I am fortunate to have relatives in both Canada and the USA. It's always nice having the luxury of visiting those countries and experiencing a culture, which isn't to dissimilar to ours in the United Kingdom, but still has some kind of novelty to it.
In my opinion, nothing encapsulates the nuances between British and North American culture quite like the sports fan experience in both regions.
My cousin, Richard, was born and raised in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada - just east of Toronto. Born to two Brits, he was exposed to British culture and football from an early age, watching matches from the motherland across the pond.
Last month, Richard experienced his first taste of English football in the flesh. I have been to a Toronto FC game with him before (with TFC beating Bolton Wanderers on penalties), but this is the moment he had been waiting for.
Typically, the first Saints game he attended resulted in a 0-1 home loss to Swansea, but here is Richard's take on his virginal Premier League experience.
St. Mary's Musings: Growing up in Canada, did you have much exposure to football?
Richard: In Canada, soccer is something you play as a kid in certain neighbourhoods. The "soccer mom" is a thing and speaks to a very middle class pastime. As a kid, we did play soccer, although the climate is not very conducive to this. I remember playing "snow soccer" which involved lots of falling about and giving "snow jobs" to people (ramming someone's face into the snow).
SMM: What do you think of football?
R: I like the English Premier League the most. I have tried to watch MLS but cannot really get into it. I think the culture around the English Premier League is the biggest strength. There is a camaraderie and a tribalism which are very fun. In terms of the game itself, I think it's a great spectator sport. Canadians will always bemoan the diving though. It is a real problem.
SMM: I know your parents have split loyalties. Your dad being a Newcastle fan and your mum a Saint. What club are you more drawn to and why?
R: I would used to say that I was a Spurs fan just to underline how random a lot of North American football allegiances are. I like to take the piss out of football mania—like in the Simpson's when Homer becomes a fanatical Isotopes fan in the space of five seconds. I would also say I was a Tottenham fan to try and antagonize my family, as there are none. But, truthfully, I am most drawn to Southampton as it is my mum's team. I think my dad is also a bit of Saints supporter deep down.
SMM: How do you assess the state of soccer in Canada?
R: It is getting bigger. You see a lot of the matches on cable. My parents are watching it now more than ever. I will tune in as well even when it's just myself at home. Obviously, everyone is a fan during World Cup. And there is a trickling down effect into the European league seasons. But the English Premier League definitely gets the most mainstream attention. Even more so than Major League Soccer.
SMM: What did you think a Premier League match would be like? How does watching a football match in England differ to the sports fan experience in North America?
R: I knew I would enjoy a Premier League match. I have always wanted to go. I thought it would be quite rowdy. I was even expecting some hooliganism. Some fights and that. But, in reality, it was a genuinely good atmosphere. You talk to people quite easily and everyone is having a good time, even though we lost. I liked the chanting and the swearing. Lots of "facking ‘ell!"; "facking Tadic!"; "for fack's sake!"
Toronto FC definitely tries to imitate the enthusiasm you see in Britain. But, the lack of history of the club takes something away from it. It's a little less convincing.
SMM: Would you go again?
R: Yes, I would definitely go again. Especially now that I am living in the UK. I want to take advantage of being here. Football is one of the best sports to see live. I feel like am slowly becoming indoctrinated...