There has been little love lost between these two teams since Stoke City won promotion to the Premier League three seasons ago. Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger has accused Stoke of playing rugby rather than football. Wenger a football purist poured scorn on Stoke and their prolific use of long balls played out of defence, Rory Delap’s long throw-ins and the team’s kind of aggressiveness that is usually associated with prop forwards.
Yesterday, Stoke City simply outplayed Arsenal with flashes of fast-flowing football and individual skill from the likes of Jermaine Pennant and Jon Walters. And Stoke supporters were certainly going to take Wenger to task for his slur.
With Stoke leading 3-1, the crowd at the Britannia Stadium suddenly burst into a rendition of Swing Low Sweet Chariot, the song sung by England rugby fans. The commentators on the Fox Channel did not pick up on the humour associated with that song but it was not lost on the football correspondents of The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.
Watching sporting events in the USA, the Dallas Cowboys when I lived in Texas and now the Jacksonville Jaguars, I miss the songs and humorous chants of English crowds. American fans do not go in for chants or singing of any description. In fact, they don’t even bother to sing their national anthem, which is played just before the start of any sporting event, leaving it to some C&W singer or winner of the America’s Got Talent TV show.
What is the point of having a national anthem if the nation cannot be bothered to sing it? And, sadly, I am afraid the American approach appears to be spreading beyond its shores. What America does today, Britain does tomorrow and the rest of the world a few days later.
The only crowd participation I have witnessed in America was at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, home of the Dallas Stars NHL team. When said pop singer or whoever was trotted out to sing The Star-Spangled Banner and reached the line – Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight — the crowd to a man/woman would shout “stars”. That has all the sophistication of an eighth-grader.
Similarly, NFL crowds will chant “Defense” at the behest of electronic signs flashing round the stadium. But songs about players, chants to urge their team on, forget it. All you get during the course of a game is a cacophony of general noise; in other words one unholy din designed to drown out the opposing quarterback’s instructions to the rest of his team.
The nearest I ever got to experiencing the kind of support British fans display was when the Jaguars beat the Indianapolis Colts last season with the last kick of the game. As the crowd left Everbank Field, the walkways from the stands echoed with the repeated chant of “We are — Jaguars!” For a short time, I thought I had been transported back to England.
Oh to be at Wembley stadium on Saturday.