There is something of a trick to expressing happiness behind enemy lines.
When the news came out that Nashville SC’s first game this season was going to be in Seattle against the Sounders, I knew I had to go. Not only was it an MLS stadium (well, sorta…) that I had never experienced, but I also had multiple friends in the area. I would go to Seattle, I thought, see my friends, then cheer along with the traveling Backline and other NSC supporters.
My plans were thwarted to a degree when one of my Seattle friends told me he had purchased us club level seats for the game. OMG! I was going to a Sounders game, pulling for the ‘Yotes, but I was going to be sitting with bougie Seattle fans.
Not necessarily the perfect circumstance.
Regardless, the trip started out perfectly. I arose at 4:15 Saturday morning, Lyfted to the airport and found myself on a flight with a small number of NSC supporters, including superfan Clay Trainum. After what always feels like a flight to Europe, I arrived at SeaTac, took the light rail into town and took a quick nap before heading out for a few beers with capo Stephen Robinson.
As we greeted others from the Backline as they arrived at the hotel, we chatted about the excitement of the upcoming season, traveling to games, the motives that draw us to soccer, the lovelife we have with the soccer community in general.
I felt refreshed and ready but still uneasy about how far around from the NSC supporters I would be sitting.
The next day, I met up with Jim, my Sounders’ fan/friend, and we headed to the stadium under typically (and somehow perfectly) rainy conditions. Outside of one guy who silently said “Go Sounders” to me upon seeing me wearing Nashville gear, I was largely ignored by everyone around me.
In the 18th minute, I impulsively yelled “Yellow card” at the Arreaga infraction. While it felt as if everyone in my section suddenly got quiet and turned to see the enemy in their midst, a fan down the aisle yelled, “Hell, no it wasn’t.” Not to back down, I yelled “Yellow,” with him responding, “No freaking way.” We went back and forth like this until it became like an unending South Park skit with the repetition itself making those around us laugh.
When, ten minutes later, he accused one of Nashville’s players of diving, I decided to (sorta, somewhat) agree with him, which led to a routine in which he yelled “Dive” and I yelled “OK” back and forth. It sounds sorta stupid as I write, but, in the moment, it lightened whatever discomfort I had sitting amongst the Flounder.
When I went to the bar, I brought back an extra beer for my yelling counterpart, which led to a discussion about his love for soccer. It was not what I expected. Fifteen years ago, he told me, his wife had suddenly become a die hard fan of the then USL Sounders. While this transition was not an expected one, he agreed to get season tickets with her. Over the next several years, and into the MLS phase, the two fell in love with the team and soccer culture in general. When, a couple of years ago, his wife found herself in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, she made him promise to keep going to games.
And he does. While his wife is being taken care of and has no idea that he’s still going to the games, it’s a commitment he keeps.
And just like that, the meaning of being behind enemy lines changed.
Not for long, however.
Late in the second half, when Godoy scored, I jumped out of my seat. Realizing where I was, and not wanting to be obnoxious, I danced and celebrated quietly (which, if you know me, is really showing some damned constraint).
Evidently, I was not as invisible as I hoped, as the entire section seemed to be looking at me with hatred.
A guy, sitting a row away, waved his finger at me, asking me to come over to him.
I walked over, not exactly sure what I expected to hear.
“If you need to celebrate,” he said, “there’s a little yellow cauldron over there for you,” pointing to the NSC away section (and completely missing the fact that it was a mighty gold cauldron, not a little yellow one).
Seemed like a good idea.
I ran down the steps and over to celebrate. OMG. The comfort of being amongst my own kind was sublime.
When I returned and the game ended, however, everyone sitting in the section congratulated me and thanked me for coming. My yell interlocutor came up to me and said, “You know, whether the Sounders won or lost tonight, it was already a good day because some knucklehead from Nashville bought me a beer and listened to my story.”
While I never (and I mean NEVER) want to sit behind enemy lines again… while I will always choose to sit with the “little yellow caldron,” there was something about that night which highlighted the transcendence that soccer sometimes offers us.