Making the trip

It’s easy to forget that what is routine for you can be special to others.

I have friends in New Orleans who are Chelsea fans. Only a few of us turn up week in, week out to watch the Blues at the city’s football pub Finn McCool’s. Before Hurricane Katrina I was often the only Chelsea supporter in the place, sometimes a handful would show up for crucial showdowns, but the Big Easy is small in American terms and our fanbase is concentrated.

In the last decade or so it has grown, and now a hardcore of fans make nearly every match, even when kick-off is as early as 6.30am in Louisiana. Last week a few of us went a step further and crossed the Atlantic to see the Blues play at Stamford Bridge for the first time. Six of us travelled but one member couldn’t find a ticket for the fixture against Manchester City.

I’ve been going to the Bridge since the 1970s, and though I only get to the stadium once a year these days, the matchday experience still resides in my muscle memory. You meet your mates, go to the pub, walk to the ground, dissect and discuss the result in a bar afterwards.

Those basics are the same as if we were attending an American football contest in the States (as in an NFL game). In the USA your pre-match routine is more likely to be tailgating, meeting in the car park and drinking beer while often barbecuing food. Indeed, I know people who set up a grill and socialise for hours but then don’t even go to the game! That’s just a peripheral experience that comes later in their Sunday.

In England - at least for me with Chelsea - it’s about the performance and the score. I would rather have had a miserable hour and beaten Manchester City than a great time catching up with my pals and a defeat. I’m sorry that my friends’ first-ever taste of the Bridge, a venue where I’ve had wonderful, memorable nights I will take to my grave, was a sour defeat.

Still, at least my mates David and Gilbert from New Orleans flew to Madrid for the Atletico victory, so they got to watch us win once. The European tie was the first time they had EVER seen the Blues play anywhere, so they experienced us becoming the first English club to beat them at home.

From following Chelsea at the pub on my own to leading half-a-dozen fans halfway across the world. That, my friends, is what you call progress.