Tuesday, August 1, 2017

How to Attend the Hudson River Derby at Yankee Stadium -- 2017 Edition

In 2015, the 1st season in Major League Soccer for New York City Football Club, the New York Red Bulls won all 3 inaugural installments of "the Hudson River Derby":

* On May 10, 2015, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, the Red Bulls won 2-1.
* On June 28, at Yankee Stadium II, a match that NYCFC really hyped up, thinking that home-field advantage would give them the victory, "Metro" beat them won 3-1.
* And on August 9, at Red Bull Arena, the Red Bulls won 2-0.

The NYCFC fans didn't like that, and they tried to make something of it. They failed.

In 2016, Metro laid the greatest humiliation in MLS history on NYCFC, going into Yankee Stadium and beating them 7-0 on May 21. NYCFC finally beat them at Yankee Stadium on July 3, 2-0. But on July 24, at Red Bull Arena, Metro won 4-1. Metro beat NYCFC out for the Eastern Conference regular season title by 3 points.

This year, on June 24, NYCFC finally got their 1st win in Harrison, 2-0. This Saturday, they play again, at Yankee Stadium. On August 25, they will play again, at Red Bull Arena.

The record currently stands as follows: Red Bulls 5 wins, City 2; Red Bulls 18 goals, City 7. It's not close: Even if City were to win these next 2 games 5-0, they'd still trail 5-4 and 18-17.

But because of the incidents between the teams, the Hudson River Derby has become a special circumstance, like Yankees vs. Red Sox, or a Philadelphia Eagles or Oakland Raiders game. Pay attention now, and be on your guard then.

Before You Go. It's New York. It's a roadtrip, but it's not. You won't have to concern yourself with time zones, passports, Customs officials or exchange rates, and the weather's going to be pretty much the same as it is where you live -- currently projected at mid-80s for Saturday afternoon, mid-60s for Saturday night. Thunderstorms are predicted for the morning, but that shouldn't be a factor for the game, scheduled for a 6:00 PM kickoff.

Tickets. NYCFC is averaging 22,979 fans per game this season, a drop of 6,000 from their debut season. They say 22,979 is 76 percent of what The Stadium's seating capacity for soccer is. Well, I went to the Real Madrid vs. AC Milan match there on August 8, 2012 (Madrid won, 5-1), and was one of 49,474, so it's really 46 percent of capacity.

NYCFC fans mock the Red Bulls for their attendance, currently 20,184 per game, but they're only getting 2,800 per game more, and a big chunk of that is their games against the Red Bulls. They could open more sections if they had to, but they don't have to. Now that the novelty has worn off, and the on-field product has proven rather underwhelming, I suspect attendance will remain low.

Away supporters are assigned Sections 223 and 224, on what would be the 3rd base side. Tickets are $43. However, Red Bulls supporters groups tend to buy up Sections 205 to 210, the box seats in the 2nd deck in right field. Those run $40.

Getting There. Flying is not necessary. Nor is Amtrak, nor is Greyhound. You might come into The City using New Jersey Transit or the Long Island Rail Road into Penn Station. If so,walk to the 8th Avenue end, and take the A Train to 59th Street-Columbus Circle, and switch to the D Train to 161st Street-Yankee Stadium. Or, walk out the 7th Avenue entrance, walk a block east to Herald Square, and take the D Train all the way up.

If you come into The City on a bus, Port Authority Bus Terminal is 1 stop further up the A Train than Penn Station, so follow those directions.

If you come into The City via Metro-North Commuter Railroad, take it into Grand Central Terminal, then take the 4 Train to 161st Street. Unfortunately, unlike for Yankee games, there's no special Metro-North train that goes directly to The Stadium for NYCFC games. This is the same setup that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has for Patriots as opposed to Revolution games at Foxboro, but it's not as bad, since you'll only have to take a $2.75 Subway ride from Grand Central, as opposed to the $18 cab ride from Walpole to Gillette Stadium.

If you're driving, take the New Jersey Turnpike to the George Washington Bridge, then get on Interstate 87 South, the Major Deegan Expressway. Take Exit 5 for The Stadium.

