Nothing like the thrill of being there
It takes something special to give a person goosebumps for more than 90 minutes, but attend a football game in England and you might share that experience, says reporter Ben Strang.
Simply walking in to some of the most famous stadiums in Europe and America can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up as you realise where you are.
On a recent whirlwind trip to the northern hemisphere I visited as many sports games as my wallet would allow – football matches in Germany and England, basketball and baseball in New York.
The first event was a Bayern Munich football match at Munich’s Allianz Arena.
The € 350 million ( NZ$ 630m) stadium is covered in inflated foam sheets, which allows it to be lit in red, blue, or white, to suit the home team.
About 66,000 people can cram in to the three-tiered stadium, which is nearly double the size of Wellington’s Westpac Stadium, and that creates an incredible atmosphere.
I watched Bayern defeat Borussia Monchengladbach there in April, and the home fans’ chanting was deafening after the goal was scored.
Hardcore supporters sit behind each goal, and yell the team name back and forth at one another to spur the team on.
The stadium is state-of-the-art, in contrast to my next experience, a football game at Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium.
After travelling to the other side of the world I was not going to miss my beloved Liverpool play a home match, and forked out € 220 ( NZ$ 400) to watch them play Manchester City.
There are no large entry gates into Anfield, which was constructed in 1884, and you have to search for the small entry turnstiles.
Walking up four flights of narrow, dimly-lit stairs to get to the seating, I wondered how a team that is followed worldwide could have such an old and small stadium.
I walked down to my third row seats where, unlike New Zealand sports stadiums, I was sitting roughly five metres from the playing surface. New Zealand sports grounds are more spacious to sit in, but cannot compare with the atmosphere and emotion of English football.
With Liverpool scoring three goals in 30 minutes the fans were in raptures, and the chanting and singing stepped up a gear.
As the home team coasted to victory, the club’s song, You’ll Never Walk Alone was sung by all but the small travelling contingent, giving me chills all over.
By the end of the game I had no voice, could not shake the goosebumps and had a cheesy grin smeared across my face.
About 24 hours later I was standing outside Madison Square Garden, where the New York Knicks were hosting their second-to-last game of the NBA regular season against league-topping Chicago Bulls, who boast the league’s best player, Derrick Rose.
Think a Wellington Saints game on steroids.
Almost 20,000 people cram into the multi-purpose arena for basketball matches, creating what some commentators call the best atmosphere in the sport.
To add to the vibe, the Knicks had just secured their spot in the NBA finals for the first time since 2002.
The Bulls wiped off some of the good feeling during the game, thanks mainly to Rose, but what happened next is virtually unheard of in New Zealand sport – Rose was fully appreciated for his talent.
Rather than bagging the player for outclassing their team, the New York fans got behind him, and a chant of MVP even rang out across the crowd.
Fans are also happy to share their knowledge with anyone unfamiliar with the sport.
A Knicks fan sitting next to me would turn to me every 20 seconds to tell me interesting facts about the team, and commentate on the game.
It was the same at a New York Yankees baseball game at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, New York.
Baseball is the biggest sport in the United States, with Major League Baseball earning billions of dollars each year through television rights alone.
The Yankees are the most successful team in history, winning 27 World Series titles since 1913.
As a keen American sports fan, I know the rules to baseball, but the fans sitting next to me went on to explain the game in full detail.
Stars such as Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, better known to some New Zealanders for dating Madonna, were pointed out to me whenever they walked on to the field.
The atmosphere was similar to that of an international Twenty20 match at Westpac Stadium, until the nail-biting conclusion where the Yankees won in an extra innings.
My experience showed me overseas sports fans put themselves into their team more than Kiwis, who seem more reserved.
By getting into the games and risking embarrassing myself in the process I have created memories I will never forget.
Tickets to the games ranged between NZ$150 for baseball, to NZ$400 for football in England, but it was worth every penny.
Denied: Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng, and guard Derrick Rose block
the way for New York Knicks guard Toney Douglas during an NBA game
at Madison Square Garden.
Red passion: Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt, left, celebrates his goal against Manchester City with Andy Carroll, centre, and Martin Skrtel during their English Premier League soccer match at Anfield.