03 | Feb | 12

Richard Johnson

That’s Your Lot!

Some people love American football for what goes on in the stadium. Not me. I love what’s happening outside – in the parking lot. That’s where you find the buffet served from the tailgate of the cars and trucks of sports fans. It’s all about the foods that you eat with one hand (because the other hand always has a beer in it). As we approach Super Bowl weekend, I’ve got one thing to say. ‘Forget the game, people – raise your big sponge hands in the air for the tailgate’.

Legend has it that the inaugural tailgate happened in 1869, at the college football game between Rutgers and Princeton. Fans travelled to the game by carriage, and then cooked up a pre-game meal at the ‘tail-end’ of the horse. A Health and Safety nightmare. But the idea caught on. And nowadays, although the common tailgate set-up involves a small grill and a cool box, die-hard tailgaters put up shanty towns of gazebos and generators. 

There are a few rules to tailgating. First, boil your chicken at home – grill in the lot. It’s basic food safety. And second, no mayo – to keep the salmonella away. Finally, get there early to snag a metal garbage can to use as a tailgate fireplace. If you’re not lucky enough to grab one, just start a fire on the tarmac. This is real wild frontier stuff. With squeezy cheese and waterproof paper-towel holders.

Tailgating is the last great American neighbourhood: no-one locks their door. Fans of opposing teams mingle, swapping details of their marinades and their rubs. It’s the only arena of testosterone-filled sport where the apron is truly respected. It could never happen in Britain. Celtic v Rangers? Sitting down together for beer and sandwiches? Arsenal v Chelsea? Over tea and biscuits? Not in my lifetime.

I saw the Superbowl in Florida a couple of years back, when I was making an episode of the Food Programme on Miami food culture. Along the way I met a rowdy bunch of New Orleans Saints fans who tailgated a lot longer than the game lasted. “We got here way before the game” one told me, “and we stay three hours after it’s over. Longer if we win.” Which they did. Sport was the winner. And the tailgaters are probably still there…..