This is a piece I wrote last fall after seeing a D.C. United/Columbus Crew match at RFK stadium. I was still brand new to the District and it was also my first live MLS experience. The D.C. United fans and supporter groups like the Screaming Eagles are dedicated, rowdy (in the best way) soccer fanatics that made the whole experience that much more exciting and memorable. I hope to start writing about United and the MLS and more importantly a lengthier piece about the overall soccer culture in DC. Even though this writing is a little dated (the match was September 1st, 2010 and it was part of the Lamar Hunt Cup Challenge, not an MLS fixture), I believe in the spirit of it and would like to share it during the summer lull (did you hear that Fabregas might be on his way to Barca??zzzzzzzz)
September 2nd, 2010
Last night I saw a D.C. United match in RFK Stadium and I can’t stop thinking about it. It was surreal and sort of creepy. The stadium is crumbling into dusty pieces as we speak and when we first sat down it was basically empty. Sitting in a vast, empty stadium (literally less than 30 people were milling about at the time) was strange and the fact that it looked rusty, rickety and damn near condemned was messing with my mind. I kept staring at the garish yellow, by age and design, ghost-ridden upper deck seats whose rows were punctuated by broken, removed chairs like a smoker’s mouth with missing teeth. I’m not trying to dis D.C. United or the MLS, but, holy shit, man, just because the Redskins don’t play there anymore doesn’t mean you can forgo performing basic maintenance in a stadium you still invite people in to attend “professional” games. I can just imagine some D.C. United bigwig saying “The Redskins played here!!! It was good enough for them. Let’s leave it like it is and never change or fix a thing. The money will roll right in”
Wondering around the dilapidated building looking for beer vendors and unlocked bathrooms, I had one of those Shining experiences where I felt the psychic energy of the place and it wasn’t always good. Standing in one of the humid, claustrophobic bathrooms, I could just sense the arrests (how many Philly fans alone?), feel the drunken brawls, broken noses, and ancient puddles of piss and cigarette smoke seeping through the present from NFC East Sundays past.
It was unsettling.
As a lifelong NFL fan, I started thinking of all of the great NFC playoff games played there during the 80’s and early 90’s. That was when the Redskins were actually still a proud, winning franchise with tradition and Hall-of-Famers like Russ Grimm and, one of my first football heroes, John Riggins. So sitting there underneath a sunny sky revisiting those memories and that history helped balance the strange karma of the tumbling down, mostly empty stadium.
Another time machine aspect of the evening: the fans who did show up.
Not only did the architecture and layout of RFK bring to mind Three Rivers Stadium, but the D.C. United fans resurrected the Old-School (it’s like the stadium demands nothing less) rowdy, beer throwing, cigarette smoking, high-decibel cursing inimical to the stadium experience of days gone by. I was shocked when I saw a dude light a cigarette while actually talking to the security guard. That shock vanished quickly as D.C. scored on a penalty early in the match and people started lighting colored smoke bombs and throwing their 10 dollar beers (I’m not exaggerating) at each other. the security guards were chanting with and hugging the rowdy fans and a few times I got the half-exciting/half terrifying, Willard in Apocalypse Now type impression that no-one was truly in charge.
Our section did fill up, at least, and the D.C. supporters (probably 1,500-2,000 at this game all told) were like a raucous mutant gang, part Raiders “Black Hole” style intimidation, part pub chanting drum circle militia. There was ‘Darth Hooligan,’ a man with Darth Maul style face paint and a light-sabre. There were people lugging floor toms that John Bonham might have played, banging away-as chants about shitting on the 6 (literally) Columbus Crew fans in the middle deck at other end of the stadium went on and on. One dude behind me implored the refs to “SEND THAT PIECE OF SHIT #32 THE FUCK HOME” at volumes that would have made Pete Townsend cry. It was an incredible atmosphere manufactured by a small, but in no way insignificant, band of fanatics. United’s support is truly something to behold.