How soccer is like Mardi Gras and politics (except when it's not).
Standing in the Screaming Eagles' Nest is everything people say it is and more. It was something I wanted to try, but I didn't think I'd like it much - I didn't think I'd be able to see, and I thought my feet would hurt. Well, Nicole, the ever-so-helpful guru of tickets, was able to get me a spot in the third row, so I could have seen Ben Olsen's toe lint if he'd taken off his shoes. In fact, if I'd walked down four steps, hopped a wall, run twelve yards, dodged half a dozen cops, shoved some VIPs in folding chairs out of the way, and hopped another wall, well, I'd have been right there on the field. It felt a lot more immediate than that description sounds, because when you've got a phalanx of jumping, singing, cursing fans behind you, a half dozen cops are no obstacle. My feet did hurt, but when the bouncing and singing started I didn't really care.
It's like Mardi Gras, or an Election Night party. At a Mardi Gras parade, you've got hundreds, maybe thousands of drunk people brought together in solidarity over the principle of having a good time. And they all care very much about beads and plastic cups and doubloons, things that matter not one whit in the real world - kind of like soccer games, but tackier - and they're willing to make fools of themselves over these things by getting into fights, taking off their clothes, and generally ignoring social niceties in favor of drunken revelry. At an Election Night party, you've also got hundreds of drunk people, brought together after months of shared effort, hours and hours of drudgery for the purpose of this one night's result, and they're waiting, hoping, praying, holding their breath, crossing their fingers, straining their muscles to reach for the win that, since the polls closed, is now out of their control. Again, kind of like soccer games, from the fan perspective at least.
So being a fan at a soccer game is like both those things. But it's different in a few key ways. At Mardi Gras there are no winners or losers; everyone has fun and goes home happy, and takes lots of aspirin the next morning. At a soccer game it's much better if you win - if you don't, it's not really very much fun at all. But! if you lose, there are no real ramifications for the wider world. I was in a foul mood for two days after the Galaxy game. In the end, though, if your team loses a soccer game, even a championship game, it doesn't mean that prisoners will be tortured or that thousands of civilians will be slaughtered in unnecessary wars or that poor people will die because they lost their health insurance or that thousands of Americans will still be homeless a year after a major natural disaster because the government can't be arsed to lift a finger on their behalf. In soccer, you just show up for the game the next week (or the next season) and hope, pray, hold your breath, cross your fingers, strain your muscles for a better result. At an Election Night party, if your side loses... well, that's much more difficult to come back from.
So it's beginning to make sense to me, why after I attended a DC United game earlier this summer on a whim, I got hooked so quickly. I haven't missed a home game since. With one deadly serious passion, politics, taking up so much of my time and energy that I'm run ragged, what could possess me to take up in addition an utterly frivolous passion that is just as time consuming? But it's good. It's really good. Being passionate about DC United has given my life some much-needed balance, and an outlet that will keep me sane. I can do something much like what I do in politics - gather together and consume beverages with a group of like-minded people who, like me, care so much about a particular result that our heads are about to explode. Whenever our boys give us a win, it will be just like it was when Freddy Adu floated that free kick over the wall and into the right corner of the goal, with the keeper nowhere near enough to touch it even if he had Gadget Arms. I stood there with my mouth open while the crowd went berserk all around me, so happy I couldn't make a single sound. And if we were to lose a game again, I'd be miserable, of course, but without the guilt and added burden of knowing other living humans would soon pay a real and costly price for that loss and for my failure.