Once In the City. It's New York vs. New York. You live in the Tri-State Area. You already know this part. Let's move on.
Times Square

Going In. When you come up the steps of the D station, or come down the steps of the 4 station, you'll be led onto 161st Street, which is also named Babe Ruth Plaza. (The official address is 1 East 161st Street.) Most likely, you'll enter the new, 2009 version of Yankee Stadium through either the home plate entrance, Gate 4, or the right field entrance, Gate 6. These are connected by a Great Hall that includes banners of past Yankee greats.
The old Yankee Stadium, which stood across 161st Street, was home to many great events besides baseball. It hosted many championship prizefights, most notably in 1938, with Joe Louis defending the heavyweight title against Max Schmeling, the unwilling stand-in for Nazi Germany. In 1965, Pope Paul VI visited, and delivered the first Papal Mass anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. As for soccer:

* Glasgow Celtic, aware of New York's strong Irish heritage, came in 1931.
* Hapoel Tel Aviv, with New York's strong Jewish heritage in mind, came in 1947, not so much to play soccer as to raise funds for Israel's independence. When Israel's national team was formed, they played their first match at the old Yankee Stadium.
* In 1952, Liverpool played Swiss club Grasshopper Club Zurich, and Tottenham Hotspur walloped Manchester United 7-1.
* In 1953, shortly after being embarrassed by Hungary at Wembley, and 3 years after their World Cup defeat to the U.S., England salvaged some pride by beating the U.S. 6-3.
* In 1966, Pele and his Brazilian club, Santos, beat Inter Milan.
* In 1968, a local team, the New York Generals, beat Pele's Santos and lost to Real Madrid, while Santos beat Napoli there.
* In 1969, Barcelona beat Juventus, Inter beat Sparta Prague, AC Milan beat Panathinaikos, and a Milan derby was held, with AC Milan beating Inter.
* The original version of the New York Cosmos played their 1971 and 1976 seasons there -- for reasons I won't get into here, they bounced around the Tri-State Area before moving to the Meadowlands in 1977.
* And in 1976, England beat Italy there.

In 2012, the new Stadium hosted Chelsea vs. Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid vs. AC Milan. In 2013, it hosted Chelsea vs. Manchester City, inspiring Man City to partner with the Yankees to create New York City FC (they also bought Australian club Melbourne Heart, and changed its name to Melbourne City), and Ireland vs. Spain. In 2014, it hosted Man City vs. Liverpool. I saw the Madrid-Milan match, and there really isn't a bad seat in the house.
The pitch, which is natural grass, will be laid out from left and center field to first base. There really isn't a bad seat in the house. My seat for Madrid-Milan, in the upper deck, which would have been way up in left field for baseball, was right over one of the goals, and I got to see Iker Casillas make some sick saves for Madrid. (And I got to see Cristiano Ronaldo score 2 goals, and Kaka get cheered by both sets of fans, for both of whom he'd played.)
Food. At the old Yankee Stadium, back in the good old days, the food wasn't great, but at least it was overpriced. As the team moved into the Nineties and got better, to his credit, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner demanded that the fans get a better food experience. A few specialty stands went up. And the new Stadium has chain restaurant stands, including Nathan's Hot Dogs, Johnny Rockets, Brother Jimmy's Barbecue, Famiglia Pizzeria, Carvel Ice Cream, and others. There's a Hard Rock Café, and a restaurant called NYY Steak.

Pretty much anything you get will be expensive, but it'll be good. Think of it this way: It would cost the same as movie theater food, but it's better, there's more variety, and the show is better than most movies, and longer, too. Both the show on the field and the show in the stands will be better.
One of the few things that Yankee Fans and Red Sox fans can agree on -- the putridness of the Mets and their fans is another -- is Dunkin Donuts. Finally, after putting in stands at both Fenway Park and Citi Field, Dunkin has put one in at Yankee Stadium.

Team History Displays. Ha! NYCFC are the opposite of the Yankees: As the old song about Chelsea FC goes, They ain't got no history!

Stuff. There are team stores throughout The Stadium, but it's all Yankees stuff. NYCFC gear may be available at smaller souvenir stands. And, since they ain't got no history, there's no team books or videos.

During the Game. For the 1st 19 seasons of MLS' existence, the league kept a close watch on the potential for hooligan confrontations. As a result, such issues were few and far between. In 2015, NYCFC fans decided they wanted to, as the old saying goes, make something of it.

First, there were neo-Nazi chants in Yankee Stadium -- the successor building to the one where Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling, and where the Israeli national soccer team played its first-ever game. Then, there was an incident at the 1st Hudson River Derby to be played at the new Yankee Stadium. Then, before the next Derby, at Red Bull Arena, some NYCFC morons decided to fight the Red Bulls ultras on their home turf, on Market Street in Newark. To put it mildly, this was a gross, and very stupid, miscalculation.

