Traveling to an away football match is as traditional in the game as the shape of the ball. Tell me, as a fan of the game, do you not get excited when a smaller side scores a huge goal in, say, an FA Cup match away from home? I sure did the other day, watching the Swansea City fans lose their minds after the 89th minute winner at Old Trafford against Manchester United. Believe it or not, that same experience can be felt in North America.
Between Sporting Kansas City and the US Men's National Soccer Team, I've attended 16 matches not held at Sporting Park. My record for SKC is 6 wins, 3 losses, and 3 draws. USMNT scoreline for 4 games away from SP is simply 4 wins, easy enough. From my first trip away in 2011 to Chicago, I've become a rugged travel savvy away fan, so in my first article here, I will show you the ropes of getting around the grounds of Mr. Garber's League.
1. Travel with friends or fellow fans.
On my first trip to Portland and the Seattle USMNT game, I was mostly on my own. Stayed at a hostel in Portland and with a friend in Seattle, only meeting up with people pregame or in the case of the US game, the American Outlaws night before party. I had to plan things to do on my own and often found myself longing for company at times such as when I hit up local micro breweries in Portland. So preseason, plan with friends for trips that you all mutually want to make. MLS front office has made the process much easier this season by releasing the schedule right before MLS Cup 2013 was even played. Several of my friends had already booked Sporting KC's first match in Seattle well before the final game of the 2013 season was played. So plan ahead and book together.
2. Make new friends with the locals.
This isn't England in the 1980's, there is a very good chance that the home fans would rather embark on a conversation about local culinary fare and beer culture as a whole. You'd be surprised how many friends I've made in Houston alone by simply saying "Dang, those ribs are fantastic." Just arrive friendly and bring a scarf to trade, I've got so many now that my walls are well insulated for winters, I almost hope they drive down the heating costs for the house.
That said, be careful with your team's rivals. Houston Dynamo is possibly the biggest rival currently for Sporting KC, with all the regular season and playoff series animosity, but at the same time, the two fan bases, for the most part, get along very well. Before the away playoff game this season, they treated the Cauldron to a warm welcome and let us pay into their tailgate, which had some of the best Texas BBQ I've ever had. Plus beer, everything goes well with beer.
But the same can't be said of SKC's other "rival" in the Chicago Fire. Section 8 and the Cauldron are not on speaking terms, mostly on the Chicago side of things, so we've never had formal tailgates or any real interaction with them. I imagine Cascadia and some of the east coast teams can understand that sentiment as well. And that mentality is okay as long as violence, racism, etc is never involved. It's okay to have a rival that you truly hate and never want to talk to their fans.
3. Get out of the hotel, see the sights.
I've been to Columbus, Ohio twice now, drove in once for SKC vs Columbus Crew in 2012 and US-Mexico Dos A Cero Part 4 in 2013. Columbus is the usual Midwestern US city, a somewhat lively downtown with nothing much to do outside of that. Those two trips are in my top 5, the SKC one is at the 5 spot, the US trip at the 1 spot. Why? Because I got out there and hung out with the locals and experienced the city.
I mostly stayed at the hotel during the Chicago 2012 away trip, being so far from everything out near Midway airport killed most of the vibe for me. So try and get downtown, no matter how difficult it is to get yourself to the stadium, no matter what. You'll have more fun in the long run.
4. Sporting Club buys your ticket in, go already.
An innovative way to get fans to attend road games was unveiled in 2011 by the front office. The plan was mind blowing at the time, in fact, it still is in 2014. For majority of away games, the Sporting KC front office will buy up about 25-50 tickets depending on distance and big game mentality towards the fixture. For the rivalry match ups or First Kick opening day matches, they'll usually buy up more. The Cauldron took around 200 to Philly for a chilly early March fixture at a stadium that the Cauldron had to rent buses for to shuttle fans from downtown Philadelphia to Chester back and forth.
Think that was a bunch of folks getting in for free? The Cauldron took over 600 away fans to Dallas for a draw by planes, trains, and automobiles. Seriously, if you haven't taken up Sporting Club's offer for a free ticket to a game, plan ahead for March 29th at Colorado Rapids. I have a dream of 800, even 1000 fans taking over Dick's Sporting Goods Park and turning it Sporting Blue. Do it, book a flight to Denver, they're cheap and so much easier than that brutal drive across western Kansas and eastern Colorado.
5. Lastly, you'll probably have a lesser view, but will have the time of your life.
Away fans aren't treated to the best seats in the house. You're not their ideal customer and honestly, the team is buying your ticket, if you must have a better view, don't complain and buy your own ticket in handsitters land. I was one of 10 people who attended the 2011 SKC at Portland fixture on Sporting Club's bill. The seats were up in the heavens, in the farthest corner away from Timbers Army, but I wouldn't have asked for a better seat. Sure, both of Sporting's goals were at the Timbers Army end, but we had a clear view of Aurelien Collin and Julio Cesar running across the field, hopping over the signboards, grabbing two fan's beers and taking a nice little celebratory sip before getting back on their sides. Oh, and I had a bird's eye view of that Darlington Nagbe goal, you know which one I'm talking about, ugh, it was so beautiful.
Expect a seat or slice of bleacher in a corner, usually higher up, and be on good behavior. There will be cops and security guards, so don't be an idiot pregame and during the game with above the limits alcohol. As long as you follow the rules, you're gonna have a blast.
6. Be spontaneous.
Sporting Kansas City defeated New England Revolution in the 2nd leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Sporting Park 3-1 after extra time on Wednesday, November 6th, 2013. The next 48 hours was an insane time for many fans, especially for two cars that led one of the most legendary convoys I'll ever be a part of.
What started as some tweeting back and forth about dreaming of attending the first leg of the Conference finals in Houston became a serious discussion within about 12 hours of the final whistle at Sporting Park. A hotel room was booked by myself, James Starritt of Kick the Ball fame readied his Toyota, Mark Kapfer and Steven Jenkins rounded out the 4 man group that left on Friday, November 8th, 2013. 10 hours or so later, the group arrived in downtown Houston in time for a tailgate preceding one of the most boring and ugly performances from two tired sides you can imagine.
Not a single man regretted that trip, and it made that 2nd leg in KC so much more intense, everything to play for and all. But the fact that so many fans went, Sporting Club doesn't purchase the playoff tickets either, on such short notice was something else, something more than just being a fan.
Make that choice, if you can make it. Those 90 minutes weren't pretty, and I didn't watch the game again once I returned home and never will, but I wouldn't haven't missed that trip for the world. If someone calls you up saying that they're heading out to Chicago for a match on a moment's notice, take them up on the offer. You won't regret it.
I leave you with one thoughtful insight: winning at home is a great feeling, but winning away is something else. Getting to watch the agony of defeat of the home fans is such a wonderful treat. At MLS Cup 2013, I watched as the traveling Real Salt Lake supporters lost their minds celebrating that Alvaro Saborio goal. If that match had finished with a SKC penalty kick victory but in Sandy, Utah instead, it would almost become slight more legendary to me. The elation of winning away can hardly be topped, and as long as you follow the local rules and the game favors your side that day, you're going to have some memories that will last with you forever.