Last June, the Tribune ran a story that mentioned the Chicago Fire and the Chicago Cubs were at least discussing the idea of bringing soccer to Wrigley Field for the first time since the Chicago Sting played there in 1984. That story kind of died away but EPL Talk recently mentioned Wrigley Field as a possible venue for Manchester United's seemingly annual summer trip to the United States.
An unnamed source revealed to EPL Talk that Manchester United are considering playing one of their pre-season friendlies at Wrigley Field, the iconic baseball stadium that is famous for its ivy covered brick outfield wall and is the home to the Chicago Cubs.
I don't care if Manchester United comes to play but I do think we'll see some kind of soccer in Wrigley Field in the next few years, if not every year in this new decade. The most recent non-baseball game at Wrigley Field, a college football game between Northwestern University and the University of Illinois, drew its fair share of critics. My fellow bloggers here at SB Nation were some of the fiercest. Hail to the Orange called it an 'abomination'. Maize Brew went even farther to say
Let me put this gently. Someone is going to die in the east endzone of the All-State Wrigleyville Football Classic.
That post went heavy on satire but they did list some real injury concerns before getting into the jokes. Due the negative nature of columnists looking to stir things up, you should probably prepare yourself for a couple of "Didn't we try this already?" and "This is a horrible idea" columns if soccer in Wrigley Field does in fact kick off. Rick Morrissey, who wears his dislike of soccer like a badge of honor, would most likely be first at the trough. Any and all of this columns would be off and follow me after the break for the three top reasons you why there is no reason to be negative and why soccer exhibitions are inevitable at the Friendly Confines.
1. Soccer field dimensions are flexible
While the NFL, NBA, and NHL all have one official sized playing field, court, rink, what have you, soccer fields are a little more like baseball fields when it comes to rules and regulations. The official FIFA handbook states:
The field of play must be rectangular and marked with lines. These lines belong to the areas of which they are boundaries. The two longer boundary lines are called touch lines. The shorter lines are called goal lines.
Or basically, you need to have a rectangular field and yeah, you can't set the goals really close to each other and create a ridiculously wide field. When it comes to dimensions, FIFA only lays out minimums and maximums. The 'touch lines' must be between 100 yards to 130 yards long while the 'goal lines' can be anywhere from 50 yards to 100 yards wide. As Soccer Lens shows, the field dimensions in some of the top English stadiums can be all over the place. There's so much variation that West Ham United is 16% smaller than Manchester City's home field.
1. Manchester City, City of Manchester Stadium, 116 x 77 yards, 8932
2. Manchester United, Old Trafford, 116 x 76 yards, 8816
3. Blackburn Rovers, Ewood Park, 115 x 76 yards, 8740
4. Everton, Goodison Park, 112 x 78 yards, 8736
5. Aston Villa, Villa Park, 114 x 75 yards, 8550
6. Middlesbrough, Riverside, 114 x 75 yards, 8550
7. Arsenal, Emirates Stadium, 114 x 74 yards, 8436
8. Derby County, Pride Park, 114 x 74 yards, 8436
9. Reading, Madjeski Stadium, 111 x 76 yards, 8436
10. Sunderland, Stadium of Light, 114 x 74 yards, 8436
11. Wigan Athletic, JJB Stadium, 114 x 74 yards, 8436
12. Portsmouth, Fratton Park, 115 x 73 yards, 8395
13. Chelsea, Stamford Bridge, 110 x 75 yards, 8250
14. Fulham, Craven Cottage, 110 x 75 yards, 8250
15. Liverpool, Anfield, 110 x 75 yards, 8250
16. Birmingham City, St. Andrews, 110 x 74 yards, 8140
17. Newcastle United, St. James’s Park, 110 x 73 yards, 8030
18. Tottenham Hotspur, White Hart Lane, 110 x 73 yards, 8030
19. Bolton Wanderers, Reebok Stadium, 110 x 72 yards, 7920
20. West Ham United, Boleyn Ground, 110 x 70 yards, 7700
If the Illinois vs. Northwestern game featured a 120 x 53.3 yard field, a regulation soccer field and even a small EPL sized soccer field will fit inside of Wrigley with no problem. There would not be any concerns about running into walls either because soccer players actually slow down when they approach the ends of the field unlike in football where diving catches near the boundaries are not out of the question and even encouraged. Spare us the 'switching the field' and 'swap the goalies' jokes as the ball switches position please. It is the status quo in soccer for both teams to be on the same sideline so that's not an issue either. Researchers for the columnists of our major daily papers, I hope you found this article in your 'Wrigley Field Soccer' or 'Soccer Field Size' Google search, and if so, I suggest you move on and find something else to criticize today.
