Processions across the Midwest came to a rest at Wisconsin’s most hallowed ground on Saturday night. Fans of Germany’s Bayern Munich and England’s Manchester City packed into Lambeau Field to watch the first-ever soccer match played at the home of the Green Bay Packers.
As thousands of spectators arrived, streams of fans in sky blue and bright red paraded through the small town with the behemoth that is Lambeau Field lying in their sights. For many who see soccer as their religion, this was about to be their evening service.
Pregame Lambeau. The amount of different kits is incredible pic.twitter.com/R4f4Hv2ffx— Tim (@Sole0526) July 23, 2022
Many who congregated wore Man City or Bayern jerseys, but the rest of the neutral crowd was a jersey collector's dream. Teams from all around the world were represented with some people partaking in impromptu “jersey swaps” with new fans they met. Friendly games generally breed friendly crowds and Green Bay was no exception. "Midwest nice" was on display throughout the evening, even as the crowd’s patience was tested as the night went on.
Upon entrance to the stadium, the walk through what is clearly and unapologetically a football stadium felt surreal. Having two of the world's best soccer teams playing in northern Wisconsin evoked feelings of baseball’s “Field of Dreams.” Light rain greeted fans as they entered the bowl through the tunnels, as well as the jarring image of a soccer pitch where the iconic gridiron usually sits. Field goals were replaced with soccer nets and as kickoff approached, light rain was replaced by heavy rain, but the precipitation wasn’t the issue.
Everyone crammed in the hot sweaty concourse due to lightning at Lambeau. A late July/early August tradition! https://t.co/MQzvsQLDYA— LempsMKE (@itsjustChrisnow) July 24, 2022
Lightning sent fans back into the concourse as the nearly 80,000-capacity crowd struggled to cope with the combination of heat and humidity. Temperatures approaching 90 degrees combined with an intense crowd in an entirely too small space made for a suboptimal situation. As people packed together like sardines in their tin, the stench of sweat and 24-hour deodorant that stopped working eight hours ago was pungent. Thankfully, the delay wasn't too long and everyone was let back into their seats to begin the contest.
This angle of Haaland's debut goal for Man City pic.twitter.com/EbZSiNfOyl— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 23, 2022
Erling Haaland gets his first goal in a Manchester City shirt pic.twitter.com/EGf4tOTtYU— mcfc lads (@mcfc_lads) July 23, 2022
Finally, the game kicked off with both sides opting for strong starting lineups. As the rain continued to fall, lightning could be seen above the stadium and it became clear that it was only a matter of time until the next stoppage. Conveniently, just 12 minutes in, debutant Erling Haaland bundled home a cross from Jack Grealish to give the Citizens the lead. This gave the referee a chance to stop play and send everyone back under cover until the storm passed.
More time waiting meant more creative ways to pass the time. A giant beachball was hit around the crowd and people began attempting to hit the ball over the directional signs in the concourse to tremendous cheers. After a second long wait, the fans were again allowed to find their seats as the two teams began warming up. Unbeknownst to the fans at the time, the clubs had decided to shorten both halves by five minutes each in an effort to get the teams out of the stadium at a decent time for their flights home.
— Jonathan Mertzig (@mertzigzag) July 24, 2022
As play resumed, the rain continued to fall but it didn’t dampen the spirits of the fans in attendance. A crowd that was indistinguishable one way or the other roared its approval for every great dribble, pass, shot and goal, both allowed and disallowed. The atmosphere was incredible and could possibly rival that of a Sunday night in autumn when the Packers take the field. People were obviously disappointed when it became clear that the game was being shortened, but many were just happy to be there.
While Bayern went to its bench to replace many of its big names, Man City kept over half of its starting XI in until the final whistle. Man City emerged victorious 1-0, but the loud cheers of disapproval at the final whistle were absolutely not for the play on the field with both sides providing entertaining, attacking soccer. It was for the situation that unfortunately was out of everyone’s control.
The atmosphere was electric as loud as a Packer playoff game at times. Loved seeing fans from all over the country and all over the world. Lambeau needs to host more international soccer in the future. pic.twitter.com/Osi9P9MzEd— Terrence Burkett (@mke_terrence) July 24, 2022
As fans drove home in heavy rain, on highways surrounded by farmland and small towns, it became clear what had just happened. Two European giants had come into Green Bay, the smallest city with a major professional sports team in the country, and played a game in front of 78,128 spectators. The first game at Lambeau Field was a sign that it can happen and hopefully will happen again.
It’s called soccer and it’s selling out Lambeau. What a time to be alive. pic.twitter.com/3BP1yYtlnA— Joseph Reina (@josephreina21) July 24, 2022
Soccer simply belongs in Wisconsin. Even though the field was too small, even though it was a friendly, even though neither team was from the state or even the country, the match was a step in the right direction for a soccer community deserving respect. For years baseball, basketball and football have reigned supreme in the state, but Saturday’s event showed that soccer can go into Green Bay and sell out Lambeau.