Tuesday, May 28, 2013

CITY ON TOUR, ST LOUIS MISSOURI



With City completing an incredibly successful post-season trip to the United States, where the club succeeded in raising its profile on numerous levels, this is the first of two eye witness accounts of how things were on the ground and reveals the great efforts fans made to be present at the games. 
This is what it's like to be City, Stateside

City on Tour: St. Louis, Missouri
By
Matthew Eide (with input from fellow travelers, Moritz Reiter and Liz Gossens)

The Journey

As Chairman of the Capital City Blues, Washington, DC’s Official Manchester City Supporters Club, I was thrilled to learn that City was coming to the States. After spending so much of my life watching them on television—I would finally be able to cheer them on in person with other supporters from across the US.
From nearly the moment it was announced, it was decided that a few members of the club would travel over 800 miles to St. Louis. A 13-hour trip by car across half of America was well worth it, because this is what it means to support Manchester City. We booked hotel rooms and rented a car, days before tickets went on sale. Logistically, the trip was filled with all sorts of bumps for a new club and Chairman: There was a point in time when we weren’t even sure we would have tickets.

Crossing the Mississippi
I worked with the Chair of the Chicago group to procure tickets (eventually), and connect with three other major supporters clubs—Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; and New Orleans, Louisiana. We joked that it would be like the meeting of The Five Families of the famed organized crime syndicate…albeit with a much more congenial agenda.
The three of us: myself, my girlfriend Liz (technically an Arsenal fan, but also the Club’s Logistics Officer), and our friend Moritz (founder of Capital City Blues, and current Social Secretary) left Washington, DC at 9:00pm. We had already logged a full day’s work at our respective jobs, and faced a 13-hour drive through the Appalachia and across three flat Midwestern states, before the Gateway Arch would come into sight, on the other side of the Mighty Mississippi. Just before crossing the DC/Maryland state line, I turned to Mo and said, “Be prepared for a rainstorm—it always rains when Liz and I go on road trips”, Mother Nature would prove me correct. The skies opened up.
The drive was long, tedious, and in a few places outright scary. Liz took the first leg, winding through the mountains in the pouring rain, lightning illuminating the hills and scattered towns in Western Maryland, Southwestern Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Eastern Ohio. I took over somewhere after Wheeling, WV, and Liz slept. When Liz woke up, I was navigating through seemingly forgotten construction sites, and I noticed that the other side of Interstate 70 was shut down due to what we later learned was a fatal collision involving three semis and a pickup truck. Shortly after seeing the charred remains of the trucks blocking the other side of the interstate, with at least two miles of stopped cars and 18-wheelers, waiting for it to re-open, we witnessed the immediate aftermath of a small car hitting a deer a few yards in front of us. Chilling. It was a long night, and we were grateful to get out of Ohio. 

Liz took over about two hours outside of Indianapolis, and made the executive decision that we needed to stop at Long’s Bakery (an Indy staple favorite) for fresh doughnuts and milk. This was exactly the energy and morale boost we needed at 6am, and Mo took the wheel for the last few hours into St. Louis, as Thursday morning welcomed us.
We were greeted at our hotel with the wonderful news that they had rooms available early, and we could check in, sleep for a few hours, and regain our composure.  To say that we were exhausted would be an understatement.   

Fast forward to Thursday afternoon.

Pre- Match

Tommy and Victoria
While Liz and I slept, Moritz snapped photos of the Arch There he met Tommy, a lifelong fan since the early 1950’s who grew up in Moss Side outside the old Maine Road stadium.  He and his wife flew up from San Antonio to see family and the match. Moritz then headed to the bar in the hotel lobby, where he met other City fans that had come from Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Winnipeg, Canada.  More on Tommy later.
By 3pm everyone was ready to head to the local pub, Paddy O’s, to start the celebration. We walked over with guys from Pittsburgh and Chicago; unsure of what to expect when we arrived at the bar. It would be incredible.
Over the course of the next three hours, a steady stream of supporters mostly wearing sky blue joined us at the bar. We sang and sang, and got to know each other. 

It was there that we met up with members of the supporters clubs from Chicago, New Orleans, Dallas, and Denver, and fans who were trying to start their own local branches. It was there we would meet Kyle, from Chicago, who donates his time to City Soccer in the Community, and gave us advice on how to help build the program in DC—a major goal of our supporters club. 

