I’ve had on my bucket list for the longest time a desire to travel to Europe to take in an English Premier League soccer match.
The passion of the fans, the intense rivalries, and history of the teams has always had some allure to me as a sports fan.
But with work and kids and house projects and money all standing in the way at the moment, the next best thing was to travel with my wife to the Big House in Ann Arbor this past weekend to take in a friendly between Manchester United and Real Madrid – two of the most popular teams in Europe.
(And let’s be honest: Without two teams of this caliber, the Big House would not have set the U.S. soccer attendance mark.)
If I’m straight with you, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
I’ve watched full matches on television before, but I was able to multitask. Soccer is a sport that lends itself well to doing so. And with the World Cup still fresh in our minds, I was still in that frame-of-mind.
My wife, on the other hand, would not consider herself a sports fan. She’ll amuse me by taking in a game here and there, but she’s usually bored by the end because American football and baseball, for instance, bump up against the three-hour mark as a rule. If you’re not into it, boredom sets in.
Perhaps this is why she (and by extension, I) walked out of the stadium with a new favorite sport to watch live.
Even if you count the pre-game introductions and fifteen-minute halftime performance by The Fray, the game lasted two hours from start to finish. It was long enough to provide entertainment, but not so long that my wife started to get antsy.
I even saw her out of the corner of my eye jump out of her seat once or twice on a near-miss opportunity on the far end of the field.
Sometimes you just can’t help yourself.
A lot of the fun stemmed from the fans’ passion for a game that was, by all accounts, just a warm-up for the real deal.
You would never see or hear Detroit Lions fans chanting Calvin Johnson’s name during a preseason game, partly because he wouldn’t be on the field very long. But the guys sitting behind us chanted Chicharito’s name off and on during the second half, and they were rewarded when he scored a goal on a sweet header during the second half.
After the game, we made the one mile trek back to our car in search of something to eat. In a serendipitous moment, we happened upon Frita Batidos in downtown Ann Arbor, a restaurant friends have raved about, but not one my wife nor I have ever visited.
As it happened, they were opening late that day, so we were able to get in a much shorter line than normal. I got the chorizo “frita” with the tropical slaw, and my wife opted for the fish burger with slaw. And in case you’re wondering, we split garlic and cilantro shoestring fries.
Like I mentioned above, I didn’t really know what to expect when the day started, but I knew at the end of the day that it couldn’t have turned out much better.
Sometimes, when you don’t know what to expect, you get the best.