Being There

Back in February, if I looked into the future, I thought I would be a seasoned veteran of Nashville SC live games.

As of yesterday, I still hadn’t been.  Indeed, the last live soccer game I attended was Chelsea v. Liverpool in the FA Cup last season at Stamford Bridge.  I had travelled with a class I was teaching and, wouldn’t you know it, the only time we could schedule the trip caused me to miss Nashville’s inaugural home game.

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Then, of course, I got back just in time for the reality of all hell breaking loose to sink in.  The season got delayed, then the league played in a bubble, then playing in front of no audiences. I almost begged my colleagues to let me take our press credentials one night just so I could see the team live.

I’m not paranoid about COVID, but I am in my 50s and asthmatic, so I tend to take social distancing fairly seriously.  That said, having talked to several people who attended the last game, I went last night feeling fairly confident that it was a good situation to go into.  Now, I’m thrilled that I did. If you haven’t gone and are thinking about it, I can be very encouraging.

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I was very impressed with both with the spacing given between seats in the stadium plus the ways this distancing is enforced.  For example, seats that are not in use are often bound so that they cannot be used (i.e., if you bought tickets for particular seats, that’s where you’ll be sitting. 

Secondly, everyone I saw was following the mask mandate, wearing the mask if they were not eating or drinking. 

Thirdly, I was impressed to watch the stadium staff gently enforcing the policy. For example, there was a group of four sitting next to me, and one of the guys was wearing his mask but with the nose uncovered. A stadium staff person asked him to keep it covered; he did so, without complaint and without a smirk.

Are you 100% assured that you will avoid the virus while there?  Of course not. That would be an impossible ask.  That said, the way they have it structured seems about as safe as can be done in those circumstances.  I’m a person who walks around in the world now convinced that COVID is everywhere. And even I felt safe.

Importantly, there is also something about the experience of attending the game with a socially distanced group of fanatics.  While I would prefer to be watching with 30,000 other fans, the sparseness is special in its own way. The excitement of pregaming outside at local restaurants and bars with others in NSC gear made me realize how much I missed the feeling of sharing pregame anticipation with others (regardless of how physically distant we have to be).  More, during the game itself, I actually felt as if players could actually hear me, and the experience of hearing them yell to one and other is… interesting.

Finally, I feel optimistic about what we are all building here on its own terms (not just during COVID).  Not only was it engaging to have the remnants of the Backline leading chants and cheers (you could actually hear them even better than is normally the case, given less crowd noise surrounding you), but also, during the game, I received two texts from friends in other cities (one a Timbers’ fan and the other a DC United fan) asking me why they kept hearing a weird “Woooo” sound while watching on television.  I don’t care if its borrowed from the Predators crowd or not. I don’t care that my colleague Davey couldn’t understand what was doing on for two games in a row, the “Wooo” makes for a uniquely Nashville experience, something I was hoping would be created organically as our fanbase has time and experience.  

I may have missed that first game—and I’ll always feel a little gloomy about that—but it’s going to be interested some day to talk about the experience of watching a game live during COVID. 

I’ll be going back.  And I hope some of you will as well. 

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.

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