By CNN's Jamie Gray [twitter-follow screen_name='jgraycnn']
I am the State of the Union team's resident Brit, raised in southwest London. You'll often find me regaling my colleagues with tall tales of life in a faraway land whose residents drink tea, eat crumpets and enjoy oddities like socialized medicine and a functioning government.
I also like to spend my time watching, reading about or talking about the greatest sport on earth and one of Britain's many gifts to the world; football. I’m speaking here about Association football, which involves players using their feet to kick a ball, rather than the inferior American game, which I prefer to call "handegg."
While still not at the same level of popularity as handegg, baseball and basketball, football is becoming a bigger part of the American sporting landscape. An unprecedented number of English Premier League are being shown on US cable and network television this season after NBC paid $250 million for rights to all games for three seasons. A bargain, if you ask me.
My American wife is aware of my love of football, but has never sat down and watched a game with me, preferring instead to do, well, almost anything else. So when I saw that Fulham, my local club and object of my footballing affections, had a home game scheduled during the week we would be visiting my parents in London. I saw an opportunity to expose her to the beautiful game.
And so after a good lunch last Saturday afternoon, we set off on the short walk from my childhood home to see Fulham take on Stoke City. Fulham's stadium, Craven Cottage, is a compact ground, modestly sized compared to the big boys of Manchester United and Arsenal. Its location, nestled on the north bank of the River Thames is arguably the most picturesque in the country. The adjacent Bishops Park allows fans a pleasant, tree-lined stroll on their way to the match.
Although the specter of hooliganism has been almost entirely eradicated from the English game, my wife had still felt slightly worried that she might be spending the afternoon ducking punches and flying bottles. I assured her that Fulham’s supporters are a very well-behaved, even slightly posh bunch (our celebrity fans include Hugh Grant) and that she had nothing to fear. I was proven right, as the most offensive obstacle we encountered as we walked to the Cottage was a large deposit of manure left by a police horse. "There’s definitely less testosterone in the air," my wife opined, comparing the atmosphere to that of some of the college basketball games I’ve forced her to attend.
As we took our seats in the front row of the Riverside stand, I could sense she was excited for what was to come. Sadly, the first half was uneventful, with few goal-scoring chances for either side. I felt disappointed that my wife wasn't seeing the sport at its most exciting. With the lack of action, her attention turned to making observations about the musculature of the players’ legs. “Nobody ‘woos’ here,” she also noted. Indeed, fans of both teams were subdued, lacking the inspiration to break into the witty songs and chants that can make attending a football match so entertaining.
The half-time whistle sounded. 0-0. We escaped our seats and enjoyed a beer and a sausage roll while looking out over the Thames. My wife found this to be the most enjoyable part of the experience thus far.
If the first half was nothing to write home about, the second half started even worse. The Fulham fans began to grow restless. A middle-aged couple sitting behind us was not shy about sharing their feelings. “Shawcross, you tool!” is the only expletive-free utterance I’m able to share with you. Their saltier comments drew amused glances from my wife.
With ten minutes left in the match, as the situation looked bleakest, a Fulham shot from outside the penalty box deflected to substitute striker, Darren Bent . He turned away from the on-rushing goalkeeper and slotted the ball into the net. The crowd erupted. As I leapt out of my seat, I looked to my left to find my wife leaping with me.
“Woooo!” she said. My smile grew wider.
Fulham managed to hold on to their lead for the remaining nine minutes to secure an important victory. We walked happily back into Bishops Park amidst a throng of happy fans. It might have been the sausage roll talking, but I got the feeling I may have converted her.
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