Imagine passing this on your walk to work in the morning. (via Wikimedia Commons)
I try to watch as many games live as possible. It's nice to have them out of the way early, for one; if things go well I'm in a good mood all day, and if things go poorly I've got an entire Saturday or Sunday afternoon to try and stay busy and forget about the result as much as I can. I'm also not especially inclined towards drinking at 8:00 AM in the morning, but I'm the kind of person that feels bad for going to a pub and taking up space without ordering anything more than coffee. I feel guilty about strange things like this.
Sometimes watching live isn't an option for one reason or another, though; I can't watch weekday games at work, for example. I will occasionally have a particularly late night on the weekend. And sometimes not knowing as it's happening is worth the trade-off for making a night (or afternoon) of it at the pub with friends. On those occasions, I typically head over to the George and Dragon, one of Seattle's better-known soccer bars. According to Google Maps, the drive to the George is five miles, and it usually takes me ten to twenty minutes to get there. More frequently I hop on the 27 bus, which stops about a block away from my apartment, and after the ride and the walk across the bridge into Fremont I'm there in half an hour or so. If the EPL didn't begin and end at almost exactly the same time as Seattle's miserable rainy season, I'd probably walk there on occasion. It's close, is what I'm getting at. Not necessarily in the neighborhood, but close. The kind of place you could easily choose to go on a whim.If you ask Google Maps to give you directions between Villa Park and St. Andrews, the distance of the suggested route is 2.9 miles. For Old Trafford and City of Manchester Stadium, it's 4.5 miles. Emirates and White Hart Lane are 4.6 miles apart. Goodison Park and Anfield are less than one mile apart. It's pretty staggering when you think about it, really. Were I to be in any of these cities, I could (conceivably) depart the home ground of one great rival and be at the home ground of the other in less than an hour. If, hypothetically, Liverpool and Everton were both playing at home at the same time on the same day, I could watch the first half of one match, walk to the other stadium and be in my seat before the second half of the other game began. These rivalries are some of the fiercest in all of English football, and the clubs involved are headquartered a shorter distance from each other than I travel to watch them.
London is enormous, of course; smaller (in terms of population) than New York City but nearly twice as populous as Los Angeles; Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, however, are both located in North London, the population of which is a little over half that of the entire city. Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool are all large cities in their own right; Birmingham is about the size of San Jose, California. Liverpool and Manchester are comparable to Miami, Florida or Cleveland, Ohio. Because of the relative lack of exurban density and the manner in which media markets work in the United States, these will never be direct comparisons; Cleveland might be a bit smaller than Birmingham, but the nearest city large enough to support a major professional sports franchise is Pittsburgh, PA which is 135 miles away. The furtherest you'd have to travel between two cities in England that are currently home to a Premier League team is the 280 miles between Newcastle and London, and Newcastle and Sunderland sit in relative isolation in the northeast corner of England.
Fans of MLS are buzzing about the arrival of the Portland Timbers to the league next season, in large part because of the intense rivalry between the Timbers and the Seattle Sounders. It is without a doubt the most intense regional rivalry of which any American team that I am a fan of is a part, and the only such rivalry that I will have the chance to witness first hand any time soon. Only two teams in MLS play in the same city, and while fans of Chivas USA and the Los Angeles Galaxy don't particularly care for the other club, it's a bit of a stretch to call it an actual rivalry (despite the best efforts of the clubs' respective marketing arms, as well of those of MLS and whichever network happens to be carrying the league at the time.) The Sounders and Timbers, on the other hand, have been bitter rivals for many years, dating back to the mid-1970s. Seattle and Portland are 174 miles apart. The only other real and intense regional rivalry in MLS is contested between San Jose and the Los Angeles Galaxy; those two cities are 340 miles apart.
Intra-city rivalries do exist in American sports, of course, but they are exceedingly rare. The closest thing we have would probably be the rivalry between the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders; the teams are direct competitors, as they play in the same division. Both are based in the greater New York metropolitan area. The teams' arenas, however, are located nearly 30 miles apart and the teams allegiances are determined largely by their geographical location. The New York Giants and New York Jets are both based in East Rutherford, New Jersey and play their respective home games at New Meadowlands Stadium. There is certainly a great deal of acrimony between fans of the teams, but because they play in different conferences and don't play each other every year both teams have far more intense rivalries on the field with other teams, located much farther away. It's a similar situation where Major League Baseball is concerned; more major metropolitan areas are home to more than one franchise in MLB than in any other American professional sports league; New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and the California Bay Area all have one team each in the American and National Leagues. Until recently, however, teams from these leagues never met until the World Series, and although they now play each other every year, the rivalries these teams have cultivated with the teams in their own divisions, whom they are directly competing against for a playoff spot, are far more acrimonious.
In the United States, cities that more than one team in a given sport calls home are few in number. Even in those cities, whatever rivalry most likely would have emerged is somewhat dampened due to the structure of professional sports leagues in this country. In England? There five Premier League teams in London alone (for now, of course.) There are plenty of simple and reasonable explanations for this, of course; density, the relative lack of competition that English football faces from other sports, league structures and so on. This isn't intended to be some sort of in-depth analysis. It's just something that I find fascinating. Think of the sports team you hate more than any other. Now, the next time you drive to the grocery store, or go for a run, or grab a taxi home from the bar, imagine that you could be at that team's stadium in that short an amount of time. It's a thought that blows my mind. We in America tend to see rivalry as an "Us-Versus-Them" proposition, and not in the sense of the players on the field; I hate the Anaheim Angels not only because they routinely beat the snot out of the Mariners, but because I hate Anaheim more than any other place I have ever been. Its entire existence is the antithesis of everything I hold dear about the Northwest and, more specifically, central Seattle. I'd imagine that it's tough to see things that way when you can see your greatest sporting enemy's ground from your backyard.
It's the kind of thing that, to the English (and to those living in the rest of Europe and much of South America, for that matter) seems perfectly normal. To me though, I can't imagine ever finding it anything but fascinating.