2. Tom Ricketts is all about creative sources of revenue
I like Tom Ricketts as a person but I'm a little wary of him as the owner of Wrigley Field. From the Toyota sign
in the bleachers, to the Kraft noddle
outside of Wrigley Field, to the Wrigley Financing Proposal
that the Ricketts ownership is trying to pass in the Illinois General Assembly, it is clear that Tom Ricketts is very eager to find ways other than Cubs tickets, merchandise and concessions to make money from Wrigley Field. I can't fault the owners for viewing Wrigley as a revenue producer - it is just that. You could even fault the Tribune/WGN ownership for not looking at it this aggressively. Perhaps if the Tribune held concerts with Elton John and Billy Joel
, the media company would have more to hang its hat on than just six Chicago Cubs playoff appearances. For better or worse, nothing suggests Tom Ricketts would be against this notion and in fact everything suggests he would lock this in tomorrow if the contract was presented to him tonight.
3. Wrigley Field's fame would help sell the game
Let me tell you a story. I was on the L one day and I happened to spot someone wearing an Oxford United jersey. For those of you unfamiliar with the English teams, this would be the equivalent of you going to London and having someone go up to you and ask "Say, is that a Savannah Sand Gnats kit?". The only reason I knew Oxford United is because I had been playing FIFA on my computer and my goal was to take a team all the way from the bottom of the English professional ranks to the top of the EPL. These guys were not only shocked I knew Oxford United, they (and I will never forget this) were legitimately interested if I ever won the EPL championship. For the record, yes I did. I even won the FA Cup a couple of times on the way. They thought that was awesome even if the most impressive accomplishment is more the sheer amount of time i dedicated to that project more than anything else.
What does this have to do with Wrigley Field? Well these guys were planning on visiting the Friendly Confines during their stay. They didn't have tickets so they asked me if I had any advice. I asked them if they cared about the game and they said "No, we just want to go inside the stadium". I advised them to wait until the third inning or so when ticket scalpers would be desperate to get any kind of return on their tickets. Again showing they knew nothing about baseball, one of them said, "Ah, I see, so have a pint or two in the pub during the first couple of rounds and then enter on the cheap". They thought it was a great suggestion. I have another story that involves Toyota Park and an Irish sheep herder who wanted to be at Wrigley Field instead but that's a story I'll keep in my pocket for now. The point is Wrigley Field is not just famous to people in the United States, it has worldwide notoriety. I have no doubt Manchester United fans from Manchester and the UK would swarm to the northside to give ticket sales that extra kick. The game itself would even give Chicago a boost in the international press. Finally, what Chicagoan doesn't love more tourist dollars in the collective city coffers?
Now Manchester United's opponent? Obviously I'd love to see it be the Chicago Fire. I'd even let Man U put it up to a coin flip on who gets to wear the red jerseys. I realize that is close to blasphemy but let's be serious about who would hold the cards in such a visit. Besides, I believe there is a 3rd jersey
the Chicago Fire could wear that would look just as classy as the Fire red. As for a date? How about the 4th of July? There is a little symbolism in a English vs. American team matchup on that day if I remember correctly. The Cubs play the White Sox on July 3 and then between a road trip and the All-Star break
, don't return to Wrigley Field until July 14. Saturday, July 9 is a more likely scenario what with the field needing to be turned over but the timing of returning the field to baseball would work out just fine. The Cubs also have a ten-game road trip
between June 2 and June 12 but the Fire would have to work around one of their three scheduled games at this point: opening up Sporting KC's new stadium on June 8.
Chicago Reds vs. Manchester Reds is a pipe dream for now, but I would bet it will happen in my lifetime. Real Madrid vs. Celtic, America vs. Arsenal, or Bayern Munich vs. Inter Milan - the world's oldest clubs battle in one of the world's oldest stadiums. Brace yourself for it as early as this summer. It just makes too much sense from any angle you approach it at.