Thursday, October 11, 2012

They Call it Football (Part 1)

Big Ben and London Eye in the distance
I have been following soccer for close to 20 years now. It took root with the 1994 World Cup, continued growing with MLS, and matured through the start of satellite coverage of leagues around the world. During that time I found myself picking teams to support and when it came to the English Premier League I settled on Manchester City.

I have been asked by countless people how I settled on City as my team. For starters, their stadium back when I first started following them was Maine Road which I liked because I was born in Maine. Their color team color was sky blue which was the same as my college color. But more importantly they were the "other" team from Manchester, the little guy in town going up the bigger Manchester United (at least until the Sheik bought the club).

Back in the summer of 2010 I was lucky enough to fly up to Harrison, NJ to see Manchester City play the Red Bulls as part of the New York Football Challenge. Although City lost the match it was still the fulfillment of a life-long goal of being able to see my team play live and in-person.

In the back of my mind I had always hoped of making a trip to Manchester to see City play at the Etihad Stadium. Just such an opportunity presented itself when my friend Michael, a life-long City fan, decided to skip Atlantic City and Las Vegas and do his bachelor party in Manchester. After working some extra hours and getting the blessing from my wife I was in for the trip of a lifetime and it didn't disappoint.

My buddy Brian and I flew into London bright and early on Thursday morning and were welcomed by perfectly clear, blue skies with the sun streaming down across the capital. This was my second trip to England, my first being when I was a child, but it was Brian's first so we dropped our bags and hit the sights like proper tourists.

Tower Bridge
We started our trek at Tower Bridge and then worked our way along the north bank of the Thames River passing by the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral, and the Millennium Bridge by mid-morning. Pressed for time we took the tube over to Westminster where the sun shined down on Big Ben, the House of Parliament, and the London Eye across the river. We popped into a neighborhood pub for lunch and learned a quick tourist lesson. Dozens (if not hundreds) of seemingly one-of-a-kind pubs around the capital are actually part of a chain even though they all have different names. It's not necessarily a bad thing, the food and drinks were good, but it took some of the glamour out of it when you realized it was the Applebee's of the UK.

"The George" est. 1542
We spent the afternoon working our way through Hyde Park to Buckingham Palace and then back to the east through Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square before the jetlag set in and we head back to the South Bank to our hotel. We stayed in the Bermondsey part of the South Bank which had no signs of tourism what-so-ever, it was a true London neighborhood and we dined with the locals. We visited “The George” which is one of the oldest (authentic) pubs in England dating back to 1542; a must-see on any trip to London.

Piccadilly Station, Manchester
The following morning we hopped a train to Manchester, which is about a two hour ride, to meet up with the rest of our group. To draw comparisons between London and Manchester is like comparing New York City to Boston, both have their positives/negatives depending on who you ask. Manchester is a working town, you will find jeans and work boots instead of the 3-piece suits that were common across London. We checked into the Hilton Deansgate in the south end of the City's Centre before we went out for drinks and dinner.

Keith's Photobomb
at The Wellington
We stopped into the Wellington Room, Manchester's oldest pub, were we met up with the crew and took in some traditional English Kask Ales. Let me set the record straight on the beer in England, lots of people warned me that the beer over there is warm; that's only partially true. The English beers are what they call "cellar chilled" meaning in lieu of the traditional 34-38 degrees we drink our American lagers at, these brews are served around 50-54 degrees. However, there are several beers like Becks Vier and Guiness Extra Cold that are served chilled if you can't shake that concept.

The rest of the night was spent dining locally around the hotel and heading out to the adjacent casino though most of the group decided to turn-in early due to the jetlag. But not me, I was too excited to sleep, because I knew that tomorrow was match day, the fulfillment of a dream...

Check back here on Monday Morning for Part 2 on my trip England!

1 comment :

  1. Love it...let's go back, i'm sure i left something somewhere! - Mike


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