Sunday, July 14, 2024
Sunday, July 14, 2024

Away Daze

Photos: Chris Norris

5:04 or 5:07.

Since I’m describing a picture sent via text message of shots of Hennessy on a bus somewhere on the East side of Madison, my inability to remember the details of things like time or even who was featured in the photo or when the next photo arrived showing more shots of Henny and whether it was 5:38 exactly when the picture of the empty Henny bottle arrived to my phone… Well, those are details lost to the cloud…

Lots of stuff got lost to the cloud that day, I imagine. Including (for me at least) most of the details of the match: there was an early chance for Lansing, an early injury for Danny Tenorio, a missed PK, a Madison goal and then bedlam. But when I think of the trip to Lansing, the match isn’t the central part of the narrative, it was the fact that all of this would go on for at least one more week. And what “all of this” was? That part never makes it to the cloud.

For instance, the Henny wasn’t just a delicious brandy from the Cognac region of France popular among African Americans, both because black GIs brought back a taste for it from their WWII service, but also because it focused on marketing to African Americans when many other brands refused to “taint” their image by doing so… It was also a symbol of how the Featherstone Flamingos in concert with their counterparts in Richmond came together to bet a bottle of Hennessy on the season’s match which culminated in the Irruption Tour when the Featherstone Flamingos, along with some members of the Forward Staff and some members of the Flock (and the MetroFordKia Microbus), made their way to Richmond for the Henny Derby Decider. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that said tour coincided with Richmond’s First Heritage Night, which was unique in the ways it celebrated the contributions of people from around the globe to the Richmond Kickers. Helping remind people that the sport is not the lily white thing it is often portrayed as in the US, but that the history of US soccer is Carribbean and African and South American and…

Along the way, the Irruption bus picked up a hand sewn Flamingo costume. That will be important. (They’ve since returned the trophy, which is currently back in Richmond, so it is no longer important to this story).

Somewhere out on the internet, there is an image of two supporters groups standing in a field. One in orange, one in pink, the chief colors. I suppose they were rivals on that day, but you wouldn’t have guessed it by watching fans mingling– I seem to remember overhearing passionate conversations about a shared love of Preston North End or Glasgow Celtic or a certain podcast host dismissing the listenership of another podcast.

I remember how perfect the weather was and the smell and smoke of the grill rising into the air and the taste of Spotted Cow in the early afternoon of a perfect Midwestern fall day… I also recall thinking that we probably never thought we’d be mingling with the Lansing supporters group (especially the early iteration which featured several founders who’d eventually be doxxed as racists). But I do remember talking to supporters from Lansing who were inspired by what they saw in the Flock– it showed them that they could create something that was unique to Lansing and far from either the knockoff St. Pauli/Milwall nonsense they saw in Detroit or the generic supporters culture that often pervades American soccer. Their supporters’ culture could be unique to Lansing like ours is unique to Madison.

Perhaps no image got as many likes on social media as the one of Peter Wilt and a strange man in a Flamingo suit with their heads touching. I don’t remember much of the photo, other than I was the strange man in the flamingo suit and that occurred as Peter and I celebrated JC Banks breaking the deadlock.

We look isolated, but that is a function of the camera angle, because the area around us had been gradually filing in as the flock began filtering upwards in the section assigned to us. The Flock realized that the location of the wheelchair seating had meant fans in wheelchairs were separated from the rest of the Flock and as we had traveled and supported together all season long, that wouldn’t do.

I’m not entirely sure how I ended up wearing that pink flamingo suit.

An aside: The Pink Flamingo suit is signed by Connor Turbo Tobin and was hand made by a member of the Dead Whales Society/Oak City Supporters, the supporter group/collective of one of Connor’s former teams North Carolina FC. They presented it as a gift after the Irruption Tour to the assembled Flock members who had made the trip to Richmond. The whole group had partied in support of Turbo’s semi-triumphant return to the East Coast– semi-triumphant because Turbo missed the match due to food poisoning. It features a beautiful head with googly eyes and well-crafted flamingo beak and a perfectly designed flamingo tail/body that rests around the wearer’s hips connected by a rather phallic flamingo neck… Again, anyone’s guess why those who made the trip decided I should be the one to wear it, but my speculation is that the reasons aren’t flattering to me.

When Forward Madison was still known as Madison Pro Soccer, I would’ve bet you dollars to donuts that there would’ve been a better chance of me making no games than ending up a supporter to the point that I wore a phallic flamingo to a match in the middle of Michigan.

However, Peter Wilt was a big reason why that happened. First, because of what he’d accomplished elsewhere in American soccer, as soon as I saw he was associated with the project I realized that this was not going to be some half-ass “pro team” of the sort that I’d seen come and go in countless cities around the country.

Plus, before my initial meeting with Peter, I would have never have guessed that Peter and I would’ve ended up just getting along: but he won me over by declaring that he never knew what sort of fancy beer to buy at fancy bars, because he just wanted a Schlitz or a Pabst or a Miller High Life (no two people of otherwise excellent taste enjoy mass-produced beer more than we do and we drank lots of mass produced beer that day. I remember Amanda Klinkner lightly chuckling when the salesperson told her that she had to drink the value beer deal that day– “I’m from Wisconsin. I’ll be fine.”). Plus, you’d be unable to find two people who love things as stupid as phallic pink flamingo suits as Peter and I despite any pretenses we may have to being serious members of society. Moreover, Finally, about Peter (and my podcast co-host Dan Fallon), my mother once remarked that we were like three peas in a pod with how much we all loved trivial information and facts of the sort that Cliff Claven would spout.

Indirectly, I was partially there because of Peter. Directly, I was there because of Andrew Schmidt whose hard work made the Flock possible.

As I finish writing, I’m staring at a picture of Andrew Schmidt and Chris Fox holding a piece of wood with a fingerless glove and a mitten on it: the Handy Derby trophy. And if I tried to describe how stupid and cheap the trophy looks, my true limitations as an author would be revealed. But Chris and Andrew have their arms around one another and are embracing. They look genuinely happy and exhausted as if they’ve won the World Cup.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Norman Maclean’s novella A River Runs Through It when Norman Maclean thinks of his brother Paul catching the finest fish Norman believes he’s ever seen Paul catch: “My brother stood before us, not on a bank of the Big Blackfoot River, but suspended above the earth, free from all its laws, like a work of art. And I knew just as surely and just as clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last.”

And I think of that quote now when I remember the photos of the players and fans and families and coaches posing for celebratory pictures with that stupid trophy which for the first time (we thought of many) would join us on the bus back to Madison. Perhaps nothing with such little monetary value had ever been so exuberantly celebrated. We sang songs in the late autumn gloaming outside a minor league baseball stadium in the middle of Michigan as the temperature slowly began to remind us that winter would be here soon enough… We took countless photos with that trophy. Turbo gave and received countless hugs from every one of us. And the flock , high fived and embraced one another like we had returned from some long odyssey.

I think we hugged and we celebrated and lingered, not because we wanted to simply celebrate the win, but because we wanted to celebrate the fact that all of these stories and memories could keep going… Even for one more week… Ever so briefly, being a part of the Flock felt like being a work of art.

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