International-style football got a hardy reception Wednesday from a crowd of 3,800 at Robert E. Rich All High Stadium, as the FC Buffalo Buffalo Blitzers took on the visiting Bedlington Terriers in what is quaintly called a "friendly."
The result: FC Buffalo 5, Bedlington Terriers, 1.
The Bedlington Cup stays here.
In the world of international football -- what we, in the States, call soccer -- an exhibition game is called "friendly."
And it's a match, not a game, one played on a pitch, not a field, and by players dressed in kits and boots, as opposed to uniforms and cleats.
Despite the, um, language barrier, the Englishmen seemed to feel right at home.
In fact, Keith Perry, the team manager for the Bedlington Terriers, acknowledged that Buffalo reminded them a bit of home.
"We come from an old mining community, and Buffalo was a steel community, and what not, you know. We had a decline in mining, and I believe Buffalo did in steel, as well. We've got a very close-knit community, and Buffalo is the same," said Perry.
It was those similar qualities between the two industrial communities, separated by the Atlantic Ocean, that attracted Rich Products Chairman Robert E. Rich Jr. to sponsor the semipro British soccer club. The 62-year-old club, much like the northeast English town that spawned it, was down on its luck and had been fending off insolvency for years. Perhaps, it is also fitting that the team is named for a breed of dog that has come represent its character.
"We're named after the terrier breed, which is very tenacious," said Perry, as his team warmed up on the field -- er, pitch -- before Wednesday's match.
It turns out, the Bedlington team's roster of 13 players was down two men who had been injured in a match in Niagara Falls the night before, requiring the team's 41-year-old coach, Paddy Atkinson, to substitute for one of the fallen players.
Team captain Stuart Elliott was unfazed by the prospect, however.
"You get on with it. You've got to roll with what you've got," said Elliott, matter-of-factly.
Rich, who has invested in the team and brought 13 of its players to the states at his own expense, believes that kind of drive is what will help to reverse the Terriers' fortunes. That, and the practical knowledge that the team's front office, has gained from its trip to Western New York.
"With the physical changes we've helped to make possible in the stadium [in Bedlington], plus this tour, they'll be able to recruit better talent. The front-office staff is working with the Bisons, Jamestown Jammers and the northwest Arkansas club, which are [baseball] teams that we own, to learn how to promote sports, how to sports-market," Rich said.
He added that the exposure and Wednesday's match-up will also do wonders for the FC Buffalo Blitzers -- informally named for CNN News Anchor and Kenmore native Wolf Blitzer.
"You know, we talk about the help this will be for Bedlington, but I think this is good for Buffalo, as well. I think when people come out on a beautiful day like this, seeing this great stadium and seeing a great team, I think that will help build their attendance here in Buffalo," Rich said.
Among those on hand for the "friendly" were Erie County Executive Chris Collins, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, Buffalo School Superintendent James Williams -- who said he was delighted that All High Stadium was filled to near capacity Wednesday -- and British Deputy Consul General Dominic Mieklejohn.
Nick Mendola, owner of FC Buffalo, also noted the parallel challenges of his team and the Terriers.
"There are some major teams within 10 miles of where they are. We are trying to [compete] with some major sports. I mean, we're all Sabres fans and Bills fans but it's important for us to say that there can be room for us, too, with this growing game, this beautiful game that we love so much," said Paradowski.
Among the fans at Wednesday's match was Julie Mikolajczak of Derby, a lifelong afficionado of the game, having been born and raised in Manchester, England, "where the best soccer teams are from," she insisted.
"It's a great story. I'm from the northwest of England and they're from the northeast. It's great that the small town, everyday boys get play something sponsored by someone like Bob Rich. I think it's a great opportunity for them," said Mikolajczak, who attended with her husband, Jim and their two sons, Kai, 20, and Aiden, 15.
"I think Buffalo needs to see what soccer is really like. It's not the quiet sport that they all think it is," she said.