Sunday, April 5, 2009


On the train from Houston to Chicago, there's plenty of time to strike up a conversation with fellow passengers. 28 hours, in fact…

Sitting in the dinner cart with a basketball fan from New Orleans, he was keen to know how American Football, basketball and other American sports had developed in Europe.

And in discussing American Football, I mentioned that Edinburgh had been home to the now defunct Scottish Claymores from 1994-2005. When he asked if the team were any good, I decided that they probably wouldn't have lived up to his standards of the sport, and said 'no'.

At that moment, another gentleman, sat across the carriage from us, almost choked on his water. After composing himself, he looked over and said 'thanks'. So I asked if he knew the Claymores, and he told us that he had in fact played for them.

To say the man was giant would be an understatement, so I qualified my statement by saying that, in the same way as MLS isn't yet at the same level as the top European soccer leagues, NFL Europe was no match for the American version.

Thankfully, he had also played for the Green Bay Packers, and shared my opinion, so I was forgiven.

This incident re-emphasised the difficulty soccer has in generating interest in a sport that is not considered traditional to the United States. And Chicago in particular has a tough task, given their rich tradition in American sporting history.

The Chicago Cubs baseball team are (in)famous for their 100 year World Series drought, but are currently two-time defending champions of the National League Central Division. And their city rivals - the White Sox - are no slouches, winning the World Series in 2005.

In American Football, the Bears have more former players (26) in the Pro Football Hall of Fame than any other team. And there aren't many people on the planet who haven't heard of the Chicago Bulls basketball team - thanks largely to team legend Michael Jordan, one of the greatest sportsmen of all time.

So for soccer to make it in to the city's sporting mainstream, it faces something of an uphill battle.

This was particularly evident visiting the Globe Bar in the North Center area of the city - the bar for watching soccer in Chicago.

It was a huge day in soccer, not just in the United States, but worldwide, with World Cup qualifying on the agenda.

Arriving shortly after England's 4-0 friendly win over Slovakia, Scotland were just about to kick off against the Netherlands. From outside the bar, it was difficult to know if I was in the right place. But the second the door opened, a wave of Scottish jerseys, scarves and expletives told me I was.

Every Scottish person in Chicago seemed to have come out for the game, with many familiar accents flying around as I waited in line at the bar. The atmosphere was just what you'd expect in any pub across Scotland, right down to the misery at the final whistle, which quickly turns to optimism for the next game.

In the evening, some Scots remained to pick through the finer details of the match, while a handful of Uruguay, Mexico and Turkey fans groaned and cheered at the various screens around the bar.

With MLS side Chicago Fire facing DC United away that night, I was surprised to see the US mens national team were also in World Cup qualifying action (against El Salvador) at the same time. So we secured ourselves a table for watching the games, expecting an onslaught of fans and another packed out bar.

But 7.45 came and went, and there was no sign of the onslaught. In fact, there were a few empty tables and not even a hint of a line at the bar after both games had kicked off.

So the Scotland fans took some (great) enjoyment from seeing El Salvador take the lead against the USA, before both they and the Fire struggled to draws in their games. It was difficult not to notice that both matches were barely even acknowledged by the majority of the people in the bar.

Given that I'd heard the Globe bar was where I would find the hub of the soccer community in Chicago, (in particular the Fire fans) it seems that the sport is still a fair way behind in the city.

The next stop is Columbus, Ohio, where the Crew are reigning MLS champions.

1 comment:

  1. Just a couple quick clarifications:

    * The Chicago Cubs still have the 100 year drought for "World Series" titles. I think very few Cubs fans take solace in their back-to-back division titles.
    * The American Football team is the Chicago Bears.

    I do wish MLS would stop playing matches during FIFA international dates, but there's alot of things I wish MLS would do. Moving to a single table format is one of them.