Rochester Raging Rhinos 3 Long Island Rough Riders 1

A week after watching Chicago draw with the New England Revolution, I found myself in Rochester. Not a town on the usual tourist trail, and indeed it was a detour so absurdly expensive that it clearly overstepped the boundary of foolhardy, and all to see what amounted to a non-league match. Of course the local team usually drew around 11,000 so it wasn’t like going miles out of my way to watch Farnborough play Northwich Victoria, but it was non-league all the same.

Rochester is regarded as a small town team by those with clubs in MLS. Naturally, America has a rather different idea about small, with this small-market town having an urban population twice the size of the city of Liverpool, and a city centre boasting buildings which offered a skyline rather different to the one offered by Farnborough’s Kingsmead shopping centre.

After checking in to my hotel just beyond the eastern edge of the centre, I made my way to an “English pub” just a few hundred metres away. To be fair, as recreating an English ambience went, they’d done a fair better job than the majority, who appeared to have used watching Three Men and a Little Lady while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs as a reference (where the makers of that film got their ideas from, I’ve no idea – I think they just went with the drugs) as it did actually look like an English pub. Unfortunately it looked exactly like the kind of awful sticky-carpeted pub where the landlord still clings to the belief that it’s 1973, with Cum on Feel the Noize and 20th Century Boy blaring out as drinkers supped pints of Worthington E.

To be fair I can’t recall what I had to eat in there, just that it exactly replicated the English Pub meal experience, where quality can differ to an extent that makes Russian Roulette seem mundane in comparison. And all probably served by the sort of cook who tests the warmth of the food by sticking her thumb in it, before coming out to the bar to serve and flirt with the customers, seemingly unaware that she’s put on more pounds than an apartment in Notting Hill, and her cleavage has gone further south than Amundsen. My memories aren’t all that clear, so I could be doing the place a disservice, but the fact that I chose to spend the latter part of the evening in the kind of bar that played country music instead shows that I seriously didn’t want to go back.

With a few hours to go until the match kicked off I decided to see what Rochester’s pulsating heart had to offer. And after about half an hour I was beginning to realise why Rochester’s crowds were so good. Perhaps Rochester’s other attractions are just incredibly well hidden. I’d readily admit to the fact that I wouldn’t be able to recommend a single attraction in Reading that it’d be worth getting off the train to see, but it was Saturday afternoon and I was struggling even to find a shop, let alone one that was open. I eventually found a shopping mall, whose utilitarian feel made you feel it was originally designed as a nuclear bunker, but it was nigh on empty. A few bored youths strolled around looking like they couldn’t wait until it was Monday morning again, and I emerged on the other side of the centre witnessing only shops offering the least tempting range of wares of any street since the time I cut through what was clearly the cheaper end of a certain district of Amsterdam.

Roughly between the centre and Frontier Field, my venue for the evening, was the Historic High Falls Entertainment District. I’d have to say that as entertainment districts go, it was definitely a work in progress. A sign proclaimed “Historic High Falls. Enjoy!” but as much as I tried, as did a few others, the notice still felt more like a challenge than an invitation. I find abandoned factory buildings only offered so much joy potential, and I doubted I’d be able to eke out the experience until kick-off, around two hours away. There was the High Falls waterfall itself, which was potentially impressive if you overlooked the obtrusive bridge over it and the derelict building to the right. It was a decently sized waterfall too, and I could have been impressed by it, if only I hadn’t spent the morning up the road at Niagara, which made it look but a trickle from an overflow pipe.

But then I turned the corner and saw a bar, which looked to be if not full, at least liberally sprinkled with the first people I’d seen all day who looked to be enjoying themselves. It would have been perfect for a pre-match drink, if only I hadn’t realised at that exact point that I’d left my match tickets in my suitcase on the other side of the city. I thought of staying there and just paying again, but memories of the rather tortuous process of buying the ticket without an online system, and the glowing letter of gratitude I received from the club which almost made it sound like they were so thrilled to have me going that they greet me personally outside the stadium, made me feel that I had to go back. The free bus which stopped right outside my hotel helped too.

If I’ve been unkind about the rest of Rochester, Frontier Field itself was pleasant enough. Whereas most new small stadiums in England look, from the outside at least, like they host shoppers of Furniture Warehouse or PC World on Saturdays, Frontier Field was tastefully adorned in brick and looked homely in the British sense, rather than the American one. It was, unfortunately, actually a baseball stadium, and as such only had two sides, although temporary seating had been installed down most of the opposite touchline. The remaining space was occupied by a scoreboard and a large number of advertising hoardings, which filled this gap far more than it really had a right to do.

I was in the expensive seats and those around me looked if not affluent, at very least suburban. They all seemed keenly enthusiastic, if not exactly boisterous to any degree, and keenly anticipating the start. This was still strange to me, as I was still finding hearing Americans talking about football akin to hearing Victoria and David Beckham discussing Nietzsche, but at least it was a pleasant surprise, unlike how the Beckham’s conversation would be, no doubt. A small band of more vocal fans opposite did their bit on the far side, even if Rochester isn’t a name that lends itself well to many songs. Singing the club’s whole name was all but impossible, but it did mean I was about to watch perhaps the best named match I’ve ever been to, with the Rochester Raging Rhinos taking on the Long Island Rough Riders. It had a big billing to live up to, and live up to it it did. It was everything the previous week’s MLS game wasn’t. It was fast, flowing, end to end stuff played by players who looked like they enjoyed playing rather than it just being a job. The standard certainly wasn’t non-league either. I was used to watching Reading in England’s third tier at the time, and Rochester didn’t look a step down. Long Island clearly weren’t as good, but they were game and played with the kind of spirit unmatched African teams used to show in the world cup in the 1980s, before they hired European coaches to teach them how to be defensive and grind out results.

Exact details I’m not so sure about – it was 6 years ago – but Long Island missed a penalty at 1-0 down, and they kept up their spirit of being sportingly entertaining by applying a self inflicted coup de grâce in the final minute. 2-1 down and desperately hunting an equaliser, Long Island’s keeper decided to show just what he could do by dribbling down the field a good 45 yards out from goal, only to suffer a René Higuita moment, allowing a Rochester forward to score into an empty net from the centre circle. A fine way to end a fine game.

The crowd filtered away and I considered following them, just to see where people went on a Saturday night in Rochester, but I left them to it. Besides, the free bus went right back to my hotel, while I found the sort of bar where an imported beer is one from outside the state. Drinking in a similar establishment previously I’d made the mistake of enquiring about foreign beers, resulting in a beer-based parody of monty python’s cheese shop sketch, so this time I bought an American beer and sat and read the programme. The following morning Boston awaited. No chance of any sport there sadly, but perhaps one or two more bars I’d imagine.

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