Many people might think that to enjoy watching a live sports match, be it basketball, baseball, or racing, you need to have at least some understanding of the sport beforehand. But I found that this was not the case at all when I watched a European football game.
As a football fan myself, I expected to enjoy the sport aspect of it all, mostly. Seeing some of the best players in the world, their skills on a live pitch, the ball flying into the net.
And though those parts were incredible, surprisingly, they weren’t the highlight.
Starstruck as I was to witness two goals by two top European teams, it was the fans that defined the experience—not the football. And I realized that sometimes, that’s all you need to enjoy.
Pregaming with the Chelsea fans
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to watch a Champions League match between the English team Chelsea FC and the Austrian team RB Salzburg. It took place in Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s home stadium.
Unsurprisingly, we were swarmed by Chelsea fans. I’m not a Chelsea fan, so truthfully, I felt out of place. But I wanted to get a feel of the energy anyway, so before heading into the stadium, I spoke to a couple of supporters.
Two of whom I met have been Chelsea supporters for years. One of them had been a fan for 55 years, and the other, 20. And despite losing their first Champions League match, they were optimistic about Chelsea’s chances against Salzburg. In fact, almost everyone in the crowd was.
We hadn’t even stepped foot into the stadium yet. But being among the thousands of fans coming from work on Wednesday evening, stuffing themselves into trains, wearing jerseys, and giving pre-game analyses—immediately, you can tell just how much of a religion football is in Europe.
Part of the team
As it was Chelsea’s home game, I was sitting among the team’s fans, also often referred to as the Blues. But, even though I myself am not a Blue, being surrounded by thousands of them made me feel like one too for an evening. And that’s because, for 90 whole minutes (and then some), they would not shut up.
I mean that in the best way possible. Unlike the other sports we’ve seen live, where the energy typically ebbs and flows between the slow and exciting parts of the game, the same is not true with football.
The first goal of the game was scored three minutes into the second half. But for the entire 48 minutes before Raheem Sterling’s goal, the crowd was electric.
Altogether, they were singing songs, clapping, chanting, booing, cheering—the emotions ran deep with this bunch. And the support never died down. So as I joined in and tried to match their energy, it felt as though we were all building up to that goal too.
And so, when he put one into the back of the net, it was a team celebration. Sterling, the Chelsea boys, and the entire Stamford Bridge (save for the away section, which we’ll get to later).
After the goal, the energy at Stamford Bridge only went up. In total, Chelsea made 17 attempts to score, and each one was a nail-biter. And though they didn’t get another one in, there was equally as much excitement in the way the Blues were simultaneously groaning, yelling, or bringing their hands to their heads in frustration.
Again, it was 90 minutes of pure energy. That is, except for one moment: when Salzburg scored their equalizer.
The away section
Chelsea enjoyed their very slim lead for nearly half an hour. But in the 78th minute, Salzburg got through and leveled the game. The entire Samford Bridge went silent.
Except for the away section.
In most European football stadiums, there is one section of seats that is specifically allocated for fans of the visiting team. This is to avoid any violence between opposing crowds.
If this doesn’t tell you what you need to know about the passion among football fans, I’m not sure what will.
Stamford Bridge has a capacity of 40,341. The away section of the stadium can hold about 3,000 visitors. It’s a fraction of the entire crowd. But if I’m being honest, the RB Salzburg fans had even more energy than Chelsea’s.
When Noah Okafor scored, Chelsea’s side fell quiet, and the noise from Salzburg’s little corner of the stadium filled the entire place. The players celebrated right in front of their section, and it was an intimate moment between them.
And though the visitors stole the spotlight for those two minutes of celebration, throughout the rest of the game, even when Chelsea was in the lead, they were still a small but powerful force to be reckoned with. You could hear their songs and cheers against those of the Chelsea fans.
They simply couldn’t be ignored. And for a moment, I wished I had gotten tickets to sit in their exclusive section instead.
Their passion was awe-inspiring, to say the least. Fans who travel from country to country just to support their team play one match? They’re the real winners.
Heading out with the Chelsea fans
The game ended in a draw. Though it wasn’t a loss, it wasn’t a win either. But even so, the Chelsea fans didn’t let up—not even on the train ride home.
After the match, all the Blues crammed into one small train station outside Stamford Bridge. And even there, they were still singing their songs together. One small group would start it, and the rest would follow suit.
On the train ride too, as expected, everyone was giving their post-match analyses. I eavesdropped on multiple conversations between fans, and they spoke with the passion and knowledge you hear from the pundits on TV.
It’s a religion.
But, as a football fan myself, I expected these things from the match. However, my family, whom I watched the game with, were not football fans. They were simply tagging along with me. Yet, by the end of it, they themselves couldn’t shut up about the match.
They rarely watch the sport and they didn’t know any of the players. But for them, simply being there in the crowd was, according to them, unlike any other experience. And it was enough to get them hooked.
As I said, when you’re watching football, the fans are the attraction.
Taking it home
Watching the most popular sport in the world in the very country it originated is truly an unparalleled experience. But it also made me think about football here at home.
In the Philippines, football may not be the most popular sport. The leagues and teams may not have the same amount of fans as say, the PBA. But, that didn’t stop 8,257 Filipinos from filling up the entire Rizal Memorial Football Field to watch the Filipinas win the AFF Women’s Championship.
I was there at that game, and the energy and passion among the fans were similarly electric. And were all of them expert football fans? It’s unlikely. But it didn’t matter. When the Filipinas won, the crowd celebrated like they owned part of that win too.
So regardless of whether or not you’re a fan, it pays to give the experience of watching a live match a go. You don’t need the knowledge to enjoy it—the energy itself is contagious and often, is the best part.
Chances are, you’ll walk out a fan anyway.
And if we want to help the sport grow locally, in the same way the crowd was the highlight of the entire Champions League game, it’s the fans that count a huge deal.