Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Becoming RBNY

by Dick Mac

Continued from Supporting My Team

During my break from being a season ticket holder, theowners of the MetroStars, sold their franchise to Red Bull GmbH, makers of the hard drink. They renamed the team Red Bull New York, and slapped a version of the corporate logo on the front of the jersey.

I was not pleased. It seemed so corporate, un-sports-like to have the team named after a canned beverage. The Atlanta Cokes? The Parsippany Pepsis? The Saratoga Sprites? The Heaven 7-Ups? Where would it end.

I indulged my disappointment and let it fester into anger, until I read and heard other people complaining about "corporate sell-out." 

Would the new ownership be less intrusive if they had named the team the RedStars or BullStars or RedBullStars? Probably not. Those are all terrible names, anyhow.

Come to find out, Red Bull, GmbH, owns another soccer team and a professional hockey team, also named Red Bulls. I relaxed and called to order a single season ticket for myself.

I returned to Giants Stadium by public transportation. Now I was commuting from Brooklyn, so the trip took an additional hour each way. I got over it, though, and the matches ended early enough that I would be back in the city and on the subway before the overnight schedule began. I got used to the commute and the shuttle buses between the stadium and the city were frequent and reliable.

As a season-ticket holder, I was entitled to visit the pub before and after the matches. I had visited the pub after a match in 2003, and it was filled with excited children and their stressed-out parents. Some players would come to the pub after the match to shake hands, sign autographs and take pictures with the kids. This was of no interest to me.

The following season, my daughter asked the inevitable question:  "Daddy, where do you go on Saturdays without me and mommy?"

My daughter had been introduced to soccer on television when she was five weeks old.  After a short stay in the hospital after her birth, she came home and the following Saturday, I sat in the rocking chair, in front of the television, watching an Arsenal match and rocking my new child.

Thierry Henry scored a goal, of course, and as the camera followed him, I paused the image, walked my tiny child to the television, showed her the screen and said:  "Boo, this is Thierry Henry, daddy's all-time favorite athlete.  He plays for Arsenal, and some day I will take you to see him play."  My wife snapped a picture of the event.

On Fathers Day, 2004, I returned home from church and my daughter was in her little chair wearing a dress with the Arsenal badge, a gift from some English friends, that my wife had been saving as a surprise.  My little girl was now a Little Gooner and I beamed with pride.

Now, three short years later, she was asking where I went without her and mommy and I explained that I went to the soccer match.

"Can I come?" She asked.

This totally blind-sided me!  I had no idea that she might be interested in attending soccer matches with me.

"Well, you're kind of small, Boo, so when you get a little bigger I promise I will take you."

"When I'm four?"

"Yes.  OK.  When you're four."

She watched English matches and Red Bulls away matches with me.  She cheered and yelled and she really got into the spirit of the game.

The following season, I purchased two season tickets and we drove in the car to Giants Stadium.  She never wanted to miss a single match and did not take kindly to the notion of away matches.

At her first match, I was taking a picture of her on the entrance ramp when another fan offered to take a picture of the two of us.  It is a terrible, out-of-focus image depicting one of the happiest moments of my life: taking my daughter to her first soccer match.  I will find the picture and post it this week.  The previous season I had bought a children's jersey and gotten it signed by the team.  She wore that with pride and was noticed by everyone for being so small and having so many autographs.

When I was a single adult man in the stands, I did not attract any attention from my fellow season-ticket holders.  We would smile and nod each match, but I felt no connection with them beyond the team.  Well, arrive at the stadium with a 4-year-old girl in a team jersey, sunglasses and her own backpack of goodies, and you garner unimaginable attention.

Suddenly we knew all the people who sat in our section, they all knew her by name, and everyone wanted to talk with her.  She started flirting with the boys and chatting with the girls.  Some women in the section began taking her to the ladies' room to use the facilities, so I didn't have to take her into the men's room.  We were part of a new family.

As the first match was ending, and I was trying to figure out the safest way to get a tiny little girl through the crowd and to the car, I remembered the Pub filled with kids.  We went to the pub, found a table.  Ordered some pub food and drinks, and eventually players began arriving.

She was thrilled.  She beamed with excitement, and dragged me from cluster to cluster of excited children, so she could meet them and get an autograph.  Some players recognized their autograph already on the jersey and offered to take a picture instead.  This began our remarkable collection of her with Red Bulls players.

This became our thing.  Getting in the car, driving to the Meadowlands, watching the match and visiting the pub.  We never missed a match.

How Could I Not Fall In Love With This Team?

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