BY JASON CORLISS
“16 YEARS, NO CUPS,” taunted the Sharpie-scrawled, posterboard sign thrust at me from ten feet away by a giddy tweenaged boy with red, Icee-stained teeth and braces, a lemon-yellow cast on one arm and an Italian national team jersey draped over his otherwise bare torso. Just another Tuesday night in Harrisburg, I guess. Standing on the pitch last week after the final whistle blew on RBNY’s US Open Cup run, watching the Harrisburg faithful rush across the high grass to congratulate their team, armed with packaged orange slices, homemade pies and root beer floats (Ok, not really…but close enough), I hastily contemplated the pros/cons of ripping that smirky little f*cker’s throat out and savagely beating him with it.
Sure, it probably wouldn’t have been prudent for a 38-yr-old father, husband, homeowner, business owner, advanced academic degree-holder and generally responsible human being to engage in that sort of thing, but I truly was just psychic inches from throwing away all of that upstanding citizen-ness for a crack at the little, sniveling reminder of this franchise’s futility. What stopped me wasn’t my good judgment, but the sight of Markus Holgersson and Jan Gunnar Solli standing two feet away, surrounded by chaos, looking like utterly shellshocked and humiliated Maypoles amid the skipping, mocking children of central Pennsylvania.
I locked eyes with each. I felt their disappointment, and they felt my frustration…16 years-worth. I wanted to find the rest of the RBNY squad and communicate my frustration on an equally personal level, but the coaches had pulled the other players off the pitch, into the changing room, before things got out of hand. Ok, then…we’d go to them. More on that later.
They say misery loves company
We could start a company and make misery
Well I know just what you need
I might just have the thing
I know what you’d pay to see
We could build a factory and make misery
We’ll create the cure; we made the disease
Put me out of my misery
All you suicide kings and you drama queens
Forever after happily, making misery…
First…sixteen years, no cups. Sixteen years! Sixteen years is, empirically, a pretty long time. A generation. In order to put things in perspective and find some tunes/text to help communicate my thoughts and feelings about supporting this team and being a part of the community who supports this team, I looked through my record collection (no, not vinyl, but I still call them records) for albums released in 1996, containing tracks that could tell the story.
The Soul Asylum tune above neatly encapsulates the paradoxical cloak of self-pitying, cynical yet eternally optimistic resilience in which we RBNY supporters have swathed ourselves lo these many years. We support a cursed franchise, and as each successive cup-less campaign wears on we continue to build our impenetrable fortress of hope-against-hope on the sagging shoulders of a vanishing rainbow teasing us with the promise of silverware at season’s end. Misery, indeed…but it’s our misery.
During this lull in MLS play, most soccer fans have been hyperventilating about Euro 2012, and +/- 80,000 recently packed into MetLife stadium to see baby Jesus-in-soccer-boots do his thing. These events are great for soccer culture in the US, but they also bring with them the dreaded red herring-loaded arguments about the quality of play in MLS and the “logical extension” that this is why more casual soccer fans don’t support RBNY (or their local teams), since they can see better soccer on TV. The two are, and will always be, mutually exclusive.
I got you and it’s all I need
I got you
I got you and I still believe
That you’re all that I’ll ever need
It is absolutely irrelevant whether RBNY might be able to beat several teams in Belgium’s top tier (they probably can), or if a group of guys from my own Saturday morning game could give RBNY a proper run (we probably can’t…then again…). Clearly, the quality of play in MLS is not equivalent to that of the best leagues in the world. And? So? It’s not as though we don’t know this. We just don’t care. The point is that they’re my local team and I’m committed to supporting them. They’re what I’ve got, and that’s all I need, as is so succinctly put in Wilco’s awesome “I Got You,” above.
Much is made, in pop psychology/literature, of the notion that men are afraid of commitment, yet most of the men lumped into those accusations would self-identify as diehard fans of baseball/basketball/hockey/football team “X”. Some are even diehard fans of English/Italian/Spanish soccer team “X”. So, what (aside from all of the excuses about location, etc) is stopping folks from becoming diehard fans of RBNY? Futility.
No one, except we masochistic optimists, likes a loser. Those commitment-phobes I mentioned above? They’re not afraid of commitment; they just don’t wanna marry the ugly chick/dude, because they think they can do better, or are afraid of what their friends might say. We all know those guys. What they’re missing is the emotional and psychological rollercoaster ride that is RBNY fandom, and the winking sense of extended (albeit often dysfunctional) family that loving this team creates among its supporters. The frustration we all feel, that lends an urgent, raw edge to our support, is what makes us “us”. I like us. I also want this team to win something meaningful. Those two things are NOT mutually exclusive.
You can’t run away
From these styles we got, oh baby, hey baby
Cause we got a lot, oh yeah
And anywhere you go
My whole crew’s gonna know
You can’t hide from the block, oh no no no…
Back to Harrisburg, and a handful of us walking the length of the pitch, up the sideline, past the scrambling, sweaty, thoroughly unprepared “security guards” — husky guys wearing oversize dayglo shirts that one might win as a prize for being the best breakdancer at a Bar Mitzvah — straight through the gate and toward the ramp to the RBNY changing room. As we approached, the door opened and the players filed out to meet us, in various states of undress, clearly forlorn, embarrassed and probably more than a bit surprised to see us, en masse, gathered before them. But, we weren’t going to let them get on the bus without having our moment with them.
Frankly, I didn’t know what I was going to say or do when we got there. Part of me, as well as several of the others with me, wanted to demand their shirts and excoriate them for losing to a 3rd division side in a year that we had our easiest path (maybe) ever to an Open Cup, but that idea melted away once I saw that our own frustration was reflected in the players’ eyes. Each of them shook our hands, in some cases two or three times, thanked us for coming out and apologized, repeatedly, for letting us down. As I spoke with the players, I reminded them that there’s now only one Cup left to play for this year, and we expect them to bring it home.
Arriving home, exhausted, at 2:45AM, after a three hour drive, thinking about the lengths to which we go in order to support this team…on a Tuesday night in Harrisburg, PA, lighting up the dusky sky and taking over their Fisher Price’s ‘My First Stadium,’ only to see RBNY snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, it wasn’t lost on me that the season isn’t even halfway over. The twisted optimist in me rationalized that with the Open Cup no longer in play, the team can fully focus on the one Cup remaining. The realist in me, however, knows that there are surely plenty more infuriating twists and turns to come, inevitably wringing our frayed psyches to within singing distance of just giving up. But, that’s the fun part, isn’t it?
Drag days are not so bad but move too slow
I file them, I want them not to linger so
Now we come to drag days
Now we come to drag days
We escape them sometimes and the feeling is different, more intensified
We escape them within the walls of our fidgety hearts where we hide
Away, on out beyond the factory yards
Up and over the security guards
We have come to drag days
We have come to drag days
They will turn around
They will turn around…
So, as this break (and this column) comes to an end, and we prepare for the MLS season to ratchet up again (while continuing to enjoy the relative quality of Euro 2012), let’s remember why we do this and embrace the promise of a new day. As you may recall from columns past…it’s because. And, as though you need any more convincing, please dig this criminally underappreciated Guided by Voices track, heed the message, and crank the ever-loving hell out of it at the 1:58 mark. (You’re welcome).
We have indeed come to drag days…and they will turn around.