And say my glory was I had such friends.
-William Butler Yeats
"The Municipal Gallery Revisited" (1939)
This is the 28th part of 28 in 28. Early on, I knew exactly how this series was going to end. The hard part, as it always is, was getting here.
It's been great to read the comments and feedback about these posts during the last month. My favorite comments were some variation of "This is my favorite yet" or "Favorite one so far." Those kind of comments came in almost daily, and from many different people. To me, it meant that at least one person saw something new in that design that they liked, and maybe they hadn't thought of before. Getting people thinking about possibilities has been my main intent with 28 in 28. But, before I get too far into recapping this month, I think I'll move on and save the reflection for tomorrow.
This is 28: Be Massive, My Friend.
I don't know how many Columbus Crew matches I've been to since 1996. It's in the hundreds, easily. There are a handful of matches that I remember very well. One of the matches that I remember most vividly was on August 20, 2011.
The Crew were first in the Eastern Conference at the time, and they were playing the Philadelphia Union who were just below them on the table. The Crew starting XI was William Hesmer, goalkeeper; Josh Gardner, Julius James, Chad Marshall, and Sebastian Miranda, defenders; Robbie Rogers, Kevin Burns, Emmanuel Ekpo, and Justin Meram, midfielders; Emilio Renteria and Andres Mendoza, forwards; and Robert Warzycha was the manager.
The Crew won the match 2-1 behind a very strong performance by Robbie Rogers, and a goal-a-piece from Renteria and Mendoza. Hesmer was his reliable cup-winning quality in the victory, making a couple of spectacular saves to hold the Union to one goal.
It's not unusual to remember the hard-fought victories when something like first place is at stake. I don't remember the August 20, 2011 match for that reason, however. I remember it because of the manner in which Crew fans remembered another Crew fan who had passed away the week before.
I didn't know Joel Reynaga beyond being someone whom I'd seen at every Crew match for years, give a hi-five to if I was standing nearby when the Crew scored a goal, nod "Hello" to and chat briefly with at a pre-match tailgate. He was one of the familiar faces that I became used to seeing with his drum and La Turbina Amarilla shirt around the stadium. That familiarity is one of the best parts of being a Columbus Crew fan, actually—even for someone like me who likes to keep a low profile at the bars and pre- and post-match gatherings. No one can know everything about everyone, but we come back to Crew Stadium in March of each year, see the familiar faces and meet new ones, and we're revitalized by the knowledge that we have 8 or 9 warm months ahead of us, together and for the same team until fall. Even though there were so many changes that happened in 2011—and a lot of ups and downs—that feeling of friendship remained strong.
Before the match on August 20, as the Nordecke filled up, dozens of supporters from the different groups brought with them yellow carnations. The Reynaga family came to the match and stepped onto the Crew Stadium field in front of the Nordecke with Joel's drum set up in front of the La Turbina Amarilla and Hudson Street Hooligans sections. Then, all of the fans who had brought in yellow carnations passed them to the front of the Nordecke. As we handed the flowers to those in the front rows, they piled them onto Joel Reynaga's drum. The pile grew higher and higher. The simple gesture of passing the carnations forward, and laying them together was one of the most moving tributes I've ever been a part of or seen in a soccer stadium. It was simple, strong, deeply felt, and honest. It was true. It was a demonstration of sympathy and love for the Reynaga family, who must have been profoundly heartbroken so soon after the loss of Joel. This was a section of the most raucous soccer supporters in the United States brought to tears—not for the loss of a game or the end of a season, but for the loss of a friend.
There are several photographs from that day taken by Sameh Fahmi, the amazing photographer and contributor to the Massive Report. Sam edited some of the photos and video that he took from that match and put them together into a video that he shared on his Facebook page.
Carnations, like roses, are flowers of strong symbolism. The only state in the union to have a carnation as their state flower is, of course, Ohio. The red (or scarlet) carnation is our state flower, while the white trillium is our state wildflower. The red carnation has been the flower of Ohio since 1904, and was made so by the state legislature in remembrance of President William McKinley, who died in 1901.
The yellow carnation has many different meanings, but my favorite explanation that I've heard for what a yellow carnation symbolizes is "We will find each other when life is difficult." That's exactly what the fans were saying with the dozens of flowers brought for the Reynaga family and La Turbina Amarilla on August 20, 2011.
We will find each other when life is difficult.
Friend is a powerful word to me. It's become easy in our time to sell things by asserting that by purchasing some item or participating in some event puts you in the company of a family of some sort, yet friend is sometimes a harder word to say. It's noticeable to me how often people will call someone "brother" or "sister" as a synonym of "good friend." It's almost as if doing so provides a comfortably ironic separation or distance, whereas saying that someone is a good friend is an assertion of a closer bond.
I was talking to my good friend Alex Thomas, of Cafe Del Mondo and La Turbina Amarilla, the other day about this very thing. How incredibly meaningful and unbreakable that bond between blood relations is, and yet I couldn't help but think while we were talking about how strong our Crew supporter friendships are—how remarkable is this tie that I have with people to whom I'm not related, and with whom I don't see for months at a time just because it's winter—the Columbus Crew offseason.
And the older I get, the more I think that while family is sacred, what everything comes down to in this life is this: We must be friends.
The motto that has developed of its own organic momentum among Crew supporters since the mid-2000s has been "Be Massive, My Friend." I love that motto. Attempts have been made to appropriate it into a marketing slogan, but those who try to do that miss the point entirely, and put at risk the wonderful authenticity of that sentence and what it means. It grew in popularity and in meaning because it just made sense. It was the best way for a fan base to value its identity when no one else valued them, and for that fan base to value the identity of their city when it wasn't valued by the league. The people—not an individual, not an employee, not an agent, or a director, an owner, a manager, a supporter, or a distinct supporters group—the people created it, shared it, amplified it, and are defined by it. Every team in the world is "something 'til I die." Dallas 'Til I Die, Salt Lake 'Til I Die, Sounders 'Til I Die. Rose City 'Til I Die. And on and on and on...
No group of sports fans anywhere in the world have a motto like "Be Massive, My Friend." Columbus Crew supporters have it. It's ours.
A moment like the one that happened before the Columbus Crew match on August 20, 2011 only happens because it is not controlled by someone who wants to make a commercial out of it. A moment like that happens because of friends—maybe who don't even know each others' names—coming together of their own choosing, desiring to say and do something that can only be given freely, and accepted freely, but never, ever owned. When we talk about the real moments in the lives of a soccer supporter, or why it's critically important that soccer support remain organic and not overly marketed, controlled, regimented, and directed, these are the moments that we mean.
Being a friend is a simple thing to be when times are good, just like being a fan is an easy thing to do when the team is doing well. The terms "fair-weather friend" and "fair-weather fan" are common. A lot of supporters of the Columbus Crew understand that, because times for our team have not always been good, and because times for each other have not always been good, either. We have to keep reminding each other that it's important to support each other. It's important that we have a symbol that reminds us that "We will find each other when life is difficult."
"Be Massive, My Friend" is another way to say exactly that. It's a spirit that has existed in Columbus since 1994 when 11,500 people put down season ticket deposits for a team that didn't even have a name, colors, badge, or players. Be Massive, My Friend asks us to become better, and to share the work, weight, duty, victories and losses with one another. It means to be better, and to respect one another, even the strangers, as friends.
"I am loath to close," said Abraham Lincoln, just before he spoke about the importance of friendship in his first inaugural. I sort of feel the same way at the end of this. The conversation continues, and the work goes on. There is more to say, but not for today. Be Massive, My Friend.