Tuesday, December 01, 2015


by Dick Mac

Having grown-up in Boston, I spent the first four decades of my life as a fan of the Boston Red Sox baseball team.  Exercises in futility are rarely more obvious.  I suffered the failures of 1967, 1975, and 1986.  I never enjoyed a World Series championship.  In the early 21st Century, I became disgusted with Major League Baseball and abandoned the sport completely.  Until 2003, baseball was really the mainstay of my sports entertainment consumption.  The ensuing years saw the Red Sox become champions.  Go figure.

Living in London at the turn of the century I was introduced to soccer (football as they called it there).  I had no interest, really, but another ex-pat asked me to attend a match at Highbury, in North London, to watch Arsenal play Manchester City.  I scoffed at the invitation, but he was insistent, and the following Saturday we were on the tube for the trip from the Piccadilly Circus stop to Arsenal stop.

The actual ticket stub!
I kept an open mind, and did my best to understand the difference between a free-kick and a penalty-kick.  I just gave-up understanding the off-sides rule.

I was impressed, however, by a player named Thierry Henry, and the very tall center midfielder, Patrick Viera.  They did things with the ball that I had never seen done and didn't even know mattered.  Arsenal won the match 5-0, and it was later that season I learned about promotion and relegation, when the long-suffering Manchester City fans saw their team relegated from the Premier League to Division 1.

When asked my thoughts about soccer by my English friends and colleagues, I only gushed on and on about Thierry Henry.  I had never seen an athlete do things that he did.  He was remarkable, and he had me hooked.

Over the next couple of seasons, Arsenal would go on a streak of no losses that broke all records and garnered them the moniker "The Invincibles."  I really didn't have much experience supporting such a great team, and over the following few years, soccer began to replace baseball as my true love.

Eventually I found myself back home in New York City, and sports leagues were still in the nascent stages of leveraging the Internet.  My ability to watch English soccer was limited to a single cable broadcast on Saturday, a smattering of pay-per-view events, and Nevada Smith's, a soccer pub in the East Village where I sometimes found myself at the bar at seven in the morning, drinking coffee and soda, eating donuts and chips, and tipping well.

At the office, I started moaning about my access to soccer, and eventually a colleague (probably sick of hearing me go on and on about it) asked why I hadn't just switched to MLS?

"What is MLS?" I asked.  He insisted, though wasn't 100% certain, that Major League Soccer had a franchise in New York.

NY/NJ MetroStars Logo
I rushed to the Internet and found something called the MetroStars.  "What the fuck is a metrostar?" I asked myself aloud.  And why is it the NY/NJ MetroStars?  It all sounded stupid, but I was desperate and called the number for ticket sales.

I admitted to the man on the other end of the line that I had no idea what MLS was, what his team was, or if I was even interested.  I bragged about my time in London and my love of Arsenal.

He convinced me to buy tickets for the next home match that would be played at Giants Stadium.  He explained that I could get a shuttle bus out of Port Authority and the same shuttle bus service would get me back to NYC after the match.  I bought tickets from him, they eventually arrived in the mail, and I made my way to Giants Stadium.

Giants Stadium held 80,005 spectators, and was sold out for all Giants games.  It could also hold 15,000 fans with ease, and it was rare that 15,000 fans attended MetroStars matches, but that is a general estimate of the average attendance.  It was sort of depressing to sit in a nearly empty stadium to watch a match.  But I did it.  And I hated it and I fell in love. I mean, this was not, by any stretch of the imagination, like English soccer.

I attended regularly, then became the owner of two season-tickets for the 2003 season.

The MetroStars were a team like my Boston Red Sox.  They didn't win much.  They lost matches they should have won, and my love for them felt perpetually like an exercise in futility. I was home! I could do this!

Since that time, excepting the year after my daughter was born, I have been a season-ticket holder.  It was during that year that The NY MetroStars were purchased by Red Bull GmbH, the company that owns the hard-drink sold in bodegas.  The purchase made me less upset about giving-up my season tickets, but I eventually came to accept that my team had to be owned by someone, and in Reagan's brave new America it was unlikely that any one corporation was going to be any less offensive than another (well, except for Wal-Mart, News Corporation, Monsanto, and Nestle who are the 4 worst corporate citizens).

When I returned the following year, the now quaint and old-fashioned striped MetroStars jerseys were replaced with the Red Bull logo.  I wasn't thrilled by the new look, but I was over-the-moon to be back in Giants Stadium watching my team play in a cavernous edifice.

Seemingly out-of-the-blue, Aston Villa striker and Colombia captain, Juan Pablo Angel, was signed. This was huge.  I loved watching Angel play in the English Premier League and the notion that someone of his calibre and stature was joining Red Bull New York was fantastic - the stuff of dreams.

In 2007, my daughter asked if she could come to matches with me.  Since she was only three, I explained that it was too big a stadium for me to be able to take care of her during a match, so maybe when she was four years old, blah, blah, blah . . .  Knowing full-well that she would completely forget about the soccer matches by her next birthday, I felt confident that I was all set.

At her fourth birthday party, she blew-out her candles, surrounded by friends and extended family, turned to me and said:  "Daddy, now I'm four, so I can come to the soccer matches with you!"

with Tim Ream
At that moment was born one of Red Bull New York's biggest supporters.  It was 2008 and she has never looked back.  Her heart-throbs started immediately:  Johnny Gilkerson, Caleb Patterson, Seth Stammler, Danny Cepero, Danleigh Borman, Andrew Boyens, Juan Pablo Angel, Tim Ream, Connor Lade, and Matt Miazga have shared her undying adoration over the years, often simultaneously.

