At least one hundred and forty soccer fans and I are storming the concourse of Children’s Mercy Park. The guy next to me bangs a bass drum. A dozen people carry flags. Everyone holds their scarf straight above their head, like a banner.
A guy yells into a megaphone. “OH WHEN THE LOONS!”
We respond. “OH WHEN THE LOONS!”
“GO MARCHING IN!” He bellows.
We yell back. “GO MARCHING IN!”
Together, we sing. “Oh when the Loons go marching in, oh how I wanna be in that number! When the Loons go marching in!”
Security officials are watching us, the weird fans from Minnesota. People standing in line to buy concessions turn to stare. I nudge Alex and shout-whisper, “Are we allowed to make a scene like this?”
He just grins at me. He can’t hear.
I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. Wait. We are in Kansas.
It’s a steamy Saturday afternoon in Kansas City, Kansas. Alex and I got up at 4 a.m. to drive six hours so we could cheer with the away fans for our favorite team. It’s mid-80s, partly cloudy. MN United FC is about to get whooped by Sporting Kansas City in a match only a mother could love.
By the enthusiasm of my new friends, you’d never know it.
The first thing you notice at any MN United FC game is their supporter groups. The Dark Clouds, the original group, are known for their quirky song lyrics and refusal to swear in their chants and songs. Their more intense cousin, the True North Elite, is a smaller, more recently formed group of fans. Distinct in identity the two groups may be, they’re 100% united in passion. While I admire their uninhibitedness, I’ve sometimes found it hard to concentrate on the game because of their constant noise.
Away from home, however, I find myself warming to them. They know the players by name and have special songs for each one of them. There’s “Supa. Superman…. Superman Ramirez,” to the tune of “Skip to My Lou,” and “Miguel Ibarra’s my friend” to the tune of “We are the Champions.” In the first half, when it’s still 0-0, United goalie Bobby Shuttleworth makes save after save, and the fans sing “Bobby Shuttleworth. Clean Sheet Bobby Shuttleworth!” to the tune of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.”
In the first half, I get randomly elbowed by my neighbor, who shouts, “We gotta link up!” Before I know it, we’re arm-in-arm, swaying back and forth. It’s so hot, and I’m so disgustingly sweaty, but this is not the time to maintain a personal bubble. Gotta link up.
There is never a quiet moment. When things get slow, the drum gets going. “M! N! UFC! M! N! UFC!” It doesn’t take long for the whole section to belt it out, followed by a “Minnesota Black and Blue!” In a stadium full of KC fans, they will be heard.
I can’t help but feel sorry for the poor Sporting KC fans whose seats are so unfortunately close to ours and have to endure our constant chants. But when a guy a few rows in front of us points to a KC fan and yells, “Hey, it’s her birthday! Let’s sing her ‘Happy Birthday!'” and the group bursts out in a rousing song, I officially fall in love with this group.
At the end of the night, the leader of the True North Elite reminds us to pick up our trash and leave the place cleaner than you found it. Someone misses a can, and somebody else points it out, saying “Grab that. If you don’t have hands I’ll carry it.” These groups are concerned for their reputation, and it pays off. On Twitter, people are saying we were the best away fans in a long time. To prove it, I see pictures posted from the pre-game tailgate of United Fans and KC supporters side by side.
However, you won’t find those pictures during the game. After all, these groups follow the rule “Drink – 90 – Drink.” I had to ask Alex to explain this one. It means this: before and after the game, treat your enemies as friends, trade scarves, get to know them. But when the game starts, for those 90 minutes, you only bleed black and blue.
If you look closely at the photo above, you can see us…
We played poorly. Were we intimidated playing the #1 team in the Western Conference away from home? Did the sun blind us when we switched sides at the half, so we couldn’t properly defend our goal? Were the guys simply tired and hot?
Sports fans smarter than me can and will surmise on these things. From my perspective, it all went downhill seconds before halftime.
It was 0-0. We were in stoppage time. Out of nowhere, KC defender Ike Opara scored a goal, and after a full half of admirable saves, Clean Sheet Bobby Shuttleworth was no more. Actually, Bobby Shuttleworth didn’t even move. He just watched it go in.
“Wait, did he think it was halftime already?” I asked Alex in confused frenzy. “Did he think it was off-sides?” I can’t believe Bobby, our sure-as-gold goalie, would let us down like this going into halftime.
Alex shrugs, and this is where I long for the steady stream of commentary we get on T.V., the possible explanations of and reactions to what just happened. But my husband is more mature than me. He knows we simply accept it and move on.
The game only worsens. Our guys struggle. By the end, while KC has taken 27 shots, we’ve taken a measly 7. And it shows in the final score: KC 3, MN United 0.
I think I’m coming away with a moral: to win the game, you’ve got to take the shots. I’m not the first one to draw this conclusion, I’m sure, but I like the sound of it. Maybe I’ll cross-stitch it on a pillow.
Every day for two weeks before our trip, Alex asked me, how excited are you for our trip? To which I replied (in my head), you are going to make me drive through the entire state of Iowa AND BACK just to spend 24 hours in Kansas City. I’m psyyyyyched.
But it was a fantastic weekend. I made friends with fellow fans. Alex and I ate at the best restaurants: Plowboys for heaping plates of barbecue, Zaxby’s for fried chicken, Krispy Kreme. We walked around the Power and Light district, admiring its art deco architecture. Before we drove back on Sunday, we spent several hours exploring the World War I Museum.
Monday night, we’re home, back to reality, eating Jack’s frozen pizza. Alex asks me if I want to go to a game in Chicago at the end of August. Another “weekend getaway”? While I pull out my phone to check the calendar, he assures me it will work with our schedules, and I get the sneaking suspicion that the question is a guise. I quickly find out that yep, the whole thing is planned already – hotel, transportation, time of departure. He’s just asking for my permission. His face is glowing, pleading with me to say yes.
Suffice it to say, trip booked.