As some of you may know, about three months ago I began a new chapter of my life when I accepted a new position with a new company. What does that have to do with Orlando City and soccer you may ask. Well, about two months ago, I took my first trip across the pond to introduce myself to the team in Glasgow. During that trip, which was 95% work, the 5% play was an amazing afternoon and evening spent in Kilmarnock, eating pies, grabbing pints, and watching a Scottish Cup match between Kilmarnock FC and Aberdeen.
Well, I am about to help return the favor, sort of.
If you remember back to our pre-match pints and pies in the Park Hotel before the match, a gentleman recognized my Orlando City Manatees shirt, and wanted to pass my info on to his mate. Well, I can confirm that I have indeed been in touch with his mate and will be seeing him and his wife today, at least for one pint. So the big question is, to return the favor of a match day experience to someone from Scotland, what do you tell them to do? Here is what I recommended.
They have been in the U.S. on holiday for a little over a week now, and between the Real Salt Lake match and today’s Atlanta United match, they made the perfect choice to come witness the Atlanta match. My friend has been doing his homework, recognizing that this match will be number one and number three in the Eastern Conference, as well as two of the top five teams in MLS battling it out.
We discussed where to get tickets in the stadium, including the amazing safe-standing zone, a.k.a. The Wall, but he was wanting actual seats. No problem, but as we all know, you always want to try to get seats on the Western side of the stadium, because depending on kickoff, you may be staring straight into the sun for the majority of the match. Of course, the concept of needing to watch which direction to view the game from is a bit foreign to some.
Once tickets were acquired, attention turned to game day activities, primarily food and beverage. In the UK, it is all about public transportation and pubs, both of which are absolutely fantastic (remember, a pint in Glasgow is 20 ounces, not 12 or 16), being that most shops around the football grounds are pubs or restaurants, and the stadium itself had a bar attached.
Everything is a bit different here in the U.S. Sure, we still do food and beverage, but it typically is not in pubs. Here in the U.S., we tailgate. Since the club moved into its new home of Orlando City Stadium, the tailgating has been a bit different — not like the mass of grills and swarms of tent parties at Camping World Stadium, but it still happens. Grills have been replaced by strategically placed food trucks, and the tent parties have just been moved to local establishments and bars around the stadium.
Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention the party on Church Street, as well as the fan zone out front of the stadium. These are all obviously very popular with folks, as there are people everywhere during match day, and everyone has their favorite, and I certainly told my visiting friend mine.
We each procured parking passes for the lot just east of the stadium. From here, you can go almost any direction you choose and have a great game day experience. But for this match, and this experience, I suggested they take in the following, which is pretty close to my ritual every match day. After a few parking lot beers to get things going, walk through the fan zone in front of the stadium and just take it all in, get a few pictures, see which food trucks are around, and enjoy the pre-match atmosphere.
Up the road about a block and half, maybe two blocks, is one of my personal favorite spots to grab a pregame beer: Black Cauldron/Broken Strings. It just so happens that the Ruckus leave through this brewery’s parking lot and march to the match, with songs, flags, flares, and smoke on display for all to see. Everyone must see the march at least once, especially for a match like this.
After the march, tradition dictates that I swing into the downstairs bar at Stonewall, the bar right next the stadium, and grab a Reef Donkey. It is a delicious, local craft beer that has become a fixture of my group’s game day experience. The trick is just one, well, maybe one to drink there and one for the walk to the line to enter the stadium. One big thing to note to my visiting friends is the consumption can absolutely continue once inside the stadium. Again, something you do not see in the stadium in the UK, is alcohol sales inside the stadium. You can get a hot drink and pies all match, but once inside, the alcohol was nowhere to be found. There is some good food in the stadium, but to be honest, I am still trying to find a way to get some pies over here — very specifically, Killie Pies.
Once the match is finished, I recommended we meet back in the parking lot, and chat for a bit while we wait for traffic to lighten up. This should give us a good opportunity to revisit the match, revisit the day, and help me to get a good understanding of just how this compares to match day in Glasgow. I am truly looking forward to comparing notes, and hearing about all of the insanity that is American culture through the eyes of my friends.
Maybe I will be able to talk them into the last piece of game day tradition and take them to Waffle House, for some coffee and a triple, scattered, covered, and plucked.