Sunday, March 15, 2009

Denver

Colorado Rapids are one of the teams in the MLS with the strongest British connections.

They had former Hibs & Dunfermline striker Tam McManus on their books last season, and fellow Scot John Spencer is an iconic figure at the club. They also include David Beckham's former room-mate and understudy at Man Utd, Terry Cooke, in midfield.

And their head coach, Gary Smith, was formerly a coach under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, whom the Rapids now have a strong link-up with. Indeed, Smith told me that his former colleagues at Arsenal 'take US soccer very seriously, and they are looking to use the league as a place to find new players in the future'.

The city of Denver was one of the places I had been most looking forward to visiting in the United States. And not just because it meant leaving Salt Lake City....

The hostel experience of Salt Lake had me contemplating new and exciting forms of accommodation for my trip, so I figured Mile High City was as good a place as any to try the phenomenon of 'Couch Surfing'.

Here's an idiot's guide: you visit the website (www.couchsurfing.com), sign up and look for a place to stay. At first it sounds pretty weird, but it's basically a community of people who are either travelling and looking for places to stay, or who have previously travelled and know what it's like having to shell out money for dirty hostel rooms.

To cut a long story short, I got in touch with a couple who were kind enough to put me up for a few nights while I was in town to see the Colorado Rapids. And it was great fun.

We played pool, went bowling, and went to the Frozen Dead Guy Days Festival in Nederland, high in the Rocky Mountains. That's right, Frozen Dead Guy.

Basically, a Norwegian family whose Grandfather (Bredo Morstoel) died in 1989, had his body cryogenically frozen in LA and stored in a shed in the small town of Nederland, CO.

Now, 20 years later, the town has a big festival once a year to 'celebrate', with coffin races, leaps in to a frozen lake and a hearse procession. All the while, Bredo lies dead in a shed up the hill. It's very weird.....

Denver itself is not generally as strange as that, in fact I was very impressed with it. And in stark contrast to Salt Lake, there WAS evidence of the soccer, particularly the Rapids, all over town. Adverts for season tickets, people wearing Rapids shirts – it seemed like the city follows their team pretty well there.

And while the Dick's Sporting Goods Park (catchy) is a little out of town, the stadium and its facilities, like so many of the cities I have visited in the USA, are incredible.

But once again, it was the people I met in the city that really made it most interesting. Brandon Blew, Executive Director of 'Denver Scores', was one of them.

The umbrella organisation 'America Scores' helps under-privileged children in 13 American cities, including Denver, by offering soccer programmes as an alternative to spending after-school time on the street. Brandon is in charge of the Denver branch, offering youngsters the opportunity to learn about and play soccer, while also teaching other skills including poetry writing.

Likewise, Victoria 'Chili' Baldwin, a prominent member of the Centennial Firm (Rapids supporters group) told me about her experiences with the Rapids and her dislike for anything Salt Lake!

And just before I left Denver, waiting for yet another Greyhound bus adventure, I spoke to a homeless man named Dan, who had lost his home during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Dan had travelled to Denver in search of work, but when it did not materialise he was forced to sleep outdoors. He was even kind enough to show me the tree had slept under, before he got on the bus to Miami!

Meanwhile, it was time for me to head to Kansas City, and eat some of its famous barbecue. Just another 14 hour bus journey til I got there......

5 comments:

  1. An "in-depth" look into US soccer and you come to Denver at the beginning of March? What sense does that make? What can you possibly see or learn "in-depth" during the off season?
    I live in Denver; my family's livelihood revolves around soccer, and your blog about soccer in our city seems far from "in-depth". The Rapids connection to Arsenal, Denver Scores, and a homeless man's tree...wow, way to use your background in journalism.

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  2. Wow... it's as if you paid to read this blog or something.

    Calm down, Twila. TO be honest it sounds more like this blog is just his experiences and that the real articles are going to be produced at a later date or in Scotland, where he is a journalist.

    Personally, this blog has given me new insight on many of the teams that I don't really follow in the MLS (I'm a rabid Galaxy fan).

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