Loyal supporters

The American football game I attended this week had something in common with a regular football game. The away team brought supporters.

Chelsea fans are famous for following their club everywhere. Even on far-flung pre-season friendlies or end-of-season dead rubbers, loyal Blues travel everywhere. It’s not like that here in the States.

I’m not a fanatical follower of our local NFL outfit, the New Orleans Saints, but I go when I can and I’ve been to dozens of contests in the 15 seasons I’ve lived in the Big Easy. Sunday’s match against the Philadelphia Eagles was the first time I’ve ever seen a sizable support by the visitors.

Perhaps 10 per cent of the 74,000 crowd were in green-and-white, if not that many then maybe 5,000 were rooting for the side from Pennsylvania. It’s hard to judge on this side of the Atlantic as unlike with Chelsea, the away team don’t get a block allocation. Almost every seat at every NFL stadium is a season ticket, so obviously that would cut down on the travelling support.

But you can always get tickets on the secondary market, and if a club isn’t doing well then official resale sites often have them below face value. But with all sports in the USA there is not the same culture of an away day.

The Saints go to Charlotte, Atlanta and Tampa Bay every year, and all are within easy reach - for instance I paid under $100 for a return plane ticket to Tampa for next month’s fixture. The vast majority of games are on Sundays making them easy weekend getaways.

So why do so few Saints fans travel, and why do so few opposition supporters visit New Orleans? During the NFL season the weather here is usually perfect and the Big Easy is packed with holiday-makers and conference-attendees. Why don’t more enthusiasts visit one of the country’s most iconic cities to watch their team?

Those cheering on the Eagles who made the 2,500-mile round trip went home disappointed with the result, as the Saints continued their winning streak, now at nine contests. Here’s hoping the Chelsea supporters going to Wembley on Saturday as the away side have a more enjoyable day out - and that they also see an extension of an impressive unbeaten run.

By Stephen Rea, Blogger from America