The recent ash cloud over Europe disrupted my travels plan and forced me to spend an unexpected weekend in London. I scrambled for something to occupy my Saturday and managed to find tickets to the late April matchup in Wolverhampton in a match against the Blackburn Rovers.
The following weekend Sounders Sounders FC hosted the Columbus Crew. Rather than view the match from my usual perch high above the pitch, I decided to head down to an unoccupied seat and take it all in.
Interestingly enough, current Wolves goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann previously played for the USL-1 Seattle Sounders.
Below is my review of the Wolverhampton versus Seattle "matchup."
I decided to experience the train from London to Wolverhampton and back. On the ride to the fixture, a sedate crowd clad in their yellow and black kits enjoyed the English scenery along with me. On the return leg, songs of celebration, fueled by beer and other liquids, filled the carriage as the Wolves stayed up in the EPL for another year.
Molineux Stadium (no corporate name associated with this ground) is comprised of four distinct stands that have a combined capacity of 28,000. Away fans have their own entrances and are strictly segregated from the home supporters in two corners behind one of the goals - more on that later. From a corner seat high up in the upper tier, I had an unobstructed view of the pitch. The closeness of the stands to the field allowed me to hear players shouting instructions to one another and the usual complaints directed at the referee and his assistants.
In a pre-game ceremony commemorating the Wolves' 3-0 win FA Cup win in 1960 against the Rovers, the team re-enacted the awarding of the cup. Representatives from the Football Association handed the FA Cup to players in attendance from that era.
Once the game started, the focus shifted to the players and activities on the pitch. Athletic moves, defensive take-aways and saves led to rousing chants and shouts of appreciation from the home supporters. Conversely, they groaned and vented whenever someone made an errant pass or missed a scoring opportunity. Few people moved out of their seats during each 45-minute half, and no vendors roamed the aisles with souvenirs, food or drinks to distract from the game itself.
My interest in the game outcome was keener than usual. As is common in England, betting booths inside the stadium allowed me to place several small wagers on the final and halftime scores, goal scorers, the exact minute someone would strike and a myriad of other possibilities. It’s amazing how a few British pounds changed my perspective and attention in a match that mattered little to me.
Several "negatives" actually enhanced the match experience for me. The concession stands are small, while the concourses, aisles and seats are cramped. For some reason the video scoreboard was not operating and PA announcements were rare. Pre-game hoopla was minimal, except for the FA Cup ceremony. It was also odd not to hear the playing of the national anthem, as is common in the United States prior to all sporting events. The players lined up for their pre-game handshakes, the referee blew his whistle and it was game on. With few distractions, the activities on the field took precedence and provided an exhilarating 90 minute experience.
The excitement continued after the final whistle blew. The 1-1 draw against Blackburn resulted in the Wolves retaining their EPL status for another year. Although not mathematically safe, the home supporters stormed the pitch to celebrate. Several PA announcements failed to get the home crowd to leave and return to their seats. A number of supporters decided to surge towards the away stands to taunt their Blackburn counterparts. The police finally had to create a human barricade to keep the two groups apart. The jubilant crowd eventually dispersed and headed back to their favorite pub or made their way home.
Seattle Sounders FC
Supporters and the Sounders' marching band gathered in Pioneer Square an hour before kickoff and paraded the 10 minutes or so to Qwest Field for the March to the Match. The band and cadre of supporters sing and chant their way to the stadium. The cavernous ground holds 67,000, but limits seating to 37,000 for soccer. Tarps with corporate sponsors cover one end of the lower bowl and upper stands.
Prior to kickoff, pre-game festivities included the awarding of the Golden Scarf to an individual in the local soccer community who display passion for the sport. The pitch is filled with flags, the Sounders’ marching band and both teams as the U.S. national anthem is played. After its conclusion, booming fireworks and the release of blue and silver cellophane strips littered the pitch. Two large video screens, one on each end, provided live game action and replays.
The concourses beneath the stands are filled with numerous food and souvenir stands. If you want to take the game in from various perspectives, access to any level or portion of the stadium is allowed, except for the luxury box area. Seats are comfortable and wide throughout Qwest Field.
In scanning the crowd, I noticed the larger proportion of women and children in attendance compared to those in Wolverhampton. Vendors lugging beer, peanuts and other portable food and drink items freely roamed the stands. The extra wide-aisles and ability to easily move around the stadium gave the impression of constant motion from vendors and supporters.
As for the atmosphere, Seattle’s most ardent supporters chanted throughout the match and insulted the opposition goalie on every free kick opportunity. It was also obvious expectations aren’t up to EPL standards. Fans didn’t react as harshly or vehemently to passes that missed their mark, nor are there spontaneous reactions to subtle plays that required skill and training. Security, although not intrusive, outside and inside the stadium is much higher than what was present at Molineux. I doubt a pitch invasion would possible in this venue.
The noise level from the 37,000+ continued unabated from beginning to end. In numerous interviews with the Seattle players and their visiting counterparts, they all commented on the non-stop barrage of chanting and cheering from the home supporters. Those in the lower bowl stood throughout the entire match, adding to the intensity and atmosphere of a Qwest Field match.
The match against the Columbus Crew ended in a 1-1 draw, identical to the final score in Wolverhampton. Despite this similarity and other differences, the game is the same on the pitch. Both provided their share of excitement and unique experiences that will have me returning for more.
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