DENVER -- Before I start, here’s a little information about me. I was born and raised in England and came to Colorado just over two and a half years ago. I moved to the U.S. to get a lifestyle change and experience living in another part if the world, and so far it's been great.
Before that, I followed Crystal Palace, who is currently in England's second tier, the Championship, for 15 years. I still catch as many Palace games as I can whenever I go back. Even after this time, I can simply walk into a pub a couple of hours before the game and rejoin all my old supporter friends with the minimum of prior arrangement. It really is as if I never moved away.
What I learned was that when you follow a football team and immerse yourself in the supporters' culture, you really do gain friends for life. These people are often a huge cross-section of society, united by a common love of the world's game. I can tell you that one of the things that I was most apprehensive about when I moved to the US was that I would not be able to find a substitute for this.
Anyway, I had been in Denver for about two weeks when out of curiosity, I typed "English Pub Denver" into Google. Up came a listing for the British Bulldog (check in to British Bulldog on FourSquare) and a quick look at their website revealed that they opened early at weekends for Premier League games. So one Saturday, I showed up and entered this strange little bar, tucked away on the edge of downtown. First impressions were good. They had a Manchester United jersey up on the wall and several top Premier League club scarves as well. This was nice but not incredibly impressive as many places have this sort of stuff up, thinking that’s all you need to be a “soccer bar.”
And then I noticed the blackboard on the wall. This had the entire Premier League table chalked up with all the columns, featured exactly as printed in the English newspapers. It was up to date and a second blackboard had all the main fixtures for the week on it. It was at this moment -- despite not even having ordered a drink -- I realized that whoever was running this place didn’t just like soccer; they really cared about the game.
WATCH: Moor goal beats Portland in stoppage time
It didn’t take me long to meet the GM, Jon Forget. Jon and I hit it off immediately as we traded tales about thegame both sides of the Atlantic and how we had played the game growing up. I told him all about my time following Palace, and Jon told of his support for Arsenal and how he wanted to go see them play in London. Because of this, the Bulldog on a Saturday morning became a regular fixture for me.
A few weeks later, Jon told me about this Colorado Rapids supporters group he’d started, the Bulldog Supporters Group or BSG for short. He advised me to come out to the first game against Chicago, explaining that there would be a bus from the bar and a great tailgate before the match. To be honest it sounded great and the prospect of seeing live football didn’t disappoint. But most importantly I had regained something I had feared I would miss: a match day routine and a reason to look forward to the home and away games.
One of the things that I certainly didn't expect was that despite only following the Rapids for little over two years, I have already had the kind of adventures comparable to my time in England. I'll never forget chanting "I believe!" on the streetcar going to the MLS Cup final in Toronto and the BSG's first trip to Salt Lake where we took over an entire floor of the Radisson Hotel in the city. Then of course there was Portland away last year, a weekend that was topped off by us scoring in the last minute to win the game 1-0 and silencing a stadium where Portland fans outnumbered the 80 Rapids fans by a factor of 225 to 1.
There are still a good number of people you meet who claim they ignore MLS because the standard of play is not up to what you see in Europe or South America just yet. Well, the reason I watch the MLS is that live soccer is live soccer whatever city you are in and live games will always trump watching the game on TV. If you attend games, you get so much more out of the day than the game itself -- the tailgate, marching into the stadium, the postgame celebrations.
These experiences are as authentic as those found in countries where soccer is the number one sport. It’s because we can celebrate the world’s game in this fashion right here in America that I am proud to be a Colorado Rapids season ticket holder and supporter.
Bulldog Supporters Group