We attend almost every home match and even travel with other supporters to away matches in New England, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.  We have a great time together and soccer might be the one thing we share during those difficult years when children stop relating to their parents.  I can hope.

Viking Goddess
In 2008, I flew (alone) to Los Angeles to watch RBNY play Columbus, in the MLS Cup final.  I found myself in the tunnel at the same time the team was lining-up for the procession to the field.  No less than three RBNY players asked:  "Where's your daughter?" When I explained she was too small to take on a long flight, they simply walked away from me.  I'm certain they meant no offense and really:  why the hell would they want to talk to an overweight guy who was older than their parents, when they might be able to talk to a 4-year-old who unwaveringly adores them?  I knew at that moment that I had reached that part of parenthood where we are defined not by our names, but as the nameless parents of our child.  I am not Dick Mac, I am her dad.

Now, eight seasons into being a season-ticket holder, she is living sports fandom the same way I did as a child: supporting a team that just can't bring it all home.

In 2013, our team won the Supporters Shield, which in every other country on Earth means you are the Champions.  In the USA, however, the television networks insist that championships be decided not by having the best record, but by playing an additional post-season with half the teams, including teams with losing records, vying to win a cup that denotes that they are the champions.  Just like the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, a soccer team can lose most of their matches during the season, come on strong, win the last few matches of the season, qualify for a playoff spot and bring their now-winning momentum to fruition by winning a match that gives them a cup that makes them champions.  It is a uniquely American concept that, in my not-so-humble view, makes no sense whatsoever.

Be that as it may, we were the best team in 2013, won the Shield, and lost in the early rounds of the playoffs, so we were not actually the best team of 2013, some team with fewer victories than us was crowned the champions.

with Thierry Henry
This season, we were the Cinderella team.  In a rebuilding year, having lost many of our veteran players and stars, and starting the season with a new front-office and coaching staff, we managed to kick ass and win the Supporters Shield again!  Back to the playoffs!

Sunday night, in freezing cold conditions, we lost the Eastern Conference championship to Columbus Crew SC.  Again, we were the best team in the league, but we are not the champions.  Either Portland or Columbus will be the champions.

In 2008 and 2013, we wept when we lost.  Last night there were no tears and I realized we were used to losing the big matches. That's just who we are:  like the Boston Red Sox of my youth it is always "close, but no cigar"!  My daughter is enjoying the same agony of being a sports fan with which I am familiar.

It's already been announced, less than 24-hours after the loss, that two veteran players (one who has been on loan most of the season, and one who has been injured for months) will not be returning next year.  More of these announcements are forthcoming.  These announcements are a bit of a relief, because we can focus on the shortcomings and failures of those players instead of thinking about our team losing again.

The team lowered the protective wall
behind our seats, so people stand above us
spilling food and drink, talking loudly,
or pressing machine guns against the fabric.
The team was exciting and enjoyed a great season. We had a terrible season supporting our team.  Our match day experience has been ruined by a corporate decision that impacted a small number of fans.  Sadly, we are fans who suffered this decision.  The wall behind our seats was re-engineered, allowing people to spill drinks and food on us, cops to lean against the wall with their machine guns pressing against the fabric, and stadium staff carrying on loud conversations right above us.

The team never consulted us, they never came to us when the changes were implemented without our knowledge. They eventually begged forgiveness and feigned powerlessness in response to my anger; but they never made any gesture to give even a nominal appearance of actual contrition.  It's perfectly clear that they don't care that we've lost the seats we love.  They made no efforts to compensate us for changing our agreement halfway through a contract that is heavily weighted in the team's favor, for ruining our match day experience for every remaining match of the season. Never did they say:  hey, here's a discount for next year, or hey enjoy a match in the Club on us, or here's a new doll/scarf/jacket/anything for your daughter.  They just sent a powerless staff member to apologize, and have left us to fend for ourselves. Our friend sitting in the seat next to us has left, never to return.

We lost a lot this year:  we lost the Eastern Conference championship, we lost a chance to host the MLS Cup final, we lost our seats, and we've lost a great deal of love for our team.

I was prepared to sever my ties completely; but my daughter insisted that we get new seats for next year.  We hate them, but they are our seats.  We've lost our seats, and to a large degree the team is losing us.  Sure, they have our money for 2016, but we no longer enjoy unwavering love and commitment to them.

A new team joined the league this past season: NYCFC.  We have season tickets for that team, too.  My daughter hates them, and I am no big fan, but they treat us a whole lot better than the Red Bulls treat us.  It's easy to get to their stadium, it's a well-run facility, they have amazing concession stands (including gluten-free offerings, which we need), we have great seats, they call or write me all the time asking if everything is OK.  I don't really want to switch allegiances, so I haven't yet, but I no longer feel welcome at Red Bull Arena.  I no longer feel a part of something special there.

We have no right to expect special treatment when doing business with a corporation, but before getting the shaft this year we really felt as though we were part of something special.  I thought that we mattered to the team (not just to our fan services reps), because of our long-time commitment and unwavering love. In reality, like everyone else, we are just another credit card number.

So, the season ended just as so many Red Sox seasons ended between 1965 and 2003 (the years I followed that team): close but no cigar, thanks for your money, please clear the stands, and see you next season.

Have a nice day.

No comments: