Recently, I attended my first ever professional soccer match which was held at the new Aviva Stadium in Dublin. I had been planning on going to a game there for a couple of years, in fact, last year I spent part of a day walking around the estates (neighborhoods) surrounding the Aviva Stadium with hopes of entering the grounds, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find the entrance.
Thankfully the day of the match a friend rang and said, “Hi Noel, my brother can’t make the game today, would you like to join us?”
I jumped at the chance. I threw a jacket and some food in a bag and minutes later they arrived in their car and we were off to Dublin for the sporting event of the millennium! Actually, it was a friendly match, USA vs Ireland, but to me it was a momentous occasion.
We drove into Dublin parked the car at a relative’s house then hopped on a bus for the city centre. A few minutes later we arrived at O’Connell Street and immediately made our way to Supermacs for traditional Irish cuisine, mainly focusing our attention on curry chips, pizza and Coca-Cola. 20 minutes later our stomachs were full and we realized we had bought too much pizza and coke, so on our way out we were able to share it with someone begging on the streets above the Liffey River. They were happy to receive the fast food and shouted out a lovely, “God bless ya!”
We rushed from our food delivery to a bus that would bring us directly to the stadium. It was loaded with students and business people finishing classes and heading home as well as both Irish and American soccer supporters. The bus got fuller and fuller the closer we got to the stadium.
On arrival we squeezed out into the dusky night joining hundreds of fans. Like a school of salmon in unison, we made our way toward the stadium. Hawkers of scarves, game programs and big green foam hands yelled at us as we passed, “Scarves only five euros!” over and over they shouted. I really wanted a scarf that had both Ireland and USA on it, but the crowds surged forward and I didn’t take out my wallet. I could relate to this scarf because I wanted to cheer for both teams and wasn’t sure how I would react once the game started. I was born and raised in the USA, but I have spent the last decade on this great Island. Most of my ancestors have made their homes on this island for centuries. Either way, I was convinced I would enjoy the game after all it was only a friendly match. Win, lose or draw, everyone was there just to have a good time playing a great sport.
Speaking of soccer, I am of the opinion that soccer is perhaps the number four sport of the island (I could be wrong, but for now that is what I think). I would venture to say that the main Gaelic Association games: Football and Hurling are at the top and then perhaps Rugby, are more popular as national sports than soccer. What do you think? Despite not being Ireland’s number one sport, there have been some amazing soccer players that have come from Ireland, George Best, Roy Keane, Paul McGrath, Damien Duff, Liam Brady, Johnny Giles, Niall Quinn, Robbie Keane, Jackie Carey, Frank Stapleton, Kevin Moran to name a few.
As we made our way toward the towering Aviva Stadium we were greeted by multiple rows of security. The first row took our tickets, while the following rows appeared to be there to catch those trying to burst their way into the stadium without paying the fee; a difficult task for que breakers considering the fortress that is the Aviva stadium. As we approached the concrete, steel, and glass stadium we were greeted by steel bars that acted as a revolving door. It reminded me of what it might feel like as a guard entering a prison! On entry we were surrounded by concrete and made our way toward the stairs… after huffing and puffing up hundreds of steps we finally made it to the top. Our tickets were in the nose-bleed section.
As we entered into the main viewing area I was struck by how bright it was and surprised at how warm. I was expecting it to be freezing and had brought a couple jackets, gloves and a hat, but it was actually bearable with only one jacket and a hat. The stadium is sheltered from the wind and perhaps heated in part by the warmth coming from the huge lights and up to more than 50,000 soccer fans.
If you are scared of heights you may choose the more expensive tickets on the lower sections, but for the 10 euro priced section at the very top I was amazed at the excellent view of the field. It was easy to see all the action and even glance occasionally at the screens on the right and left to watch replays.
The flags were waving and crowds were cheering as the players entered. The stadium quickly filled to near capacity and the game began.
It wasn’t long until Ireland opened up the match with a goal. This boosted the atmosphere as Ireland fans jumped to their feet and began to sing and shout. Near the end of the first half USA equalized with a goal and I was startled to be surrounded with Americans both in front and behind with accents I had not noticed until the goal was scored and the voices were raised. I recognized west, and east coast accents and it reminded me again of the very real connection that exists between our two nations.
Half-time came and went. In the second half the game shifted into gear and Ireland began to dominate. The Americans got even quieter as Ireland earned itself three more goals in the 45 minutes and USA ended up with its worst loss in two years.
The final score was USA 1, Ireland 4.
I was sad for the USA team, but the high score made for an exciting game and I was happy to see Ireland win on it’s home turf. It was a fun international friendly match.
We quickly exited with the crowds and made our way toward what is known as the DART, which is a tram that touches a variety of locations throughout Dublin (but should not be mistaken for the LUAS). I thought we would be in line for hours as there were thousands ahead of us, but they tell me that during a game they line up the train cars at the stadium and then fill them up and send them on. Train after train after train. It was only a matter of minutes before we were on and making our way home.
I look forward to my next opportunity to watch an International Soccer match at the beautiful Aviva Stadium. Maybe I will see you there.