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Liverpool vs. Tottenham: An Inside Look into Baltimore’s Soccer Culture

July 25, 2012

Ryan Grubb, 29, is one of many Baltimoreans who crowd into downtown pubs like Slainte and No Idea on Saturday and Sunday mornings  from August to May to watch soccer.

“Initially people look at you sideways,” Grubb says. “Probably people think we’re nuts.”

But people like Grubb may seem a little less crazy as Baltimore hosts Premier League rivals Liverpool Football Club and Tottenham Hotspur at M&T Bank Stadium Saturday, July 28, giving local residents a chance to catch the thrill live.

Matches are a 90 minute rush of emotions: anxiety, depression, elation, and then (usually) more depression. But that depression isn’t a bad thing.  “It is the pain of fandom that is ultimately the joy of football,” says Roger Bennett, ESPN soccer columnist and part of Grantland‘s “Men In Blazers.”

Back in the bars the routine has become something of a religious experience for many. Some abstain from certain activities to avoid  bringing bad spirits to their club. Others rely on a more relaxing remedy: alcohol.

“People are having breakfast and having drinks and singing songs, talking smack to players they don’t like and it becomes a bit like a social club,” Brian Shapell says. “When we all get together it makes it a lot more fun.”

But let the observer beware, one visit is enough to get you addicted to the ups and downs of European football. For those who still haven’t caught the bug, now is the best time to catch it, so that you too can experience that wonderful feeling of depression that goes with being a fan.

With exhibition matches like the one on July 28, Baltimore is slowly making its way into the football fold, while locally based Under Armour became the manufacturer of Tottenham’s jerseys last year.

Culturally, however, Baltimore is far closer to Liverpool than it is to Tottenham’s London. Way back in 1875, seventeen years before there was a Liverpool Football Club, a Scribner’s Monthly article named Baltimore the “Liverpool of America.” While this may seem like an arbitrary way to pick a team,  it is, in fact, the American way.

Baltimore and Liverpool “have a real folklore that sweeps through the streets, both cities are beautiful and have their own unique beauty,” says Bennett, a Liverpool native (who supports its local rival Everton)

Grubb, who met his wife while supporting Liverpool, draws the connection more bluntly: “Port towns, down on their luck for awhile, they are full of prideful people that love their city.  And if you don’t care for it you can have a fuck off.”

Liverpool supporter John Pozniak, of South Baltimore, was originally surprised at the number of Liverpool fans in Baltimore. “But Baltimore likes an old school, hard working team, and Liverpool represents that,” he says.

While Liverpool has the historical edge, fans looking for exciting, sometimes suicidal, attacking play might favor Tottenham. But no matter who you chose, it won’t take long for your passion to emerge. “That’s what blows me away about the American fan,” Bennett says. “How quickly it goes from arbitrary choice to true emotional connection.”