Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Best Team in the Land and All the World

Two years ago, I almost saw Manchester City play in America.

Rain during a Texas summer is rare, but there was so much of it in Houston in 2015 that the pitch was unplayable for a friendly between City and the Houston Dynamo. Joel and I found out the match had been cancelled right as we walked into the pub where a City meet-up was. Alas, City sent Mike Summerbee and Brian Kidd for a Q&A, gave us free drinks, and free merch.

Clearly, City cares about its American fans.

I had debated flying to Manchester to see a match, but funds dictated that I should stay stateside. Plus, I had heard of another City trip to America halfway through the 2016/2017 Premier League season. I chose my summer vacation days accordingly.

When the club announced a trip to the United States in 2017, I knew I had to see at least one of the matches. I decided to see the Nashville match against Tottenham Hotspur over the LA and Houston matches.

Though there would be a lot of driving (10 hours to be exact), Hope and I would have more time to do things in town and City-related events. Seeing Nashville again would be very special, as when I went there two years ago to see a show, I drove back hoping I'd find a special someone someday. I'm lucky to say I did, and she's into City.

But before we left for the country music industry town, our City group Blue Moon Dallas had a special visitor.

Braydon Bent is an eight-year-old diehard City supporter. After winning a contest -- where he did his impression of Sergio Aguero celebrating the 93:20 goal against Queens Park Rangers -- the kid has become a viral sensation, often appearing in videos for the club. He was on a promotional tour throughout the southern region of the country, stopping at various points along the way. Bringing the captain's armband that Vincent Kompany would wear at the Nashville match, many of us BMD folks got to meet Braydon and pose with the armband.
Braydon is a non-stop burst of positive energy. He has the kind of non-cynical, undying passion one can have for a professional sports team. He has charisma with people even though he's young. A joy to spend time with, and his father was a total gentleman, too. He mentioned to us that there was a welcoming sort of vibe once he walked into the pub we watch all of the Premier League matches. Further proof that Mark Mulv and his fellow co-founders have made something special.

Match day was on Saturday, so Hope, Joel, and I got in my car at a very early time on Friday morning and just drove and drove. I briefly thought, Boy it would suck if the match was cancelled as rain was in the forecast for that entire day, but a sunny sky was in the forecast for the match. But I then thought, if the match happened and I missed it because of that doubt, I'd really kick myself.

After checking into our AirBNB and taking a moment to relax and have some dinner, Hope and I met up at a late-night party where MCFC Nashville meets. As we pulled up, a handful of Spurs supporters caught an Uber in the parking lot, leaving a pub filled with City supporters from around the world, drinking, eating, and singing City songs. I tried to save my voice for Saturday, but I sure had some fun singing chants from City's past.
Saturday came. The sun was shining, vibes were good. Tottenham and City supporters were all over downtown near Nissan Stadium. Hope and I went to a City-related meet-up at the George Jones Museum, which is more sports bar than museum, and it was filled to the brim with people in sky blue, in addition to the country music tourists. We ran into Braydon and his father and they recognized us right away. Good times were had, but there was a match to see.

To save some money on parking and keep ourselves sane, we took a Lyft to the match. Our driver was a very enthusiastic man who knew the town extremely well, dropping us off at the stadium without having to sit in a very long line of cars. I had not been to a large American football field since the early 1990s, so to see the monstrosity that most NFL stadiums are these days caused me to step back and take in the awe of it.

Once we found our seats, I realized we were in for something extraordinary.
Sitting right behind the goal with many members of Blue Moon Dallas, and right in front of Joey McCune, the man who never runs out of banter or songs to sing, we knew we were going to have a good time, win, lose, or draw.

This area was designated for City supporters, as this was behind us.
Yet what was standing right in front of us?

These guys.
For some reason, almost every Spurs supporter I have come across is a bro. Meaning, beers in the Yeti cooler, constant high-fives, sports is life, and ALRIGHT, LIFE IS GOOD, BRO! While these guys (three in total) fit that stereotype, they had fun playing along with our banter and were surprised by our self-deprecating songs. Though they booed Kyle Walker (who recently transferred from Tottenham to Manchester City), we repeatedly sang, "He left 'cause you're shit/He left 'cause you're shit/Kyle Walker, he left 'cause you're shit." Seeing Walker lead the defensive attack, which frequently ran over the Spurs' offense, was nice to see.

