Monday, September 17, 2012

Supporting My Team

by Dick Mac

I have written many times about finding and falling in love with soccer, while living in London.

I have gone on at length about my adoration of Thierry Henry.

I actually don't recall the details or progression from having never heard of Thierry Henry to becoming an incoherent, babbling fool in his presence.

During the half-time break of my first soccer match at Highbury, I was asked what I thought of Ohnree.  I admitted I had no idea who that was.  I was told to pay attention to number 14.  When we returned to our seats, I realized that Ohnree was Henry, and he was the player I had been watching most closely all along.  Henry and Patrick Viera were absolutely amazing  in that day's 5-0 victory over Manchester City.

Soccer began to interfere with my passion for baseball.  At this point, in 2012, baseball barely exists in my life.

Like all good things, my time time in London came to pass and I returned to New York City.  Living in Herald Square, I spent quite a bit of time and money trying to get access to Arsenal matches.  Some days I spent ten or twenty bucks for a pay-per-view, other days I would be sitting at a bar, nursing spring water and coffee, watching with a group of strangers.  I did not really like sitting in a bar at 7:00 in the morning and that got tired quick.

In the coming years, coverage of English soccer increased exponentially.  Today, there are weekends when I can see all ten Premier League matches, while my friends in London are lucky to get a handful.

Televised soccer matches were not enough for me and I began talking about trips to London to see soccer matches.  Someone in my office asked if I'd ever been to an MLS match.

I had never heard of Major League Soccer, but a little research revealed that there was a New York team, the MetroStars, playing home matches at Giants Stadium.

I became a season-ticket holder and this enhanced my love affair with soccer to such a degree that I see at least one match (televised or live) every weekend.

The trip to and from the stadium was easy.  I had sold my car before moving to London, and did not replace it when we returned.  Living at the corner of 34th and Broadway made car ownership a bit silly.  A short walk from my apartment to Port Authority bus terminal had me on the shuttle bus that went directly to the stadium, and brought us back after the match.  It was remarkably easy.

Right away, I noticed the fans sitting behind the goal in Section 101.  They were raucous and loud and seemed to never take a break from their chanting and singing.  I learned that they were the Empire Supporters Club.  I never joined, because it appeared that I was much older that them and I was a bit intimidated by the rowdiness.

Related to that rowdiness was a seemingly unpleasant relationship between the supporters club and the security force.

At Giants Stadium, the security team called the 'yellow shirts' patrolled the concourses and aisles like gang members.  I once watched one yellow shirt show-off his new brass knuckles to a co-worker.  I am certain I wasn't supposed to have seen it, but it reinforced the yellow-shirt image of a bunch of thugs being handed more power than they could handle.

I sat close enough to Section 101, the section behind the goal that was home to the supporters club, to see that the relationship between the fans and security was an unpleasant one.  Every match saw at least one young guy dragged out of his seat and up the stairs to the concourse.  I never saw what happened to him nest, and don't really want to know.  having grown-up in the inner-city in the 1960s, I know what law enforcement people do to citizens they've dragged out of sight, and it rarely has anything to do with law enforcement.

Over the ensuing years, I began noticing that more brown-skinned guys were dragged away than white-skinned guys.  It was easy to notice this because there were almost no brown-skinned fans among the eight- or ten thousand fans in the cavernous bowl, and when one was being dragged away they stood out from their peers.

I began to see the yellow shirts not as a team of security staff keeping the stadium safe, but as a team of sociopaths earning a day's pay for beating-up young guys.

I was once in a line at the stadium and a yellow shirt was right next to me, presumably securing the line of parents and children awaiting whatever service was being provided at that instant.  We made eye contact.  I smiled and nodded, then said:  "Looks like this crowd isn't giving you much trouble."  He concurred and explained, while slamming his right fist into his left palm, how disappointed he was that there were no soccer fans he could beat-up that day.

I knew, at that point, that I would never intentionally have any contact with a yellow shirt, and would do my absolute best to keep my friends and family away from them.

A couple of years into my new relationship with soccer, the MLS and the MetroStars, I became a father.  I decided to take a break from being a season-ticket holder and did not attend any matches in 2005.

 Continue to Becoming RBNY

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