Experiencing Power of Soccer in My Semester Abroad


Photo courtesy of John Elrod

John Elrod poses at a Newcastle United FC game.

During a November trip to England, I saw a soccer match of my favorite English club, Newcastle United FC, and experienced the power of a single goal. For 66 minutes, Newcastle battled hard with Chelsea FC before midfielder Joe Willock put the home team in front with a rocket of a goal from the edge of the box. The earthquake that took place when the ball touched the back of the net was unlike anything I’ve experienced. The roof covering the stands sent the noise from the fans right back where it came from, and I could feel it reverberate through my bones. When I watched the NBC clip of the goal after the game, I could see the camera shake while English commentator Peter Drury made note of the volume in the stadium.

On the contrary, when the United States tied England 0–0 in the World Cup group stage, American fans complained extensively about the game of soccer. After all, why would anyone enjoy a sport where the game can finish without either team scoring? I’m not going to argue that a goalless draw is the best example of the game (even though you can certainly appreciate midfield and defensive play), but I believe the anticipation of the elusive goal is what draws fans to the game.

Anyone packed into Newcastle’s home of St. James’ Park that day was aware that Willock’s strike wasn’t just any goal. It signified a new era of Newcastle football after an ownership change last year and the introduction of some talented new players. The club will enjoy a top three place in the Premier League on Christmas for the first time since 2002. During that same trip to England, I also saw Manchester United at historic Old Trafford to face Aston Villa — a team that beat United four days prior. When Aston Villa went ahead 1–0 on a counterattack goal, every bit of life was drained out of the home supporters. The away end, a smaller section of Aston Villa supporters, went into a frenzy as the rest of the stadium looked on with thousand-yard stares. The famous club that won 13 Premier League titles from 1992–2013 was at risk of losing to a mediocre Aston Villa side twice within one week. The silence was also symbolic of the underwhelming way things have gone for the club since its last Premier League title in 2013. Although United would come back and win the game 4–2 with a raucous crowd cheering on each goal, the first Villa score showed how a goal can drain every bit of happiness out of fans just as much as it can provide it.

My actual study abroad program is in Denmark, and although the quality of its league doesn’t touch England’s, the fan intensity is about the same. The club I’ve seen the most, Brøndby IF, has some of the most passionate — and reckless — fans I’ve ever been around. During a September match against a Western Denmark club, Randers FC, the stadium exploded when Brøndby scored in the first minute. Carlsberg pints went flying as the stands rocked with traditional Danish football chants. On this day at Brøndby Stadium, there wasn’t a story of a perennial underdog finding success or a football dynasty finding frustration, but one of a fanbase that simply lives for the game. The Brøndby supporters are made up of primarily blue-collar people who live to the west of expensive central Copenhagen, and you can tell that being able to cheer on a local club that they feel represents them means everything. That opening minute goal seemed to serve as a reward for the fans’ loyalty, and they fully embraced it.

Drawing from my own experiences this semester to determine why soccer has the hold on the world that it does, I’ve come to the conclusion that it centers around the elusiveness of that single goal. The game can make you wait just a minute for it to happen, or it might not even happen at all. When it does, though, it can create the most dramatic moments in the sporting world.