Notes from a big country

Having recently returned from a three-month stint working at an American summer camp in Pennsylvania, it will surely come as no surprise when I tell you that America’s sporting sensibilities fly straight in the face of the ones we enshrine in Britain.

As a die-hard (British) football fan, I am still struggling with the idea of playing it with my hands and covered in padding.


The hot-dog cannon feeds hungry sports fans. Photo: Neil Moakley
Be that as it may, I persevered and attended several sporting fixtures which completely bewildered me. I mostly went to baseball games, but my real introduction to US sport was an arena football game in Reading, Pennsylvania.

“Arena football works in exactly the same way as American football, only it is inside and on a field half the normal size,” I was helpfully informed by my wonderful new friends and colleagues.

Of course, that did nothing to further my  understanding of  the sport. I watched, completely confused, as play was stopped every 13 seconds or so, usually because someone had been tackled, prompting wholesale substitutions and short blasts of music — stirring the largely subdued crowd into life. It represented a stark contrast to the vocal, unruly British sports crowds we see at football and rugby games.

Not to be deterred, my next foray into American sport came in the form of baseball and the hugely successful and popular Philadelphia Phillies. It was at their Citizens Bank Stadium when they suffered disappointing defeat to the Minnesota Twins that I was provided with my abiding memory of US sport: the introduction of a hot-dog cannon.

Shortly after the end of the fourth inning, a small hot-dog shaped cannon rolled on to the field and proceeded to pepper the crowd with ready-to-eat hot-dogs, much to the delight of the Phillies faithful. Such scenes would certainly not be tolerated at Old Trafford, let alone Sincil Bank.

It was a truly wonderful, if bizarre, moment, highlighting the fundamental difference between our sporting cultures. It is a spectacle. It is entertainment. It is not the passion that football, rugby, and cricket are in this country.

While I was working at that summer camp, I was often asked what the difference between baseball and cricket is. The answer, of course, is simple.
Both are games of immense skill involving bats and balls. The crucial difference is that cricket is the only game on Earth in which you can enquire as to who is winning after three days and receive the response “it’s too early to tell”.

America’s changing attitude to football was also an interesting development. Up to the age of sixteen, it is arguably the most popular participation sport in the country. Whilst my employment meant that I missed a significant amount of the World Cup, the level of interest in it was incredibly high, despite a general lack of knowledge of the game. Most Americans simply do not watch football unless the country is in a state of World Cup fever, which obviously only takes hold once every four years.

It is an interesting phenomenon, and meant that millions across the States keenly watched the events unfold in South Africa with no prior knowledge of the players involved. That is with the exception of their very own Landon Donovan, who had the nation hanging on his every touch.

It is without a doubt a fascinating place, and for British sports fans it offers an interesting diversion to the over-zealous nature in which we follow our beloved sports teams.

One Response to Notes from a big country

  1. Thomas says:

    Thank you for the interesting read. I really enjoy reading people’s perspectives on comparative culture.