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My Experience Of An England Win And Soccer Culture At Wembley Stadium

LONDON – When England finally scored to move ahead of Australia on Friday night, I thought Wembley Stadium would erupt, friendly or not. But the noise that followed was more of a collective sigh of relief along the way to a 1-0 win for the home side during an international break in world club soccer.

PK WembleyA home match for a European soccer power trying to get things in order for the EURO 2024 tournament was a very cool thing to add to my list of sports experiences, and rooting for a country as a guest as one of 81,116 at a storied venue was something new too. 

Don’t mind me, I’m just an interloper joining in on your national fervor, wearing my red US Soccer sweatshirt. Remember us? You tend to not think much of us as a football nation, we’re here to play the other kind on Sunday, but we played you to a scoreless draw in World Cup 2022 in Qatar. But I’m with you now. 

You can’t consume alcohol when you can see the field at a national team or EPL game. That means beer-drinking is a concourse-only event and in the stroll from the Wembley Park tube station to the stadium I didn’t see people pounding drinks to get in a lather before the stadium rules slowed them down. [Unlocked]

I had a Pure Boost, my caffeine drink of choice, to help me with a bit of jet lag before I took a two-line, three-stop ride to the stadium neighborhood and while I contemplated a beer or “gin drink,” the other big offering,” I decided against it, in part because I wasn’t going to be able to sip it at my seat and standing in the concourse to have it wasn’t appealing.

The gin drink line – classic gin and tonic, pink gin and tonic or elderflower gin and tonic, which would have been my choice – was exclusively women when I sized it up. That would not have stopped me and later there were men there.) The beer offerings: Camden Pale Ale or Goose Midway Session IPA for £7.20 a pint, Brakspear Gravity Ale or Courage Best Ale for £6.99 and Budweiser 4.5% alcohol for £6.99. Two wines for £15.50 were also on the menu, I didn’t see how big they were.

The people around me were friendly. I tried not to interrupt too much, but I asked a few times who the culprit was on a mistake – because my eyes are getting bad and I didn’t have the uniform numbers down. Youngster Ollie Watkins (of Aston Villa) missed an easy chance off a great cross from one of my Chelsea guys, Conor Gallagher, and James Maddison (of Tottenham) took a ridiculously bad shot even considering the pouring rain during the first half, hitting a ball from just outside the 18 on the left out of bounds on the right.

Three LionsMy family is Chelsea fans from the Titans' last trip to London, when we saw them come back for a draw at their home field, Stanford Bridge with Man United.

That was pre-Christian Pulisic and my wife and I will still get up early to watch them some Saturdays or avoid the score to watch a recording of many of their games, though they are largely unrecognizable having brought in so many new players.

There was a lot to see besides the soccer and the booze control.

A young girl in front of me, probably 3 or 4, peeled the wrapper of her drink and used it to try to blindfold her dad. He was a charming guy but had a hard time playing along with her as he was intently into the match, like everyone else.

There were groans from a guy to my right when the Three Lions played backward after nearing the edge of the 18, as he called for players to release with forward runs that demanded passes.

A guy behind me boldly predicted a 3-0 win for England early in the first half but said all three goals would come in after intermission. Alas, there was just one, from Watkins, who advanced from the miss off the Gallagher cross to a hit post to this finish.

There were plenty of national team hats, shirts, jackets and scarves, and the Three Lions crest is beautiful to me. I think I saw more Liverpool gear than stuff for any other club, which seemed odd considering there are seven London teams in the EPL including giants Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham. And while Liverpool is a consistent force, Man City is the league’s dominant force.

There was minimal merch on sale, with the stuff outside just as good as the stuff inside. On the walk back to the tube, I got a pin with the specifics of the game for my collection for what I felt was a reasonable £5.

BryMakAndrew Reising, who you may know as Buck, managed to join me midway through the second half. He enjoyed the experience but mismanaged his time choosing an Uber rather than the underground after his radio show ended and facing a 7:45 p.m. local kickoff. I enjoyed the extra space, and then his company.

Our tube ride back got a little scary. There was an announcement that there were limited trains, so any chance people were going to hold back for the next one was severely reduced. People jammed into the car, to the point that until shoulders were properly turned, arms found the right bars and straps and deep breaths were taken, it felt like there could be a legitimately dangerous crunch. 

One young lady, the smallest person in the bunch, looked genuinely panicked, and clutched onto her boyfriend or husband, burying her face in his chest. When she came up for air I caught her eye and I told her I was sorry she was all scrunched in like that. She said she was OK, and looked it.

It added another thing to be glad for on one of those nights where I was sure to remind myself how lucky I am to get to be in the middle of stuff like this. 

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