I think everyone who lives in or near a big city has a list of things that are interesting and fun and that they mean to do in town at some point. For a long time, I kept an email list of “things to do” with the Boy, and we accomplished some of it by scheduling. But somehow, despite living in this area nearly all my life, I had never seen DC United play in person. This wasn’t due to not being interested – I played soccer through my sophomore year of high school (though not for the school team), and have enjoyed watching the World Cup when it comes on every few years.
It’s just a thing that had slipped by the wayside, and I thought the opportunity to see the United play at RFK would slip away forever because they’re leaving the multi-use stadium which sits in a place of prominence in the city for something a little cozier in the area of Buzzard Point. They are scheduled to begin playing games there later next spring in 2018. But because I don’t have the inside scoop on things, I didn’t really know when the last game was. Lucky for me, a friend who LOVES soccer decided to have people join him for the final game as a 30th birthday outing, and I agreed. The Boy – who normally isn’t enthused about sports outings – was actually interested in going to this one, but had to back out at the last minute for a work trip. So it was just me braving the crowds and making my way down to the stadium.
We met up in the parking lot for a pre-game tailgate, and oh my goodness, I didn’t know how big the tailgate scene was for soccer matches. I parked about a half-mile away from where our group was meeting, and had to make my way through a massive scene that was just a sight to behold. Families and friends, young people and old. Food, soccer balls being kicked around, plenty of alcohol flowing. It was a serious business party that stretched much farther than I could have imagined. And sitting as a sort of central point of reference for all celebrations was RFK Stadium itself, paint peeling, cavernous walkways, limited services, crumbling in on itself.
It’s a fascinating place. The DCU fans have embraced the stadium and its surrounding area in all it’s run-down glory. The supporter groups (of which there are three – you learn something new every day!) have a large swath of seats which covers the entire section down closest to the match. They sing, chant and cheer, wave flags and let off smoke for nearly the ENTIRE game. It’s really impressive. I am not quite so tireless in my sports devotion, and even I need time to sit down, or to go get food or drink during a game I’m watching.
But what about the game? Well, it started out pretty well. It was very close, and then towards the end of the first half, DC scored, and it was thrilling. Everyone high-fived each other, and was very excited to have a lead going into the rest of the game. But in a turn that DC sports fans know all too well, the opposing (some might say rival) team the New York Red Bulls scored twice, and a game that could have been a beautiful swan song to the stadium the team was leaving was more of a let-down.
I had a great time. Sure, the amenities were lacking, but there was beer and ice cream…if you waited in line. The bathrooms were passable, and the women’s restrooms were not crowded at the time I tried to use them before the game. It will be interesting to see what happens at the new stadium. For sure the seats will be in better condition (the one I sat in was crumbling with peeling paint, as was every other seat around me), and I can only hope that there will be more and better options for food that don’t require a Soviet-style bread line for any kind of refreshment. The lack of large parking facilities means that the tailgate culture is going to curb dramatically, and who knows how that will affect things for the fans going forward.
Leaving the stadium, I was a little sad. I’m not sure I’ll ever go to another event there again, but I am now proud to say that I attended three different kinds of sporting events there over the years. A Washington Football Team vs St Louis Rams game in the mid-late 90s, a handful of Nationals games from 2005-2007 when they played in that stadium, and now the DC United in their last game before moving. It felt like a bit of DC sports history, and I’m proud to say I was there.
On the bright side, I’ll definitely make more of an effort to see DCU play in their new digs sometime, and let’s hope it’s not 22 seasons before that happens.