I’ve never been much of a sports fan. As a person who suffered from gym class PTSD after being hit in the face with every kind of sporting equipment known to man, I just never connected with the concept of going to watch the very sports that tormented me as a child. In fact, sometime in the mid-nineties, I distinctly remember a giant Thanksgiving Day blowout at my house over my unwillingness to watch football with the family. The next year, I begrudgingly read Kafka on a beanbag chair during the Super Bowl just to avoid further drama. I was kind of a sullen little shit.
As an adult, I’ve come around at least a little. I’ll always think that football is unnecessarily complicated and that baseball is unbearably slow… But, when I do happen to be trapped in a room with sports on TV, I find that if the sport in question is well paced and has a high injury rate (hockey is a favorite), I am actually able to find some enjoyment. I still don’t really know what the hell is going on most of the time, but I have at least learned to appreciate how cool athleticism can be (dunks!).Yet somehow, at the ripe old age of 35, I had never actually attended a professional sporting event.
Until, this weekend.
Recently, I started watching soccer casually with a friend, and found myself surprisingly sucked into a game where a good 1/4 of the matches end in a 0-0 draw. I don’t know if it’s the delightful amount of time that the players spend eating turf, the fact that hitting the ball with your face is totally legal, or just that the clock keeps ticking pretty much no matter what (screw you interminable football time outs!)… But, I’m kind of in love.
A few games on bar TV (and another few more hours watching my friend play FIFA Soccer 2013), I felt ready to take my new love to the next level and go see a live game. Ok, he asked me if I wanted to go, but the point here is that I actually wanted to. New England Revolution vs. FC Dallas, it was on.
A few days before the big event, I got a drunk text informing me that I was going to be required to sing the following during the game (to the tune of Yankee Doodle):
C’mon Revs score a goal.
It’s pretty fucking simple.
Put the ball into the net,
and we’ll go fucking mental.
Gillette Stadium looks a little like a gigantic Funtown from the outside (with less water slides). Also, it has a mall. We did get a sweet parking space by the front entrance (thanks to my companion’s membership in the Midnight Riders), but we still had to walk up like a million stairs to get to our destination. At one point I asked “I wonder how many people die on these stairs every year?” Yes, I am out of shape.
After buying tickets ($24 each) and a semi-successful snack mission to the concession area (my nacho cheese was cold and gloopy, and not nearly as good as the nachos at the Cumberland County Civic Center), we made our way to what would eventually turn out to be the superfan area directly behind the goalie.
At first, things were pretty sparse, and I learned that only about 10,000 people show up on average to a Revolution game. At 3 o’clock, it seemed more like 1,000. But by 4 o’clock start time, the red white and blue masses had crushed in and we were completely surrounded. There was the guy with the home made mowhawk, the guy with the drums, they guy who handed out enormous New England flags for other superfans to wave around during key moments, and most importantly, the guy with the MEGAPHONE.
Now, I was warned in advance about the singing, but I really had NO IDEA. As soon as the game began, megaphone guy started in with the yelling/chanting/singing that would become the centerpiece for the entire event. It was nice to have a leader in a way, but I wondered a lot about how he got this job. Was he a Revolution employee? An elected official of the Midnight Riders? Or maybe (and most likely), he was just another hardcore fan with megaphone access and a can-do attitude. Whatever the case, the guy brought it so hard that I thought he was going bust a vocal chord.
As it turns out, a couple of games on TV and a few dry-runs of the Yankee Doodle song in the shower did not adequately prepare me for my time among the superfans. First and foremost, I was the only person in the entire section not wearing a Revolution anything. Although, I blame the pro shop for the fact that all of the women’s t-shirts were completely crapped up with rhinestones. Really, Adidas? Not every woman wants to glittered up like a baby prostitute. That said, I found myself filled with shame every time the jumbotron panned over my giant grey sweater.
Secondarily, shouting at a soccer game does not come naturally to me. I sensed my companion giving me the stink eye as I did my best to clap enthusiastically, but could not bring myself to follow megaphone guy in the fight songs. I could pretend that I just didn’t know the words, but things were pretty repetitive… There was really no excuse. 35 years of not yelling at sports had left me at a disadvantage and I was again filled with shame. Although to my credit, at least I wasn’t the guy with the bad teeth who kept trying to shout over megaphone guy and start different chants or change the words to the songs. That guy totally sings the Weird Al lyrics over the real lyrics of songs, and nobody supports that.
The first half ended 0-0, and things were starting to get a little more comfortable. The t-shirt cannon came out, the fans dispersed to bathrooms and snack bars, and we finally had a moment to sit down (NOTE: there is NO SITTING in the superfan section).
Live soccer, especially if you’re seated directly behind the goalie, is super exciting. You’re right up in the action with balls routinely flying over the net (and potentially at your face), and you get to support your home team goalie with more yelling (which is especially fun if he has a fantastic name like Bobby Shuttleworth). During the first half, it was all very nice. Sure, people were loudly hurling profanity at FC Dallas, along with traditional chants of “YOU SUCK”, but nobody scored a goal and most of the crowd was not that drunk yet.
The second half, things took a sinister turn. I attribute this turn to 3 major factors:
1. The booze was starting to kick in. Things got louder, but also more disorganized. Bad teeth guy went way off the reservation to the point where the two drunkest loudest dudes in the pack were giving him dirty looks.
2. The teams switched sides. It’s all fun and games until everyone is wasted and the opposing team’s goalie is now on your side of the field. Poor Raul Fernandez! Lucky for him that he’s ridiculously handsome and (according to Wikipedia) is apparently known for his “great dexterity and reflexes”, because as soon as he came out onto the field, pretty much every single one of the fans went apeshit and started serially breaking every single rule in the Fan Code of Conduct.
Rolls of red, white, and blue crepe paper were repeatedly tossed into the goal area, and it’s pretty clear that (though hilarious) there is nothing “respectful and courteous” about screaming “GO SUCK A PERUVIAN DICK, FERNANDEZ!” or “Fernandez, tell your mom to get her stuff out of my house!”
3. FC Dallas scored a goal. This was really the end of things entirely. Not only did it incite ire in the fans against Dallas, but it also started a riot of anti-Shuttleworth shouting and drunken fist shaking. Yes, the Revs do have a better goalkeeper up their sleeve (Matt Reis), but he’s kind of ancient (38!), and probably it’s probably time to start testing out some other guys. But as rational a choice as it might be for the Revs as a team to put Shuttleworth in, the minute he screws up is the minute that the fans turn and start yelling about the superiority of Reis. It’s true, but unproductive.
Although, I do owe this turn of events a thank you, as it produced the most exciting moment of the game for me. Sorry Revs, as much as I enjoy watching you play, the best part was when two of the fans got into an altercation about whether or not it was ethical to slam the goalie of the team they were supposed to be supporting. I subtly tried to shove my friend into argument, but he did not seem amused. Sadly, it did not turn into the fist fight that I was hoping for. I guess football hooliganism is just not as prevalent in America. Boo!
And that was pretty much it. When the opposing team scores a goal in the 87th minute of a 90ish minute game, it’s over. The superfans rolled up their borrowed flags, passed them in, and slunk off the the parking lot for a bit more drinking and commiseration. My only cosolation was the middle aged lady who I heard muttering “That #14 is a piece of shit.” on her way out of the stadium.
The moral of this story is: If you’re going to a professional sports game for the first time at age 35, you should probably buy a t-shirt and you should probably be drunk. Other than that, if you do choose to get out there and support the most underappreciated sport in New England (which you totally should)… sing loud, swear at the goalie, and listen to the man with the megaphone.