Tuesday, March 23, 2010
My new team
The system is vastly different than American sports. The money gap between teams is enormous, there's no revenue sharing or salary cap, and teams get sent up and down between the different levels each year. Last year the Wolves finished at the top of the Championship (the league just below the Premier League) so they were promoted to the big time. Of course, if they finish in the bottom 3 out of 20 teams, they'll be sent right back. That made this game quite important, as both West Ham and Wolves were tied for 16th coming into it-one spot above relegation.
The result was fantastic for the Wolves, with a decisive 3-1 win that's made it very likely they can remain at the top. For West Ham, meanwhile, the loss at home was a disaster. I've never seen fans react so badly-there were frequent chants of "You're not fit to wear that shirt!" and "Give us our money back!" West Ham (the Hammers) are a gritty team from London's not-nicest neighborhood, with some pretty tough looking supporters. The possibility of them being sent down felt real, I could sense how crushing that would be to dedicated fans. I can't imagine what I would think if the Oakland A's were sent to Triple A after a bad season (though maybe if they move I'll get an approximation).
Beyond the fantastic fan support (the first half, which was scoreless for 40 minutes, they fans were very excited and loud and were singing and chanting in unison). The game itself was a also a revelation. Like watching ice hockey live for the first time, this is a sport that is just completely different in person on a big stage. Being elevated above the pitch, able to see the angles, brings a new appreciation that gets somehow lost on TV. Also the sheer speed and distance of ball movement was amazing. I found myself completely glued to the action at all times.
Another interesting thing is the ticketing system. Each team organises its own supporter's club and you literally can't get tickets without joining. Technically I had to register as an official West Ham supporter to get these seats. There are a limited number of tickets for the visiting team, but these go right to the Wolves supporter's club. They physically separate fans of the opposing teams, and in fact it's against the rules to wear the other team's jersey in most of the stadium. Makes sense given the violent history of football hooligans.
Overall, I loved the experience and am more enamored with my adopted team. They remind me of some of the things I liked about the A's. They'll always be underdogs because of the small size of their home town, but they fight hard and have very smart management. I probably won't get to this point, but Go Wolves.