Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Of Wasps and Stadium Pipe Dreams

Two weeks ago my "use my daughter as an excuse to get autographs from professional soccer players" tour flamed out at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Crystal Palace's last home game of the season started out fortuitously enough -- we arrived to see an entire section closed down by a security guard with insecticide spray attempting to quell a wasp rebellion triggered by the human invasion of their new home. And despite being strongly encouraged to cluster together in the middle sections by other concerned security guards, I traipsed the family over to the far end, where no one was seated after a quick scouting tour revealed no immediate presence of angry yellow and black winged beasts. A fine plan in theory, but one that crumbled in practice after my wife, dressed in sandals, stepped on a spot momentarily possessed by five wasps and was stung repeatedly. But she's a trooper and we soldiered on through thirty minutes of remarkably droll football until an ill wind blew and we ran like hell to evacuate.

So, an interesting thing happens when you're hauling tail to get back home from a third-division soccer match in the U.S.: you start to ponder what the hell you are doing. When not getting attacked by insect swarms prior to a deluge, you're at a high school football stadium listening to -- because there is no choice but to hear it -- a player that you once respected repeatedly drop the f-bomb in front of a crowd composed mostly of families with children (while, perhaps, watching with more interest the folks running the track behind you than the skirmish on the pitch in front of you), or you're staring up at a cavernous, crumbling, and ghoulishly empty temple of American football whilst ignoring the passionless display that has been presented by your side at another embarrassing CONCACAF Champions League match.

Goff's link to an article regarding a potential new home for Crystal Palace is, then, for me, of some interest. Because although we go see four different soccer teams on a regular basis, the only one that plays in anything even remotely approaching a real soccer field is our local university team at Ludwig Field. Each of the abodes of the other three squads -- DC United, Crystal Palace Baltimore, and Real Maryland -- feels decidedly temporary and do not instill great confidence in the future of professional football in the region.

The lack of permanence surrounding any of the three professional soccer clubs is difficult to understand and impossible to explain. The region has shown both an interest and willingness to support the game with sufficient numbers and full commitment. And, yet, none of the clubs have been able to convince local politicians that public financing and/or underwriting of a local club would be worthwhile. Nevertheless, of all the types of sports fields that franchises clamor to have built, soccer stadiums hold, without question, the greatest opportunities to build community. Before the unfortunate decision of Prince George's County's Board to shove a stake through the heart of a stadium within the county's borders, the plans for how the stadium would be used -- by DC United and the University of Maryland -- held great promise.

But, alas, it was not to be. Instead, we will head out to the gigantic disaster of a football stadium in Landover to catch the Real Madrid match on Sunday from the soulless club section, reminded again that whatever soccer we may be treated to today, may just as easily be gone tomorrow.

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