NYCFC fans also started something with New York Cosmos fans during a U.S. Open Cup match on Long Island. And got their heads handed to them by a team in America's 2nd division. Maybe they should just stop, before they embarrass themselves any further.

Nevertheless, these dipsticks are trying their damnedest to cross what they see as traditional soccer hardman menace (English hooligans, Italian fascists, South American barras bravas) with pre-Giuliani New York violence (including the kind we saw in The Bronx, the kind that kept many baseball fans away from the old Yankee Stadium), to create the ultimate 1980s sports nightmare.

So if you can't get tickets for Section 223 or 224, the designated away supporters' section, get tickets anywhere but...

* Section 235, home of Brown Bag SC (in this case, standing for Social Club, not Soccer Club or Supporters' Club) and NYC 12 (the 12th Man).

* Section 236, home of the Third Rail, the biggest NYCFC supporters' group, named because, like the third rail in the Subway system, they want to "power" the team to victory. (Red Bulls fans have nicknamed them the Third Fail.)

* Section 238, home of Hearts of Oak, a largely-black group named for a renowned supporters' group in the African nation of Ghana.

These sections are all in the left field bleachers, behind the north goal. So you should probably also avoid Section 237, in between 236 and 238, in order to avoid unnecessary unpleasantness. (Is there such a thing as "necessary unpleasantness"?)

Kearny, New Jersey native and former U.S. national team star Claudio Reyna is NYCFC's "sporting director." Former Arsenal Captain and France World Cup winner Patrick Vieira is their manager. They have legendary players Andrea Pirlo of AC Milan and Juventus, and David Villa of Barcelona. However, former Chelsea star Frank Lampard has retired, and current U.S. national team star Mix Diskerud is on loan at Swedish club Göteborg, and thus unavailable.

On the whole, they are truly an average team. They went for big names who turned out to be well past their prime. So far, this strategy isn't working any better than it did for the Mets in the early 1960s or the New Jersey Devils in the early 1980s.

NYCFC tends to have New York-based celebrities sing the National Anthem. With the costumes worn by some of the "Bleacher Creatures" in left field (opposite from their counterparts at Yankee games, who sit in right field), they neither have nor need a mascot.

Among the chants used by the NYCFC supporters is a reworking of the 1962 Bruce Channel chart-topper: "Hey... hey, baby... I wanna know... if you're NYC!" And a reworking of a KISS classic: "I... wanna Diskerud all night... and party every day!" (Yeah, I know: Truly lame.) To "Hey Jude," they sing, "Na, na na, na na na na... na na na na, New York!" To "Mrs. Robinson": "Here's to you, NYCFC, New York loves you more than you will know!" (No, it's less.) They are one of many teams to adapt "When the Saints Go Marching In," none of which (except Southampton, long known as the Saints) do it well.

Lamest of all, to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine":

He's David Villa! He drinks sangria! 
Came from España, to bring us joy!!
He's 5-foot-7, of football heaven!
Please don't take my Villa away!!

Actually, no: Their lamest song is doing Taylor Swift's "Welcome to New York." It's no Frank Sinatra "Theme from New York, New York." It's no Billy Joel "New York State of Mind." Hell, it's not even Jay-Z and Alicia Keys doing "Empire State of Mind."

After the Game. Since there's already been 2 incidents between RBNY and NYCFC supporters (both started by the latter), and especially since it's on their ground, follow the instructions of the Stadium ushers, the Stadium security, and the NYPD.

Especially the NYPD: From their experience with Yankees vs. Red Sox, Yankees vs. Mets, and Rangers vs. Islanders, these men (and a few women) are seriously trained, they know what they're doing, and they do not kid around. If you follow their instructions, you'll be able to get both in and out of the Stadium area safely.

Stay out of Stan's Sports Bar. This legendary Yankee Fans' bar is where Brown Bag SC goes after the game. This is not, as they would say in England, an away supporters' pub.

If you came by Subway, your best bet is to get back to Midtown, and do what you want there. If you drove in, get to your car, follow the traffic instructions, and get back to where you started out from, and then chow down there.

If you're a fan of a European team, you probably already know where your team's supporters gather on matchday. Since the off-season for these teams (except for the FA Cup and Champions League Finals) is upon us, it won't matter anyway.

Sidelights. This is the part of the trip guide where I talk about other sports-related sites in the city's metropolitan area, and then move on to other noted tourist attractions. But this is New York, and you already live in the Tri-State Area, so you know this stuff already.


Be on your guard. Cheer your team as hard as you want. But try to avoid contract with NYCFC ultras. Remember: It's better to be an injured coward than a hospitalized tough guy.

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