The Clean Sheet: T.C.S.U.K.
that is simply no way to attend a soccer match. I shall never, ever, let it happen again.It was almost as if I was punished for it, because the first half of this match was so bad I honestly would have left at halftime if I could have. In a brutally boring scoreless 45 minutes, the teams showed a lack of skill and cohesiveness that you simply could not fathom in a Premier League fixture. The teams combined to miss -- are you ready for this? -- three penalties on the night. Worse yet, neither Carlos Bocanegra nor Brian McBride was in the first 11, although McBride would come on later.
But, the end of the match was what makes going to an English Premier League match -- or any match -- absolutely fantastic. Picture this: late in the game, down a goal, your 'keeper has just saved not one, but two, penalty kicks, and the home team is attacking in droves. Atmosphere doesn't get much better than that ... until Fulham slammed in the equalizer very late into injury time and the place really erupted.
THURSDAY: With a day to kill and being the well-known, high-brow, cultured individual that I am, I of course took in a museum. No, really. Well, actually I hit the National Portrait Museum to see -- get this -- an exhibit that is literally a looped video of David Beckham sleeping. Believe me, I am not creative enough to make this stuff up.
You walk into a room and sit down on a bench, and there is a nice plasma screen with a close-up of the future FC Dallas midfielder sound asleep. Seemed really creepy, but then again, I was there longer than I'd like to admit. Plus, both men and women I have talked to say they found it kinda hot. Not that there's anything wrong with that ...
THURSDAY NIGHT: Continuing the day of high-end culture, I of course head to the West End to take in the other form of entertainment London is very well known for -- the theater. Okay, Patrick Stewart was in a play that had just opened, and there was no way I was gonna miss the chance to see the great Captain Jean-Luc Picard live on stage.
The only problem was his co-star was Pacy from Dawson's Creek. C'mon. Seeing these two on the same stage was the theatrical equivalent of watching the glorious FC Dallas playing on the same field as the cheesy and annoying Chicago Fire.
My college roommate Smitty arrived late Thursday night, and things pretty much spiraled down from there.
FRIDAY: Most of the day and night gets spent in a pub -- one, single pub -- so the only memories I really have are walking by a zamboni driver at a little skating rink in Central London and wanting to haze him about having to travel all the way to England to find a gig after the NHL lockout.
SATURDAY: Setting out to prove you can easily do a day trip to a Manchester United match from London, Smitty and I embark on a day that was fortunately like "The Amazing Race," although it very easily could have gone "Planes, Trains and Automobiles."
We somehow drag ourselves out of bed and get to the train station in plenty of time not only to catch an 8:40 a.m. train, but to have a good 25 minutes beforehand to debate which kind of nasty, nuclear breakfast offering may actually settle our lager-soaked stomachs. We decide on nothing. Good call.
A few hours later, we are at Old Trafford, where we have time to check out the pre-game pub atmosphere, grab some chow at Lou Macari's Fish & Chips, and check out the Manchester United Mega-Store, which is about the size of the club shop at Crystal Palace's Selhurst Park -- times 3,478.
The best part is Smitty has promised like 400 people back home that he will bring back Man United stuff for their kids, so there he is at the checkout line with like 10 tiny kids' jerseys.
The game itself is Man United-Birmingham, and even though Sir Alex once again has the wrong guy in goal, United wins 2-0. Since I am still a bit bitter that United plays that stooge over our boy Timmy, I can be honest about Old Trafford: I kind of hated it.
There, I said it.
I'm sorry, the place has all the atmosphere of a hospital waiting room, or even worse, New Comiskey. We could not believe how many people were getting up during the match to go get a coffee or whatever. During the match! I can't imagine what they'd have to put in a cup of coffee, or whose half-naked pictures they'd have to put on the bottom of the cup, to get me to get up and leave during the match.
It all kind of made me realize one thing: if Sir Alex isn't going to play Howard anymore, I hope our man gets a nice move to another big club where he belongs ... so I can go back to the rightful practice of hating United like I did before they bought our boy.
SUNDAY: The final day of the trip is a much shorter jaunt, this time just down to Chelsea-Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.
