Never did I imagine discussing the ritual of Mass and the rituals of soccer in the same column. But here I am.
Several years ago, I fell into a deep sleep during the homily at the church I attended—deep enough of a sleep that several people told me they noticed. When I apologized to the Priest, who was a running buddy of mine, the next week, he told me that there was no need to apologize because Mass wasn’t something we did on our own. The whole ritual, he said, is held together by the fact that we are all helping materialize it. As a result, the individual experiences get bound to the whole, and the whole to the individual. Out of many, one but also, in the one, the many.
While I confess to getting a bit on the hippie dippie side of things when it comes to talking about the emotional investment we have in soccer as ritual and community, I also think it’s worth doing so. I was thinking about this at NSC’s first play-off game the other night (what a freaking awesome night that was). I began the night, as many of us do, having drinks with a group of friends before the game. At tailgates, at bars, at kitchen tables, in living rooms, we all begin gathering. And while we are all involved in our own rituals, at our own locales while moving toward the game, we are somehow doing it together. We are separate but connected.
On that particular night, as my group walked into the stadium, we did so just as The Backline began its march through the concourse and over to their section. While none of my group is involved in the march, and while none of my group sits with the supporter section (although Andy jumps with them wherever he is), we all find ourselves part of a common cause. There is an “us and them” in one sense, but in a larger sense, there is only an “us.” Supporters of different stripes.
That night, prior to the kickoff, Clay Trainum was recognized by the team with a jersey signed by all of the players, with 23K miles on the back to signify the amount of travel he has done to follow the team over the last two years (I dare say, no other individual is even close) and a nice scoreboard photo. Now, on the one hand, this was very much a singular recognition of Clay and what he has done following the team, but, on the other, it is a larger sign of the organization making an investment in the fans. By recognizing the extraordinary support of the one, the organization by proxy lets the rest of us know how important the supporters are to them. Again, out of many one, but, also, in the one, the many.
As we watched the game and argued over whether the right calls were made by the ref, the right substitutions by the coach, we continued to take part in a collective ritual of support, a way of maintaining cohesion through ritual. And when we witnessed the third goal that night, the beauty by Derrick Jones (he finds an opening, it closes, he is determined to take the ball through two defenders, he stumbles, he gets up, he is determined, he miraculously squeezes the ball into goal), we are building memories together. For years, we’ll talk about that goal, that moment, and others. Indeed, witnessing these events is one of the ways that we cement ourselves together as one, the ways we create a communion together.
(As a side note, NEVER EVER leave a game early. I had to leave the stadium at 83 minutes, and so, my memory of this moment will be watching on YouTube on my back porch. FML).
But, like sleeping during the homily, I try to tell myself, it doesn’t matter if you actually saw the goal or not, because collectively we all did. That moment becomes part of our collective memory, the way in which we identify with one another, know one another.
I’m not trying to be Pollyanna-ish or overly romantic here, although I’m prone to both. But I also don’t think I’m overstating it. In these rituals, in these moments, in the way the team embraces us and we embrace the team, a “we” is created that we do not need maintain on our own.