Creating an atmosphere

I tailgated at an American football game for the first time this week, despite living in the States for 13 years and first going to a NFL contest in 2000.

The closest I had come before was a disorganised get-together before a football match (as in soccer) in Connecticut, a surreal summer full-international friendly between Northern Ireland and Turkey played on a school field in the tiny town of New Britain. I kid you not.

On Sunday I went to see the New Orleans Saints take on the Carolina Panthers in the NFC South section, a crunch fixture as the record of both was 'eight and three' - eight victories, three defeats. The teams play just 16 games, so if two sides finish tied on wins, the first tiebreaker is the record against your three divisional rivals.

I have a friend visiting from Carlisle (he’s a Liverpool fan but I can’t help that) who planned his trip specifically around attending it. Normally I would have a couple of drinks in a nearby bar then wander into the Superdome but we went downtown early to enjoy the beautiful mild Louisiana December day and soak up the atmosphere. We spent an hour before kick-off with my neighbours who rent a parking space fewer than 100 yards from the Dome. They put out folding chairs and bring a cooler with beers and packets of crisps/chips.

However beforehand we went on a fruitless search to find a team-mate from my pub side. We eventually abandoned it (the directions from my fellow Irishman were less than specific you will be shocked to read), but only after trekking around a mammoth maze of mobile homes, grills, and PA systems. All were crammed underneath an adjoining motorway flyover/interstate underpass that amplified the olfactory assault on our noses and pulsating attack on our eardrums. It was more akin to meandering through a post-apocalyptic landscape than a stop-off before a sporting event.

Bizarrely after all that effort, some supporters don’t even go to the game! They bring TV's and generators and watch it there, from right across the street. The local news recently interviewed fans who said they preferred this 'experience' because they have a better view. The stadium was in the background of the shot.

The Saints triumphed and with three-quarters of the season down they are well placed to make the playoffs. But next time I go, I think I’ll stick to beer and crisps.