For anyone who says 0-0 games aren't entertaining, I give you Exhibit A. Chelsea had a comfortable lead at the top of the table, but Manchester City had already been to both Higbury and Old Trafford and weren't beaten in either place, so they were up for a fight. An exciting end-to-end affair was the result, with the passionate home and away supporters battling as hard with their voices as the players were on the pitch. Cracking game, plenty of chances, and thanks to a save-of-the-year candidate from Calamity James, City somehow survived and came away with a point.
This was my first trip to Chelsea's Stamford Bridge since they built a gigantic hotel complex at one end of the stadium. While it is beautiful, it definitely is just a different atmosphere than the last time I was there. Then again the last time I was there I saw a Chelsea supporter try to punch a Stoke City supporter through a horse (yes, a horse) that happened to have a policeman on it, so there was no way I was gonna top that.
All in all, Smitty and I did what we went there to do: watch a lot of footie and recapture our college days. I just don't remember it taking this long to recover back in the day...
Okay, quick warning: if you are just used to the typical mindless TCS garbage, tune out now and I'll see you next week. Otherwise, I'm gonna get a tiny bit serious for a second here.
You see, the best part of soccer for me is that it is a game that brings people together. It is a game that creates unbelievable moments and experiences, all of which are that much better when taken in with a group of people, or even better, with a good friend.
My buddy Smitty and I had literally been talking about getting away on a soccer trip for 10 long years, and we finally just made it happen. It took way too long.
For me great moments in soccer are always identified with the person I was there with, and the feeling is definitely amplified by being able to enjoy it with a good friend.
There was my first-ever English Premier League game with Johnny at Coventry City when the ball flew past Bruce Grobbelaar, wide of the goal, and right into our hands.
There was the day when Adam and I looked on in amazement from the field of the tiny Vetch stadium as the fans celebrated around us after minnows Swansea City somehow knocked then-mighty West Ham out of the FA Cup.
If you like upsets, I'll never forget Queen of the Palace and I soaking in the atmosphere at Ipswich Town's Portman Road as they shockingly defeated Inter Milan in a UEFA Cup match a few years ago.
Unfortunately my brother, Peb, is a Manchester United supporter, so every time they do something right, I have to hear about it from him. Don't worry, there's a Palace supporter in there somewhere. One trip to Selhurst and I'll bring him back from the dark side.
My man Rich and I were lucky enough to see the very cool pre-game ceremony for the then-recently-retired David Seaman at Highbury, the place where he became England's long-time number one.
And just on this recent trip, I remember the shock on the faces of Smitty (a former goalkeeper) and I as David James pulled one of the greatest saves I have ever seen, a last-second stop of Chelsea's Frank Lampard to steal the point for Manchester City.
But most of the great soccer moments we see are on TV. And no matter if it was sneaking home for that mid-day clash or waking up in the middle of the night for the 2002 World Cup, my partner in crime for footie viewing at home has always been the Palace Pooch.
From wondering if I had finally lost my marbles when Johnny O'Brien scored against Portugal in 2002 to when I fired the remote control a-la Roger Clemens straight against my television after referee Dermot Gallagher completely screwed Crystal Palace out of the FA Cup against Leeds a few years back, The Pooch and I have been through some pretty funny times on the couch.
Whatever the case, no matter the game, I always had my man with me at my feet. And the best part about him: no matter how outlandish my actions or how stupid my overreactions, he never once complained. Heck, he never even told me how stupid my column was. As long as I gave him half of what I was eating at all times, he was a great listener.
Unfortunately the Palace Pooch passed on this weekend, so I'm using this empty feeling as a perfect reminder for everyone out there to not wait 10 years to grab your partner in crime and get on that plane to make that long-talked-about footie trip. Get your buddy and plan it. Now.
Every time I go on a trip like I just did and write about it, I always get emails from readers saying how they have been meaning to do the same thing forever, blah blah blah. I don't want to hear from you guys anymore. Go make it happen. Then you can write me.
Whether it is a pilgrimage to see The Home Depot Center, a U.S. national team qualifier home or abroad, or even that trip across the pond, make it happen. You can always find another excuse to put it off (Smitty and I sure did, although the birth of his beautiful first daughter was one I could let slide).
But excuses turn into years and years turn into "should'ves." And as we all know, "should'ves" are something you can't get back. So I'll see you -- and your partner in crime -- at the game.
The Clean Sheet runs each Thursday on MLSnet. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com. Send any questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.