At the insistence of an English friend, my husband and I recently went to see the Philadelphia Union soccer match at PPL Stadium in Chester. He had asked us before, and since we were all out of lame excuses, we went.
The stadium was cute — lots of bathrooms, good popcorn.
Channel 6 weatherperson Cecily Tynan and a small contingent from Action News introduced the game and told the audience about the very hot, humid weather. She forgot to mention that if bugs fly at your face, they’ll stick to the layer of sweat, and you could leave the stadium looking like a windshield after a long ride.
A section of die-hard fans, the Sons of Ben (Franklin), sat in a large group wearing matching sky blue t-shirts. They go to every Union game, including the out-of-town games. Their loyalty to the Union is awe-inspiring when it’s not downright scary.
A Philadelphia Union game has a LOT of rituals that a novice like me couldn’t know. When the opposing team is introduced, for example, fans turn their backs to the field and yell “Sucks!” at every player’s name. Welcome to Philly, guys.
“Don’t worry,” said our friend happily. “The yelling will stop when the game starts, and then it will turn to SCREAMING!”
He’s a dear friend, so I couldn’t quite tell him soccer wasn’t really my cup of tea.
The match began. The fact is that I couldn’t tell who was who or what was going on. I don’t know any more about soccer than I know about how to perform root canal work on my own teeth. I understand the basics — you’re supposed to kick a ball into a goal — but that’s about it. I didn’t even know which team was the Philly guys and which team was the other guys.
I cooperated, though. When the crowd stood up and hollered, I stood up and hollered. When the crowd sat down, I sat down, scraped the bugs off my nose and had some popcorn. When the crowd was quiet, I tried to text the Coca-Cola Company to see if my bottle cap number was a winning one, but I couldn’t figure out how to change text words to numbers. Kept me busy for a while, though.
The crowd sang an incomprehensible song to the tune of “Yankee Doodle.” I worked out the words by lip-reading. It is:
“Come on, Union, score a goal.
It’s really very simple.
Put the ball into the net.
It’s funda-±#@*-ing mental!”
“Did you catch the words?” asked our friend.
“It’s an English cheer,” he said proudly.
When a player on the opposing team got hurt, the crowd yelled “Crybaby!” If he was REALLY hurt, the crowd yelled, “Bring out your dead!” The Sons of Ben knew exactly what to do and when. I always hate the feeling that everyone knows something I don’t. At a soccer game, everyone knows everything that I don’t.
“You having fun, Jan?”
“Oh, yeah!” I lied.
The stadium clock ran forward. I didn’t know how long a match lasted. At half-time, however, the clock began to run backward. How would the players know when to stop playing? How would I know when I could go home? The clock reversed direction again, though, at the beginning of the second half and ran forward again. My husband, reading my mind, leaned over and whispered,
“Don’t worry; it’s over at 90 minutes.”
“Thanks,” I whispered, picking a bug off my forehead and having another mouthful of popcorn.
Suppose our friend invites us to another match, since we said we liked this one? How will we get out of it without hurting his feelings? He’s a good friend. How many excuses can we invent? Do we say we have to go to New Zealand to visit a shepherd we just met online? Or can our friendship survive telling the truth? The problem is that I would almost rather swim to New Zealand than have to go to any more soccer games.