Color-coded crowds. Sporadic bursts of rhythmic chanting. Plastic cups of beer passing hands. Upbeat music pumping. 

It’s kind of like tea. Like the Queen. Like St. George’s Cross. It is the most popular sport in Britain by an overwhelming percentage. Why? Because it’s fun. Because it brings people together. Because for many people it’s an escape from real life for a couple of hours. It’s a deep part of British culture. 

It’s a football match.

Of all the experiences I’ve had in Britain so far, one that I’d missed was a real, professional football match. A few weeks ago the Bible school where I work scheduled a trip to see Bolton vs. Ipswich Town, but I knew that I’d be working that day and didn’t buy a ticket. It was disappointing, and I wondered if that would be my last chance to see this particular side of British culture.

Then, lo and behold, just as the coach was about to pull out of the school car park an extra ticket magically appeared, and at the same time I got permission to take the afternoon off work–voila, I made it to Bolton.

It was a grey day with a light breeze, threatening rain but not quite following through, and remarkably warm for the tail-end of October. I settled into my seat amongst several dozen students, and began scanning the field for activity. After a brief musical introduction, the game began.

If you’re used to American football then you may be envisioning 300 lb. muscle-men tackling each other on the grass, and you’d have the wrong picture entirely. In Britain football is a delicate sport, for all its force and speed. A black and white ball is the center of attention, and strong, lithe men kick it high in the air with amazing grace and power. But the field isn’t the only spectacle–the audience itself holds plenty of interest.

The audience is segregated into fans for each team. We sat in the “Bolton Supporters Only” section, and it’s probably a good thing that I wasn’t wearing the colors of the opposing team. Impassioned clusters of fans (some sounding more inebriated than others) periodically burst into chants and song. I didn’t even have to look at the field to find out how our team was doing. At each misstep a solemn moan swept over the stadium. A near miss was signalled by an escalating shout culminating in a roar of disappointment. Sometimes a barrage of clapping and whistling burst out from the stands. Usually this didn’t mean we scored anything. Actually, it seemed that people clapped any time the ball got kicked around, no matter how insignificant the play looked to me.

I admit, I have been spoiled by American football. The fast pace, rapid scoring, and hand-to-hand combat grip me far more than the grace and power of soccer. I don’t really understand the rules of soccer either, which doesn’t help. I just can’t understand the sense in clapping joyfully when the score remains at 0-0 for nearly an hour.

However, there was more to experience there than just a football game. At halftime I was introduced to a singular British delicacy: Bovril.

I had heard about this intriguing drink/food before, but had never gotten up the gumption to buy it. As I stood in line for food at halftime I was faced with a difficult decision: cappuccino or Bovril? Cappuccinos are the typical thing I would buy, but what would my adventurous-Britophile-blogger-side do? Well, the answer was obvious.

I bought a cup of Bovril. For you. For the Britophiles who are reading this post and wondering What the heck is Bovril and what does it taste like? Well, now you’ll know.

Steam rising off my disposable cup, I went back out to the freezing stands and prepared to taste the delicacy I’d purchased. I learned later that Bovril is technically defined as “meat extract” which can be made into a drink, gravy, porridge flavouring, or used to spread on toast. 

The first sensation was very hot and very salty. Not what you might typically expect from a drink. I carried on however, and discovered that it tasted like beef broth, with a touch of liquid Marmite. I found it quite soothing as the warm liquid slipped down my throat. I couldn’t quite finish the whole cup (there must have been half a pound of salt in there), but was pleasantly surprised altogether.
So I had a wonderfully educational day, experiencing the thrill of a real football match (OK, not that much of a thrill since the final score was 1-1), and the discovery of a new beverage that turns out to be just right for keeping off the autumn chill.
What’s your opinion of football? Love it, hate it, or couldn’t care less?


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Written by Abigail Young

I've had a passion for everything British my entire life, despite being raised as a small-town girl in the American Midwest, After years of dreaming, I got the chance to live and work in England for an entire year. Now I write about my favorite country, and hopefully inspire my fellow Britophiles to get over there and experience it for themselves.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Dave D Reply

    “which can be made into a drink, gravy, porridge flavouring,”

    Bovril in porridge!!!! I have porridge every day and would never think to put Bovril in it, honey or jam yes.
    Not a fan of football, I personally think it’s obscene that players get thousands of pounds a week for kicking a ball about, many people I know think they are overpaid prancing queens.

    • Abby Reply

      Hey, I’m just going off of what the Wikipedia article said. Apparently the porridge bit is something they do in Malaysia.

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