Supersizing Soccer: What Britain’s Premier League Could Learn From U.S. Sports Culture

Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders bringing excitement—and a holiday touch—to the game of American football. (Photo: Tim Sharp/AP)

Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders bringing excitement—and a holiday touch—to the game of American football. (Photo: Tim Sharp/AP)

Brits love American stuff—Coca-Cola, Levi’s, Winston Churchill’s mommy—so soccer in the U.K. could do worse than to import a little sports culture from the U.S. Imagine how splendid it would be, for example, if the FA Cup Final had a halftime show like the Super Bowl (it’s already sponsored by Budweiser so surely this is the next logical step?). In recent years American football fans have been treated to some fantastic halftime spectacles like The Who, Bruce Springsteen and Janet Jackson’s boob. Clearly, Britain is missing out. Here’s what U.K. soccer needs to achieve some high-fiving awesomeness:

Tailgating
There is nothing not to love about tailgating. You get together with friends in the stadium car park before the match, have a barbecue, play lawn games and knock back a bit of cousin Mickey’s moonshine. It’s like a boozy car boot sale with the added bonus that nobody’s depressed or selling old Barry Manilow records.

Cheerleaders
“Give me an A! Give me an R! Give me an S! Give me an E! Who do you love? ARSENAL!”

Quirky paraphernalia
American sporting venues are full of quirky paraphernalia like foam fingers, Terrible Towels and Homer Hankies. The U.K., on the other hand, is a little dull when it comes to match-day memorabilia; it’s mainly just scarfs, hats and flags. However, in defense of British sports fans, overzealous health and safety officials have outlawed almost everything that was fun to take to a game: rattles, vuvuzelas, large reptiles and so on, but surely they can’t say no to a foam finger?

Good food at stadiums
When it comes to stadium food, it’s like the U.K. forgot it’s not 1922 anymore. The most popular soccer snack in Britain is the vaguely named “Meat Pie.”  Nobody knows what’s in it, and nobody wants to for fear they might be eating something that was once somebody’s pet. But the halftime pie has remained a British institution for decades, and it’s usually washed down with a steaming hot mug of Bovril – a salty beef extract drink that, depending on personal taste, is equally as disgusting or delicious. Meanwhile, in America, sports fans are chowing down on delicious gourmet food like coffee-and-brown-sugar-rubbed brisket sandwiches (FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland), red and gold short rib melts (Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City), and even cranberry-almond raspberry salads (Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis).

Great ads during the FA Cup Final
In 2010 Nielsen released a survey that showed the majority of people who watched the Super Bowl were tuning in for the commercials rather than the game.  Whether this says more about America’s most “strategic” sport or the fabulousness of the ads, I’ll let you be the judge, but what is clear is that you don’t have to be a fan of the game to enjoy the broadcast.  Of course, to make this commercial-culture work in the U.K. we’d have to divide the FA Cup Final game up into quarters and have an ad-break every time the ball went out for a throw-in, but I’m sure British soccer fans wouldn’t have a problem with that.

Allow fans to enjoy a beer while they enjoy the game…
In the mid-1980s, British soccer fans were very, very naughty, and the powers-that-be decided it was high time they were punished, so Britain’s leaders took away their alcohol. (Fans could still drink in the stadium, just not in view of the field, which makes perfect sense because everybody knows that if weak lager comes into eye-contact with grass it explodes.) Now, almost 30 years on, the ban still stands. During the dark days of the 1980s when hooliganism thrived in Britain, the ban was justified, but since the introduction of all-seater stadiums, combined with a heavier police presence and CCTV, grounds have become much safer, family-oriented environments. So can we have our beer back please?

Allowing beer in the terraces would make halftime enjoyable
In Britain, halftime usually means enduring a lengthy line to use toilets that haven’t been cleaned since the 1987-88 season followed by an even longer wait for a beer. Then, when you finally get around to being served, you’re left with exactly 9 seconds to drink it before the game restarts, but inevitably you miss the only goal of the game and you just sort of stand there thinking “Why?” You don’t get a backlog of beer drinkers like this in the U.S. because, as we already know, fans are drinking in their seats. 

So American halftimes are spent enjoying entertainment like watching kids who’ve drunk too much Pepsi ride on a Zamboni, attempting to catch t-shirts fired into the crowd by cheerleaders, or watching the Red Panda Acrobat flip five bowls onto her head with one foot while riding a unicycle with the other.

Warning: this is the most amazing thing you will ever see.

See more:
The Brit’s Guide to Being an American Sports Fan
Do Brits Play Ice Hockey? An Englishman’s Appreciation of the Sport
Britain’s Long-Distance Affair with the NFL