First of all let me assure you that I am not one of those “Oooohhhh, innit great that we have a football team to go and watch” type of people. I have been living in and around Philadelphia for the better part of twenty years and I was always jealous of the cities that had an MLS team to support. Now I will admit that for that first year in 2010 it actually was enough just to have the opportunity to go and watch live footy with my mates, but much like the old adage of a marriage, perhaps we are now coming upon our very own seven year Jay Sugarman shaped itch.
As a nipper being taken to the football by my dad or older sister or cousin or whomever, the whole day was an event. Whether we were taking the ten minute walk to see our local hometown club (non-league for 76 years until fairly recently) or the grander bus excursions to see my sister’s glamour boys at Maine Road (look it up, you Rebecca Lowe loving neophytes). The football was part of the fabric of life without defining it – it was part and parcel of the rhythms of a week, a warm and comfortable regularity leading inexorably towards three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon that provided a focus of conversation for introspective, emotionally stunted, Northern working class men.
I actually preferred watching my local non-league team, despite the fact that the standard of football was often terrible, played on a potato patch pitch, with not much more than a glorified cow shed to shelter us from the worst of the weather whipping off an angry Irish Sea. Despite the rain and gales cutting through our malnourished, skinny 1970s lead paint and second hand smoke stricken bodies I really liked it. Perhaps because when we did play well (your team is always us / we, by the way) or put together a really nice flowing move that combined grace and skill and artistry it really stood out and felt special. There was something to hold onto and remember, like your first kiss (mine was from an older woman – a 13 year old roller skating ‘bad girl’ who smoked, got into fights, and played pool like a hustler).
As the Union faithful have grown and matured as consumers of football I am starting to see some shoots of adolescent anger and rage beginning to poke through the comfortable suburban soccer facade of years past. And much like myself after that incident with the roller skating girl, we are in a bit of a tizzy and want more… but we’re not really sure how to get it.
Sure, the Sons of Ben pulled off one of the greatest stories in all of sports and willed a team into existence with the kind of tenacity and dogged determination that defines Philadelphia. The problem is that we are now much like a dopey, teeth-gnashing hound that chased and chased squirrels around the back yard, when all of a sudden, after years and years and years of fruitless chasing we finally end up with one of them somehow in our teeth.
And… Now what? Well… What do you want? The easy answer is that we want to win MLS Cup. We want to be champions. Sure. But in a 22 team league, just like The Highlander, “there can be only one”. 22-1 is a pretty steep price. In pure probability terms that means that there is a 95.65 percent probability of a particular outcome (i.e that some other team wins) and 4.35 percent probability of a different outcome. 22-1 is actually a better price than the odds currently being given for Diego Costa to join an MLS club (20-1 on PaddyPower right now!) so clearly all odds are complete bollocks.
So… I ask again. What do you want?
What I want is a day to connect with friends who I almost exclusively only see at the football. I want to keep having a laugh with my son, who has grown from boy to man in The River End. I want to have a day out, that is out of the ordinary. Going to the football is still niche in this country. It is my thing and it is our thing, and a piss-poor performance from the Union might dampen the mood but it can’t negate all the good.
So, as we say back home… Don’t let the football ruin your day out.