There is one undeniable fact about football: it brings us together.
Lafayette is over 4,600 miles from Oxfordshire, England. On the surface, the two places couldn’t be more different. Driving on opposite sides of the road, time and cultural contrast are noticeable.
However, the most important aspect that defies distinction, as Pete Stanton implies, is that everyone is generally good.
This greatly reduces the distance between individuals. In the case of Stanton and his fiancée, Molly Jones, a common interest in American football is intertwined, and even the most outsider strangers fit right in.
Here’s how their love of football and the new culture led them on an unexpected journey to a football game in Louisiana and an experience that made them Ragin’ Cajun fans for life.
First exposure to American football
Stanton was 5 years old when he was first exposed to American football, watching a Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Miami Dolphins game on television. The Bucs won that day and by default to an NFL first sighter, they instantly became his team.
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“They won, so I thought they were the best team in the world,” laughs Stanton now.
Stanton spent the next 15 years watching Bucs games when he could while playing and participating in his first love, rugby. When he enrolled at Bangor University in Wales, the school offered football. It was the Stanton era.
“I thought I could try something different and I played football. I thought I’d be good at it,” said Stanton, who ended up playing for three years. “But I actually wasn’t very good at all.”
Dollywood and Ragin’ Cajuns
Stanton and Jones planned their two-week trip to the United States for just over a year. The couple, who have been together for 3 and a half years and got engaged just days before setting sail for the United States, flew to Atlanta on September 3 and then traveled to Tennessee for a few days , where Jones was able to immerse himself in the country. of her favorite musical artist, Dolly Parton.
“Molly loves Dolly,” Jones joked with a laugh. “Dollywood was good. It was a good laugh. I enjoyed it a lot there. It was a perfect welcome to America.
The couple then traveled to Nashville and Memphis before heading south to Natchez, Mississippi, then on to Lafayette, followed by New Orleans, Pensacola, Florida and Montgomery, Alabama, before returning to Atlanta for the return flight in September. 16.
One thing Stanton knew he wanted to do in the United States was attend his first live American college football game. Originally, Lafayette wasn’t part of the plan, but the timing of their trip brought it to light.
“Every big city we went to, the games were far away. Saints playing elsewhere. We couldn’t go to Atlanta, they were playing somewhere else. The NFL was left out,” Stanton said. “I said, ‘OK, let’s look at college. We looked at the plan and we could see that Lafayette was playing at home. “It actually works, so let’s do it then.” ”
The couple therefore met at the Louisiana-Eastern Michigan game on September 10 at Cajun Field. Their expectations of the scene before a Ragin’ Cajuns football game were close, but there were more RVs and fewer “grills in the back of pickup trucks.”
But one thing that met their expectations was the hospitality. Lafayette native Kellie Varisco offered them free tickets to the game.
“I think it exceeded my expectations,” Jones said. “I didn’t think people would be this friendly or welcoming. They’re like, ‘Come and join us, eat our food.’ You won’t get that in England.
For real football matches – uh, football matches, as they’re called in America – the tailgating scene in England lacks a sprawling community and is based more in pubs near stadiums. According to Stanton and Jones, the main reason for this is the rainy and cold weather.
The environment inside the stadiums of an American football match and an English football match is also very different, said Jones, who supports Leeds United in the English Premier League and Northampton Saints in Premiership Rugby.
“It can be a bit tribal, us versus them,” he said of football games. “You feel very nervous most of the time. For me it’s not a great experience. Now very different rugby. It’s more of a family atmosphere. Everyone has fun before games.
British couple go Cajun for life
Although Cajun Field was about half full, Jones and Stanton were still blown away by the atmosphere of the game.
“I went to a larger capacity pitch for rugby and home football games, which had more fans but less atmosphere,” Stanton said. “Obviously the fans are passionate about the team, and the noise created sounded like a full stadium.”
Stanton and Jones did their share of travel: Cambodia, New Zealand and Egypt were among their destinations. It’s a big world, they say, and there are so many different cultures to discover to meet new people.
They argue that what they went through at the Ragin’ Cajuns football game, how welcome they felt as soon as they arrived, they’re no longer strangers. They feel like part of the family.
“A lot of the time it’s about having a good time, making friends and being nice,” Jones said. “There are so many different cultures, people to meet and see. it was great and the people were lovely. You can find good people everywhere.
Stanton added, “They’ve got a few lifelong fans now.”
Cory Diaz covers the LSU Tigers and Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns for The Daily Advertiser as part of the USA TODAY Network. Follow his coverage of the Tigers and Cajuns on Twitter: @ByCoryDiaz. Do you have questions about LSU/UL athletics? Send them to Cory Diaz at [email protected].