You may have noticed that Captain Morgan is sponsoring a series of posts on SB Nation about tailgating. Now, for most of you, tailgating is an integral part of the football experience. However, for some of our international friends on this site, tailgating is a source of endless puzzlement and amusement. As many of you know, I am German. So today we'll look at tailgating from a decidedly European perspective.
To understand just what you guys have in tailgating, you must first understand how things are done for a proper football (soccer) game. In Germany, most soccer matches kick off at 15:30 on Saturday afternoon. Now if you wanted to go tailgating before a game, a couple of things would happen:
First, you'd be all alone. Stadiums don't open until about 2 hours or 90 minutes before the game. Second, you probably wouldn't find a parking space anywhere near the stadium - parking on the stadium grounds for the most part is limited to VIPs, most people come to the stadium with public transportation. Third, someone would probably call the police and you'd be charged with operating a fire/restaurant/bar without a permit or just generally making a nuisance of yourself. Yes, we like our law and order here. We like it a lot.
After the break, how we prepare for soccer matches and how the NFL Europe baffled us for years.
Most fans who go to soccer games will meet up with friends in a pub or a bar until about half an hour before the game starts and then walk or take the tram/subway/bus to the stadium. Often, you will be furiously emptying a six-pack or two on the way there - you cannot get any alcohol in any soccer stadium so you'd best drink enough to last the 90 minutes plus 15 minutes of halftime.
Oh, and you'll start singing. If you're a novice fan, it'll be of the na-na-na-na-na-hey-hey variety. If you're a little more serious, you'll know a couple fan songs that you hear at every match and whose lyrics have been adapted to your club. If you're hardcore, you'll have a repertoire of between 50 and 100 songs that you'll know by heart and you will be singing and screaming throughout the game. It is not uncommon for fans of e.g. Borussia Dortmund to sing upwards of 60 songs or parts of songs before, during, and after the game in the stadium. And trust me when I tell you that when 80,000 fans start singing 'You'll never walk alone' at the same time you'll appreciate what the walls of Jericho had to go through in their time. But I digress.
Sometime in the mid nineties, someone decided to introduce the NFL Europe to the unsuspecting European soccer fan. And while there was no real tailgating there either (they mostly played in the same soccer stadiums with the same limited parking space) the NFL Europe did introduce the concept of the pre-game party.
And those were great parties. Cheerleaders! Beer! Food! Music! And all of this hours and hours before the game. I personally know many people who religiously attended these parties. Great, great fun. And it is perhaps no coincidence that by the end in 2007, the NFL Europe had six teams, five of which were based in Germany.
Yes, there is a but. The average soccer fan, notorious for his short attention span which barely covers 90 minutes of soccer play, partied hard, drank harder and then finally dragged himself into the stadium to watch this strange stop-and-go sport in total befuddlement. Why are they throwing when it's called football? Why are they running now? Why doesn't he just throw the ball through the goalposts? Why was it three points earlier and only one now? And why is everything in English?
Tired from all the partying, and dumbfounded by a game that was way too complex, people started leaving after the first quarter.
So next time you go tailgating before a game, enjoy it for what it is: a unique part of the quintessential American sport that just isn't the same anywhere else.
I once attended the 'German Oktoberfest' in Cincinnati and let me tell you, I was shocked! Mortified even. But that is a story for a different day.