editor’s note: this submission is from @namocat.
I looked up as we entered Keyworth, realizing for the first time just how large the gathering storm clouds were. “You might get that first rain game you’ve been wanting after all,” I joked to BeyondTheFail, pointing at the sky. “It looks pretty bad up there.”
“It’s not going to happen,” MentalAbsence said. He’d driven from Ann Arbor to support City; for him the match wasn’t just about playoffs or the #1 spot, but gloating rights over coworkers who had chosen the wrong side. “I’ve been watching the forecast, and the odds have been going steadily down throughout the day.” I wasn’t convinced, but I also wasn’t concerned. I’d stood through 90 minutes of rain at the Lawrence Tech game before the season started; a little rain wasn’t going to bring me down.
At the three minute mark we felt the first drops. By minute four, it was starting to come down. Minute five would never come that night. At 4:51 the lightning strikes stopped the clock, and all hell broke loose as the rain poured down. For the people on the family side it was the end of the night; a time to go back home, maybe change your shirt, and catch up on some Netflix. We weren’t on the family side, though. We were the Guard, and we couldn’t leave until the officials called it off. The lightning couldn’t stop us; the storm would rend the fabric of reality before it could destroy our enthusiasm. If time wasn’t obligated to follow the rules, why should anything else?
The songs continued. The chants persevered. You couldn’t do much for the smoke, but the air was thick just the same. There wasn’t a ball on the pitch, but that didn’t mean your eyes could take a break- signs of what the FO was doing, cues from the capos, the occasional lightning strike all demanded attention, shaping hopes, dreams, energy. And then there were the puddles. First a few small ones, then some larger ones, slowly connecting to each other until Keyworth began to resemble one of those shallow suburban ponds more than a proper field.
“They can’t play on this,” Amanda told us from her capo stand. “It’s not safe.” Fair enough. But the Guard didn’t seem to recognize terms like “inevitable” whether they came from hated rivals or their own ranks, so the fact that cancellation was certain didn’t seem to matter. The songs kept going. We were still in the stands. At least one of the owners came out with his staff and an array of pushbrooms and squeegees, determined to shove the water out of the way while supporters bailed it out with buckets. I couldn’t say whether any of us actually expected this to work. The storm had slowed down but it wasn’t done by any means, and I hadn’t been exaggerating to call Keyworth a pond. Rather than get my hopes up, the whole thing just seemed to add to the spectacle- who ever heard of stopping a storm with a broom?
An hour into it, the madness seemed to set in as I started thinking about which parts of my clothing might be ruined by all this. (My belt, as it turned out.) The storm had seemingly shunted us into a parallel reality, a mirror universe where things that you would have never given a second thought to became tantalizingly possible. Several of the capo stands were vacated; what would happen if I climbed up on one to help keep the singing going? I decided not to find out; I didn’t want to set that precedent for everyone else, or risk being known as the one you had to watch out for. One supporter invaded the pitch, running around with a flag. Security didn’t seem to like that. Perhaps reality still had its limits.
Then Sarge called for a supporter 11 vs 11 match. I held my breath. Surely that could never happen. Could it? If it was ever going to happen, it would be these people, on this night. He called for it again. And suddenly, people were hopping over the sidelines, taking positions. Someone got a ball- I still don’t know how- and the game began, until security decided to red card the entirety of both squads.
The night wound down eventually. For the first time I stayed until everything was put away, then bid everyone goodnight as BeyondTheFail and I walked back to our car. Less than five minutes of soccer had been played, but we still had a great time and looked forward to the match resuming on Tuesday.
When I arrived home from work that Tuesday, I heard the storms begin again. No time to think about it- I needed to cook dinner so that we could get to Fowling and hang out. I’d just have to trust that things would work out and we’d complete the game this time. By the time we finished eating, the storms ceased; BeyondTheFail checked Twitter and saw the photos being posted of Keyworth having once again taken on water. We packed it in and drove to Fowling. 4:52 was not going to be delayed any further if we could do anything about it.
We parked, I checked my phone, and I got the summons to duty via Twitter DM. The match had to go on, and it was our job to make sure it happened this time. We marched to Keyworth nearly two hours before our usual time and waded in barefoot. The next hour would be filled with contradictions in my head: the determination to fix Keyworth mixed with the fear that the match would be canceled again; frustration whenever a puddle got too difficult to bail without the corresponding realization that it meant we were succeeding at our goal. The hypnosis of manual labor had me so focused on the next bucketful of water that I couldn’t remember where we had been five minutes ago or how much progress we’d made until much later, when looking backwards at the dry parts would break the spell.
Despite it all, I was in relatively good spirits throughout the experience. “We’re not going to need axes to chop down that tree- a bucket will do nicely,” I joked. No response. Maybe it was the humidity, maybe it was the timing. Later it came time to name the small lake we had created with our buckets. “Sad Noah’s tears?” Also no response. Maybe I’m not as funny as I like to think I am. Whatever, that isn’t why we’re here.
Eventually the buckets, squeegees, and brooms did their job. I set mine down and walked off the pitch, cleaning my feet as best as I could before walking back to Fowling, leaving BeyondTheFail behind at Keyworth. I met MentalAbsence at Fowling, folded some hymnals, and headed out to march. But it seemed that 4:51’s effects on reality hadn’t lifted yet. We only marched once per match, after all. You couldn’t get more than one speech from Sarge in the same match; fate itself intervened to make him late. We sang Dirty Old Town twice instead; afterwards, there was nothing fate could do to stop us from taking the rest of that second march. And then finally, the clock resumed. The moment between 4:51 and 4:52 was the longest a second had ever taken in my life; the fight had taken several days, but we had conquered that lightning storm after all, in our own way.
In the end the oak tree lived another day- buckets wouldn’t knock it down. After the match, you could feel how tired every player and supporter was, the weekend-long ordeal having demanded our full energy just to see the match to completion at all.
It was the first time I had watched City lose a game. And yet on some level, I’d never felt so victorious in my life.