I have never had the pleasure of seeing a football game in Europe, mostly due to the fact that I’ve never been to Europe.
But what I saw Tuesday night, though a preseason friendly, might as well have been a Champions League game.
Sporting CP, one of the Portuguese Liga’s Big Three and my dad’s favorite team, took on Celtic FC in Fenway Park at the inaugural “Football at Fenway” event, and I’m still at a loss at how to describe how fantastic this event truly was.
It’s hard to get good soccer in America on any sort of a consistent basis. Just the night before, I took in the New England Revolution in a SuperLiga match, and it was OK at best. I fully support MLS and the Revolution, but it’s so hard to enjoy a game in Gillette Stadium, with 10,000 people situated on one side of a 65,000 seat stadium. The atmosphere isn’t there, the fans outside of the Fort aren’t particularly rowdy, and it leaves everyone wanting more.
At Fenway, atmosphere was not an issue. The park itself always brings a cozy, awe-inspiring feeling, but add to that about 32,000 crazies decked out in green and white (the team lucked out with both sides featuring green and white stripes on their home kit; Sporting donned their black away shirts for the game), chanting, holding up scarves, screaming, drinking, and having a great time.
I sat in the Sporting supporter section, otherwise known as the right field bleachers during Red Sox games, with about five family members and a few thousand folks who live for nights like this.
Soccer, more than any other sport, thrives on emotion, and there was no denying its presence here. This was a night for the passionate. Celtic won on penalty kicks, which left us disappointed, but the prior two hours weren’t quickly forgotten or rendered irrelevant. On this night, it was a chance for thousands of fans, of both sides, to pay tribute to their heroes from across the pond, an acknowledgment of how much sports can mean even with so much distance between the club and the fan.
Both clubs paid their supporters back by playing one of the more spirited friendlies you’ll ever see. Well, hopefully you saw it. As weird as it was to see a soccer pitch laid out on the Fenway grass, the vibe from the stands wasn’t too far removed from the late September pennant push.