This is where the story really begins. As American football and Major League Soccer (Vamos United!) fans, we all know what it’s like to be a part of a larger group of people all cheering for the same thing. We watched Chelsea fans do their thing in little groups, grilling, drinking, playing bean bag toss- but the City fans interacted as though they had known each other for their whole lives- connected simply by their love of the team. This was more than a group of people joining together to watch a match.
What made this experience different from all that is the fact that Manchester City supporters are part of a family.

Pre-match revelry the same the world over
From relatively new fans like Liz, talking about their favorite players on this year’s team, to people who have supported the club literally their entire lives, talking about growing up in Manchester and going to the stadium with their family and friends, everyone was instantly connected. Mark, from Blue Moon Dallas, led the packed bar in song after song, and then everything got quiet as a few unexpected guests showed up: The one-and-only Buzzer, City alum Mike Summerbee, and Vincent Kompany’s father, Pierre Kompany.

Liz watched a woman tear up with happiness as Summerbee spoke to the group about football gaining traction in the US, and how much it meant to him to be with us at the pub in St. Louis. I watched Tommy, the lifelong City supporter who Mo met under the Arch, choke up as he was given tickets by another supporter, for his family who hadn’t been able to find any. Tommy would later state that “this is what makes us City fans—we’re a family.” Truer words may have never been spoken.

Drinks were consumed, songs were sung, and everywhere I looked, there were fans sharing their City Stories and connecting on a level I had never seen before in anything else. Manchester City may have millions of dollars in the bank and is becoming one of the biggest clubs in the world but they have retained the family feeling of a small club: Strangers buying drinks for one another, giving away spare tickets, and solidifying lifelong friendships. 

There was some talk of the New York expansion, but as devoted DC United fans, we are torn on this development. As a Yankees fan, however, Mo is excited that both of his favorite teams are coming together. Liz and I aren’t sure that New York needs another MLS team, but are happy to see City represented in the States. Other MLS fans we spoke to generally echoed this sentiment: That there are other cities that could benefit from a professional soccer team (St. Louis, for example), and that New York didn’t make sense. Anyhow, on to the match! 

Match Time

At 6:30pm, we headed around the corner to Busch Stadium. The lines were long, and the City fans started singing without stopping until they had all cleared the gates. Chants of “If you hate Man United, clap your hands” coupled with the Toure brothers’ chant, and Blue Moon rang out around the South gates, with silent stares from the supporters in dark blue. Eventually the lines moved and we made our way to our section. We were surrounded by Chelsea supporters, a handful of other Premier League and general football fans, seeing their first professional match. It was clear that football is an under-recognized sport in St. Louis, which was echoed by numerous conversations we had with fans.
We hung our supporter’s club flags, and started cheering even before the players walked onto the field. Our seats were on the third base line of the stadium, and we had a bird’s eye view of Petr Cech in goal. 

During the match itself, the experience was similar to most sporting events- cheering, songs, and ribbing of the few Chelsea fans within earshot. Unfortunately things did not go our way, and the only goals scored in the first half were the three by Chelsea. Watching City come back from three-nil at the half, to win the game by one goal, was great- but it was being with these people throughout the match that made all the difference. These were no longer simply a group of people wearing the same colour, but truly a big, City family. The exhilaration of being on the winning side, coupled with the emotional full-ness of being part of something made this a completely unique experience. 

Four Poznans later we would walk out there proud of our boys on the pitch. The mood at Paddy O’s after the match was raucous and genuine. People had to leave at various times to ensure that they made it back to their hometowns, and there were lots of hugs and pictures taken. Between Mo, Liz, and I, we have been to too many sporting events to keep track of, but this was by far the most memorable. Even though it was a friendly match, the fact that we’re now part of the City family is what made it so powerful. I can’t wait for the next opportunity to spend time with these folks- and to see City in person again. 

Matthew Eide is the Chairman of the Capital City Blues, Washington, DC’s Manchester City Official Supporter Group. This trip was his first time seeing City in person.
 
You can follow the group on Twitter:
@ManCityDC



2 comments:

  1. That's a great account, thanks for posting it. That is indeed how it feels to be City.

    ReplyDelete

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