Tuesday, May 05, 2009

On Your Feet

Today's Wall Street Journal (of all places) has an interesting article on one of the more obvious transatlantic differences between sports fans. Americans, by and large, prefer to sit, while Europeans, by and large, prefer to stand and be active during games.

The explanation? We're full of ourselves, basically:

It goes back to 'the middle ages, when the nobility sat and the common plebs stood,' says Rod Sheard, senior principle of the leading sports architecture firm Populous and designer of the Emirates. 'All of America is nobility. Everyone thinks they're king in America.'

Indeed, 19th-century baseball fans in the U.S. quickly developed higher standards for comfort than British soccer fans, says Steven Riess, author of 'Sport in Industrial America, 1850-1920.' 'I think there was a sense of entitlement for American leisure clients that they didn't have in Europe.'
An interesting theory, but is has a couple of holes.

For one thing, there are plenty of American sports where large portions of the crowd are standing and active, mostly in college sports. I spent plenty of time standing in the middle of students sections in high school and college, but I'm not really interested in doing that now.

For another, the divide seems to be less American v. European than soccer v. football/baseball/basketball. American soccer games do, in fact, have decent sized sections of standing, chanting, active fans. The article quotes the leader of La Barra Brava, one of the DC United supporter groups, who says "sitting down is kind of boring" and admits that he doesn't actually watch the game, but spends his time leading the crowd.

That begs the question - is there something about soccer that might lend itself to a more active crowd? Consider that a soccer game is two halves of constant action. It's easy to get up, work yourself into a lather, and maintain that during a 45-minute run of play. Football and baseball (even basketball), on the other hand, are all more relaxed affairs, with built in stoppages and start/stop action. Does cricket have the same sort of active fans as English football does? I doubt it. The rhythm of the game doesn't lend itself to that kind of sustained passion.

In the end, it doesn't really matter all that much. During the two DC United games I've been to, it was a blast to watch and listen to La Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles do their thing. But that was from the perspective of someone sitting on his ass with a drink in hand. To each his own, eh?

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