Sep. –Turns out Arlo White, the NBC Sports Group s lead Premier League soccer announcer, is a Cubs fan — and not one of those new bandwagon types, whose idea of disappointment is losing in the first round of the playoffs, mind you.
Growing up in Leicester, England, White became a Cubs fan in , when he was and his aunt and uncle took him to his first game at Wrigley Field. He s been a Bears fan even longer.
So, you can imagine how he feels about throwing out the first pitch and singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame with his aunt and uncle during the seventh inning stretch of Tuesday s Cubs-Mariners game, then attending Thursday s Bears-Packers opener.
White called Sunday s draw between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, flew to Chicago on Monday and spoke to the Tribune for a few minutes Tuesday ahead of his duties at Wrigley. The conversation has been edited for clarity.
I m so nervous, I need to talk to somebody, so this will ease my nerves a bit, White said.
I saw you posted a picture on Twitter of your first game when you were in . You were spending a couple weeks visiting your aunt and uncle, Kathleen and Bill Grady, who live in the south suburbs. Did you know much about the Cubs before they took you to Wrigley Field?
I wasn t a Cubs fan yet because I didn t know much about baseball. My aunt Kath — who s actually my dad s auntie, but they were so close in age, they re more like brother and sister — had married Bill, who s proper Irish-American Chicago stock, in the early-s. They came to the U.K. on their honeymoon in . We struck it off. They offered to bring me across in . So, I flew to Chicago alone as a -year old. I knew of the NFL at the time. I was a Bears fan because of what they had told me in .
So a Bears fan, but not yet a Cubs fan?
Baseball wasn t really and still isn t quite as popular as NFL is, although the Cubs obviously go to London next year, and the Olympic Stadium was a complete sell-out for the Yankees-Red Sox earlier this year. Both those games were a huge success, and the Cubs-Cardinals is going to be massive next year. But the NFL has the edge in terms of interest in the U.K.
The mid-s was a good time to be a Bears fan.
I actually saw the first preseason home game of the Bears. It was against the Colts. We had tickets by the Bears players tunnel, so I got a high-five from Walter Payton, Richard Dent, Dan Hampton and the Fridge William Perry, who was a huge star in the UK at the time. It was the most incredible day of my life to that point. It remains one of the most memorable days of my life. It was incredible. So it s been a Cubs-Bears love-in for the last years.
Didn t the Bears visit London just before that?
They played an exhibition at Wembley against the Cowboys at the same time I was actually here, ironically, so I missed them in the U.K. because I was in Chicago, but I was fortunate enough to see them in that preseason game.
How did you follow the Bears in England in the s?
Before the internet and satellite and cable TV, we had a one-hour program that showed the highlights from the week before. We had no way of watching live games, but I did manage to find a really, really poor medium-wave radio signal from the Armed Forces Radio Network that was broadcasting out to Germany. You could guarantee that if there was a last-second field goal to win a game, the signal would be lost and you d be listening to some Belgian folk music or something and you d have to wait a week to find the score.
It must have been a shock to the system to go from short highlight packages of American football to actual games that ran three hours.
For us in England, at the time, football hooliganism was rampant, so it was a deeply unpleasant experience as a kid to go down to soccer games. You were held in cages. There were police everywhere. It was a vile atmosphere, coins being thrown, people fighting. It was just awful. Then we saw from America the NFL, this glamorous sport, these wonderful stadiums, these incredible athletes, the gladiatorial aspects of it with the helmets and the pads. It got very popular and it remains popular to this day. But I think the opportunity was there because people were disenfranchised with their own sport of soccer at the time. Soccer in England learned an awful lot from the NFL, which is why we have the Premier League in all its glory today.
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