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Always Making Time For Football

Hey all, it's Sean checking in from the land where fries are chips and chips are crisps...En-ga-land. Check out Jameson with the proper source-crediting format...I should have known he'd come in here and class the place up.

I only have a little bit of time before I'm off to Dublin (Mmmmm...Guinness. Factory. Tour.) but I had to share some thoughts on my first professional football soccer match game.

Saturday, my friend and local Briton Wayne took me to see the Milton Keynes Dons take on the Cheltenham Town....um...whatever they are. Sorry, no Premiership sadly, too far and too expensive for my tastes. This is League 1 football. If I'm breaking it down college football-style, if the Premiership is 1-A, Championship Division is 1-AA, League 1 is Division 2 and then League 2 is NAIA. Sure, my introduction to pro soccer was like going to see Colgate vs. Cortland but hey, beggars can't be choosers. Besides, the Dons are a hot team...they won the League 2 championship last season which allowed them to jump up to League 1. They're a team going places...and it's nice to have the chance to root for a team like that from time to time.

We arrived about an hour early for the match so we did what any self-respecting soccer hooligan would do...went shopping at IKEA. The Dons' new stadium is located directly next to the Swedish home decor giant, which I would think makes it extremely family-friendly. Kids can go play in the ball pit, husbands can go cheer for the Dons.

A cutting board, pizza slicer and a couple plastic cups later (Wayne's building up his bachelor pad), we were off the match...game...whatever.

First thing I noticed was how eerily similar the stadium is to the Carrier Dome, you know, minus the whole dome thing. But really, take the Dome, get rid of about 10K seats and move the luxury boxes above the upper deck and you'd pretty much have the Dons home. I instantly felt at home. Also helped that our seats were almost exactly where my seats were when I was a student at SU. Right behind the right "endzone" corner.

Admittedly, it wasn't a big crowd. But what they lacked in size the certainly made up for in noise. The Dons' main fan section was located directly behind the goal I was near. It seemed like the epicenter was directly in back and then all of the other fans sat around them...the second ring being the newbie hardcore fans, the third ring being families and kids and the fourth ring being strange American blokes such as myself.

From the get-go, the fans were loud, they were cheering and they were singing. It seems like a helluva lot of prep time goes into being a Dons fan (or any soccer fan I imagine). You gotta know at least ten songs by heart...although to be fair most of the songs just consist of 5-6 words repeated over and over and 2-3 of them are "Dons."

No matter what they were singing, cheering or dancing (which they did on any Dons goal, which there were three of), they never let up. It was a solid reminder that, as much as we American sports fans love to pride ourselves on our passion and game revelry, there's still something missing. And it's every time that a fan at a Syracuse game complains that the people in front of them are standing or complains that people are going overboard with their excitement for the team and for the sport that you know we'll never be as outwardly passionate as fans like this. Not to say we don't have our moments, but, it's fair to say that Dons fans were going just as crazy when the team wasn't winning as they did when they were. If you aren't standing and going nuts...well...what's wrong with you???

There were a handful of Cheltenham fans on hand, bless them. About 300 or so. And they say on the opposite side of the stadium. They tried to get their own chants and cheers going but the second it became audible on our side of the stadium the Dons fans were ready to bang their drums, chant, sing and drown them out. Thing of beauty, it was.

Various notes and items of interest:

You've never really appreciated the phrase "The Ref's A Wanker" until you've heard an entire stadium chant it in unison.

They actually announced the actual crowd (around 9K, 1/3 of the bottom stands full, the upper deck is still being worked on). Like I said, not a big one, but I can tell you that every one of them was making enough noise to drown out a 20-25K Syracuse crowd from this season. Easy.

Who says the English aren't nice people? When we stopped by the concession stand before the match, the food we wanted wasn't ready and was going to need 15-20 minutes. We said we'd come back at halftime but they insisted we let them know where we're sitting and they would just bring us the food when it was ready. The concession stand people! When was the last time the kid behind the concession stand counter hand-delivered a Dome Dog to your seat?

The kids (and I mean kids) behind me spent the entire game shouting "Come on, you Dons!" which I found interesting. I've never heard a phrase that starts with "Come on, you..." end on a positive note. It's usually "Come on, you fucking asshole...throw a strike!" or something of that ilk. I feel like I've been taken to the next level of cheering. "Come on, you Orange!"

The Dons mascots are two cows, a male and a female. It's apparently based on the fact that Milton Keynes is famous for the "concrete cows" which is a little like being home for the biggest ball of twine. Anyway one of the cows mysteriously wears one of those microphone head-sets that boy bands wear. But it's a cow. And it's a mascot, which means it's mute. So, um...WTF? It'd be like Otto wearing a headset, although that might be mildly hilarious given that Otto's arms are where his ears should be.

For on the field action, the big shock was that the Dons goalie got thrown out of the game about fifteen minutes in. One of the other players baited him with a cheapshot and the goalie responded by knocking him to the ground in full view of the ref. And if I don't follow soccer and I know the player is going to flop, SURELY the goalie knows this, right? At this point I'm not sure if the Dons are going to be playing the rest of the match without a goalie but it turns out it won't be THAT exciting. They just bring in the back-up and play a man-down for most of the match.

Got to see two penalty kicks, one that was blocked (who knew that actually happened...) and one that went in...by the Dons...right in front of the Dons' fans. Suffice to say...we danced.

All in all a great experience. The Dons won 3-1. They came over after the match to salute the fans for their efforts, the fans returned the favor and then we were on our way. A Swedish pizza cutter and a quality soccer match...it was a good day.

And so, allow me to introduce the newest member of the MK Dons Supporters Club. I'm not ready to rename the blog Dean Lewington Is An Absolute Magician or anything like that, but I suspect that I'll be keeping an eye on the Dons and forcing you to do so as well. At least for the next couple weeks, before I get bored and forget about it.

Back to your regularly scheduled programming. I'll probably check in once or twice more but otherwise it's Jameson's ship until the 8th of November. I'm doing my best to stay up to speed on things...I see Ty is stepping down in Washington leaving Greggers to handle the hot seat all by his lonesome, Randy Edsall hasn't been contacted about the SU job even though he has even though he hasn't, Donte Greene and his millions feel hated by SU fans and G-Mac's dream officially took another hit in Utah where he was waived. The more things change the more they stay the same... Be well Oranginos, do good things.