Baltimore Sun

M&T Bank Stadium delivers fans a different pitch

Arsenal, Everton supporters travel far and wide as nearly 40,000 attend Baltimore match

- By Hayes Gardner

For a day, the Camden Yards complex in Baltimore was a soccer spectacula­r, and the purple seats of M&T Bank Stadium were replaced with a red and blue swirl of football fandom.

Arsenal and Everton, the two clubs with the longest tenure in top-flight English soccer leagues, faced each other Saturday night in a friendly dubbed the Charm City Match, with Arsenal topping their Premier League rivals 2-0. The game mattered little — it was a preseason exhibition, after all — but for local soccer fans, hosting two storied sides was more than welcomed.

“This is blowing my mind,” Jocelyn Huang, a member of the Washington-based Everton supporters’ group, said Saturday afternoon.

An announced crowd of 39,245 favored Arsenal, but supporters of both clubs turned out, as people traveled from out of state and from as far as England for the match.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but I think it was 40,000 supporters here — 35,000 Arsenal fans,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said dryly.

Baltimore and M&T Bank were recently passed over by FIFA, the internatio­nal governing body of soccer, as a host site for the 2026 men’s World Cup, but Baltimore showed it’s still a soccer-loving city.

“It’s always a bit surreal when you travel so far and you see people that have their Everton shirts on or Arsenal shirts on,” Everton manager Frank Lampard said. “Great support for the Premier League here. It really gave the game a nice little edge, a nice little bounce to it.”

Although the match was between league foes, the exhibition’s fan environmen­t was, true to form, friendly. Well over 1,000 Arsenal fans gathered around The Abbey Burger Bistro in Federal Hill despite early afternoon rain, and a comparable number of Everton supporters did the same at Gameday Firehouse and in nearby parking lots, complete with tailgating fans and blue smoke.

There were plenty of heated moments during the match, but ahead of the game fans on both sides were generally amicable and joyous.

Huang’s boyfriend, Miguel Vargas, is an Arsenal fan, and the two Washington-area residents were “over the moon,” Vargas said, when they learned the match would be coming to Baltimore.

Saturday afternoon, Vargas wore his red Arsenal jersey among a sea of blue-clad Everton

supporters. He sought a beverage from some Everton supporters, and when one fan protested sharing with a rival, Vargas belted out the Everton anthem as a gesture of goodwill.

Over at the Arsenal gathering, Duke Wale of Washington, wasn’t quite as overtly welcoming.

“If you’re not an Arsenal fan, we probably won’t be friends,” he said with a smile.

But many supporters — of both sides — agreed that it was nice to witness a game in-person, and at a reasonable hour. By nature of time zones, American viewers often have to awaken in the wee hours of Saturday mornings to watch their club.

Wale went to medical school in Oregon, and he often rose as early as 4 a.m. for matches.

Vargas used to live in California, and he remembered having to call and awaken a bartender — who was asleep but had promised to open early for Premier League matches — to let him and others in at 3:30 a.m. He marveled how far the soccer experience in America has come over the past couple of decades.

“It came from begging a guy to wake up to this, [which] is astounding,” he said. “I never thought I’d see the day where there would be two block parties, there would be two huge parties and the bar would be so packed that the line goes out the door.”

The scene around the stadium was a mix of languages spoken, communal gathering and boisterous revelry. One supporter’s dog was draped in an Arsenal jersey; an elementary school-aged boy with a jersey hanging to his

knees dribbled a soccer ball through a crowd; a middle-aged fan gripped three Miller Lites.

Without natural, local allegiance­s, soccer fans in the U.S. have creative reasons for their favorite Premier League squads. Many Everton fans said their loyalty stemmed from former U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard’s time with the team, while Carson Millender said his fanhood stemmed from the video game, FIFA.

Millender, an Arsenal fan in New York City, took a three-hour bus ride from New York to Baltimore on Saturday afternoon along with a friend — who supports Everton.

“We were like, ‘What are the odds?’ ” Millender said of learning that their favorite clubs would be nearby in Baltimore. “We have to go to this.”

 ?? KIM HAIRSTON/BALTIMORE SUN ?? Arsenal supporters gather on Saturday night near Abbey Burger Bistro in Federal Hill for a block party before the preseason friendly against Everton at M&T Bank Stadium.
KIM HAIRSTON/BALTIMORE SUN Arsenal supporters gather on Saturday night near Abbey Burger Bistro in Federal Hill for a block party before the preseason friendly against Everton at M&T Bank Stadium.

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