A little over nine minutes in, we were about 20 feet away from John Stones knock a header into the Spurs' goal. The place was electric. Seeing players we've only seen on TV up close and personal was delightful. Seeing new keeper Ederson Moraes make some incredible saves, as well as an insane pass to Aguero, were some of the highlights.

City dominated Spurs, a club that is quite good and should do quite well in the Premier League this season. City seemed to build on the win they had over Real Madrid only a few nights before, making me think City has a really strong squad assembled for this new season. Anything can happen, so I'm not hedging my happiness in life based on rankings, trophies, or table positions. That said, it was nice to see City win in person.
Football is my favorite sport to watch and play. There was a long stretch in time where it was not for me, but after finding the right club because of belonging with its supporters, I feel welcome. No, I never saw City play at Maine Road. No, I didn't see City get relegated after winning promotion. But with supporting teams in other sports fields that have had great times and terrible times during my 38 years on this earth, being a City supporter makes sense.
The end result of the match was a 3-0 victory for City. Even the Spurs fans in front of us shook our hands, thanking us for a good time. We went back to the George Jones for a drink and cooling off period. The weather was wonderful, and there was a breeze.

Slowly making our way from downtown, we caught a Lyft home and decided to get something to eat. Before we stepped into a Taco Bell for a late-night dinner, I realized Nicoletto's, an Italian food joint co-owned by Braid's Damon Atkinson, was across the street. We ate there instead, briefly talked to some Spurs supporters who were from Texas, and even met up with Damon. It was great to catch up and to introduce Hope to him. A nice post-script to the last time I was in town, to see Braid play at the Exit In.
We got a lot done in that one day, and it was a day well-lived. We had a long day of driving ahead of us, so we got plenty of rest that night.

During the long stretch of endless trees, along with stops at gas stations and a Cracker Barrel breakfast, I was happy this all happened. International friendly matches are more advertising for the football clubs than anything else, but as a primer for the new season, it was wonderful.

Now to start plotting out a trip to Manchester.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Recently I had a long phone conversation with a friend of mine. Though we are not very close (we’ve had four in-person conversations so far), we ended up talking for almost an hour. I had originally contacted him for an article I worked on about his uncle, but then we talked about a variety of things about his band, their new album, and his recent move to California. That portion was not for the article; it was simply catching up on things in our respective lives.

When I got off the phone, I thought, Wow, it’s great to have an actual phone conversation with someone.

The following night, I got a call from a friend I helped out with his radio show a couple of years ago. Hadn’t talked to him in months, and it was good to hear from him. He invited Hope and me for a get-together, but we couldn’t come because of work schedules. But we kept talking and chatted about what all we have been up to since late last year.

Once again, I was reminded of what I can get out of a phone conversation that I can’t through a text or a social media post.

It’s not like I don’t talk to people on the phone in my everyday life. I talk to Hope on the phone when a private message will not suffice. I talk to my boss when there’s a work matter that needs to be addressed. And I answer an information line in my office as part of my job.

Yet when it comes to talking to friends and family, social media seems to be the replacement for a phone conversation. Granted, you can tell a lot of people what you’re up through a post on Facebook, a tweet, or an Instagram pic. Still, there’s a lot of stuff that has no business being on social media that is way more fulfilling to talk about on the phone or in person. Hearing a person’s voice goes much further than you might think.

As much as I’d like to talk to people more, I’m still held back by the concept that everyone is busy and doesn’t have time for chit-chat on the phone. A few pictures of a vacation posted online suffices for how someone is doing, how the trip was, and what else this person has been up to. Talking on the phone about that stuff would be redundant, apparently.

What’s weird about sharing tidbits of your life, especially on Facebook, is the fear of sharing too much or being too vague. A new parent’s lengthy, daily posts about a baby’s sleeping habits can be a whipping. Someone’s constantly cryptic posts that could be about a work matter, relationship issue, or a family problem: all too vague, seemingly out there for attention.

The stuff I talked about with these recent phone conversations is not really pertinent for a social media post. Not all of my Facebook friends or Twitter followers need to know what we talked about, as they were not meant to be broadcasted to a large amount of people.

What’s even more bizarre is that my parents, some of the biggest holdouts on social media, have slowly progressed into seeing what my posts show rather than picking up the phone. When things get misunderstood in the translation, then it’s time I call them.

I love what social media can do for bringing people together. But it’s no substitute for real friendship or understanding. I like to hear from people, especially if it’s not to plug something they’re promoting or selling. It’s really nice to just hear the words, “Hi! How are you doing?”