An interesting question was posed by a friend: Why bother going to the stadium to watch the matches, when you can watch the game on TV, from the comfort of your home, with all your friends, and not spend a penny from your pocket, or a minute of your time travelling?
When such a weighted question is posed, it makes it difficult to justify any position, but the simple answer is, until you have experienced a ‘real’ stadium atmosphere, you will never know what you are missing.
I remember reading about the Kop at Liverpool FC and hearing how it would generate a wall of sound that would intimidate opposition teams, but I never fully understood until I went to Anfield
and stood in the Kop myself.
When they began singing the Liverpool anthem, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, the concrete stand began to reverberate, and I found it strangely hard to breath as the pulse of the singing worked my lungs like bellows. There is a line you cross when you stop hearing sounds, and start feeling them instead.
The closest I got to this type of atmosphere in the Middle East was back in 2001 when Bahrain came so close to qualifying for the World Cup. The national stadium was packed to the rafters and I couldn’t get in, but I stood on a sand dune just outside with lots of others hoping we could somehow peer over the stadium and onto the pitch.
And I realised even though I couldn’t see the game, I could hear it. The type of noise and pitch would indicate who was attacking and who was defending. The stadium experience is so much more than watching it.
Attending a tournament is a multiple-week affair. Watching games takes up only 15 per cent of the time. The rest of your time is spent in hotels, hostels, taxis, planes, trains, travelling, eating… all terribly mundane events, except you are doing it with family, friends and fellow fans. It is the ultimate package adventure holiday tour, without the beaches and sun tan lotion.
And you don’t get that experience sitting on a sofa.