thrower). The Giants scored some short TDs (goals) of the less than show reel variety (West Ham style – it doesn’t matter how they go in) but they all counted. The Giants led by 11 at 21-10 and then 28-17 before closing out (finishing the game) winners at 28-20. I have to make a confession: I left the stadium to walk back to the SUVs before the end of the 4th quarter simply because I was getting over hot, and sunburned which is totally unlike me to miss any of the action I go and see. Sunburnt in the middle of October – take that Polar Ice caps!
The post game tailgating was perhaps even more intense than the pre-game version. You get the idea from above so I won’t repeat myself. However, I think it is only fair and right I end with two general points:
1. The pre-game organization is exactly that, pre-game. I was having so much post-game fun I forgot the rules that all public transportation out of the Meadowlands area ends 2 hours after the final whistle. That would be a dedicated train to Secaucus, New Jersey where one can connect to trains back to New York; or the very goddamn bus I came on. After wandering aimlessly across the parking lot and back, dodging flocks of seagulls, I fell into a cab wanting to charge a bargain (read, daylight robbery) $25 to take me to Secaucus. Plus tip of course for getting me there alive.
2. And far more importantly, the best part of a day like yesterday is the amazing hospitality from the tailgaters, family members of my colleagues and friends. These people are so welcoming to a stranger with a strange accent, as my mates Rich and Quiche will testify from last year. Never have I had so much red meat pushed my way. I urge anyone to do this and not feel an affection to the passion these game goers put in to their overall game day experience.
My ticket was $85 for those concerned. But I only contributed a paltry $10 on food/drink my own body weight.”
We could leave it there, but thanks to the joys of technology we were able to obtain a lovely family shot of Luge when he got home to his new wife in Chelsea Village. After being out all day he had promised her a candlelit romantic dinner complete with a bottle of wine and an “early night”. The picture taken by the Current Mrs Pravda at 7pm suggests it was only her who drank the wine and went to be early whilst Luge got the couch all night.