Red Bulls sing of tossed salads and lacks of skill © Getty Images
As a result of the extended global terrorism being carried out by the country who brought you Einar from the Sugarcubes, Eggert Magnusson and Jon Pall Sigmarsson, I am enjoying an extended stay on the eastern seaboard of the United States. As a result of that unpronounceable volcano, I largely missed out on a momentous weekend of Premier League action, and was sometimes even forced to follow matters on Soccernet...
So, a sporting fix was required, and notwithstanding an abortive attempt to visit the new Yankees stadium that collapsed after being quoted the type of price that may well have given Uncle Malc Glazer his lead, it seemed right and proper to check out soccer played US-style. So began a trip to Harrison, New Jersey and Red Bull Arena, the spanking new home to the New York Red Bulls.
The stadium itself is placed in a foreboding corner of the former colonies. Many a modern English stadium is part of an unloved industrial estate but by comparison, the Arena's setting makes Trafford Park look like a deer sanctuary in the Scottish Highlands. With Gotham itself menacingly casting both light and shadow, one felt as if on the edge of the world itself. Some confusion followed in actually getting into the stadium, with the stated Gate D, halfway round the stadium, not actually open. But in contrast to English football fans' rush to make kick-off and perhaps influenced by other Stateside sports, in which much of the prime action occurs late on, we were not alone in arriving well after the opening whistle. It is not just on the pitch that things happen at a markedly different pace to what we are used to in England.
At this point it would probably be expected that as an elitist snob - as I was labelled in criticism of my previous entry - I would choose to cock a snook at Major League Soccer and its foibles. But no, not a bit of it. For the record, I am often knowingly guilty of footballing snobbery but found this a refreshing and energising experience. OK, I can't say that the football on show was particularly great and I'll confess that my late arrival meant that I was not aware of the 2-1 scoreline until I watched the highlights of the game with FC Dallas the following morning. Therefore, I will not offer too much analysis of the play itself, though Juan Pablo Angel, the eventual match-winner, moves a lot less than he once did as an Aston Villa player but, truly, I rather enjoyed myself.
Recent months have seen me attend matches in Israel, Holland and the good old England I was once able to call home, but this was the best atmosphere I have been part of for some while. Being placed with the Red Bulls' Ultras in their new home behind the goal in the celebrated Section 101 certainly helped. A constant barrage of chants, some beguiling in their innocence and lack of bad language, and some less so, this was the type of support one occasionally comes across on the European continent. Youth is given its head as prices are not eye-wateringly high. Thus, people of all ages can attend and not just the 30-and-upwards malcontents that fill many a British stadium because they're the only ones who can afford it.
Unlike other US sports I have attended, there was no need for a reliance on pumped-in music to generate an atmosphere. Indeed, the dread Black Eyed Peas' auto-tuned attempts to convince us what a good evening they'll be having were mercifully drowned out by a tremendous half-time drum and slam-dancing display from a group of largely Hispanic fans. It was great fun with smoke and beer flying everywhere and cowbells a-clackering.
The party continued into the second half as Red Bulls stole a last-minute win in circumstances of which the dramatics sadly evaded me. A seeming lack of a visible scoreboard did not aid my comprehension. Nevertheless, Angel showed class and belief in taking and scoring, in injury time, a second penalty when a first had been saved well by Dario Sala. Dallas' Argentine keeper was targeted throughout his stint in front of Section 101, his name eventually bastardised into a well-aired chant of "toss your salad". This was a terrace highlight alongside the quaint "you've got no skill" and somewhat incongruous "we hate Tottenham".
At the other end, Senegalese keeper Bouna Coundoul made a series of superb stops, blocks and claws that allowed Red Bulls to stage their grandstand finish, and both showed why many an MLS-er has been able to offer their wares as a goalie across the Atlantic. Of course, across the water is from where many an influence is drawn at Red Bulls, though Latin American culture is most apparent in the fervour of support, yet this occasion convinced me that soccer has successfully developed its own identity in the United States.
So, a recommended experience. Would I go again? Yes, of course. Will I be going plenty more times? That all depends on Eyjafjallajokull.