It’s been a hell of a weekend, but in the exactly opposite way I’d usually say “a hell of a weekend.”
I’m not saying anyone should live like I’ve lived. But in my life, “a hell of a weekend” could involve lost keys, or sleeping somewhere weird, or a call to bail out a friend, or a daughter’s boyfriend drama, or something more deeply strange … but generally, a voyage deep into the weird is not overboard with positivity, the world being the heavily-shadowed, fallen vale it is. But this weekend was both a hell of a weekend, and something truly beautiful: Our hopes, distilled, given and so given back to us; their good measure pressed down, shaken together, and running over.
In the last 48 hours the Northern Guard have danced and sang, sang and shouted, and all around us was love. We’ve partied through the deluge – our love unrequited – then, scarred but smarter, summoned all our bone thugs and whatever harmonies they offered to come good, finally, in our Waterloo, Lansing. After a stumbling, harrowing start, this edition of the Rogue & Gold are now just a result away from winning the conference outright, raising the possibility that, instead of scouring the internet for streams to watch the playoffs, we could be hosting them.
It’s important to remember, from the euphoric (albeit tenuous) perch on which we now find ourselves, where this club was less than two months ago. City had opened the NPSL season like the first act of a horror movie: Two draws against lesser clubs and a road loss to Ann Arbor had every warning klaxon sounding and every warning beacon flaring – we were in trouble, isolated, wounded, pursued by a feeling that we’d already blown it before we even knew everyone’s name.
And yet here we are, back where we thought we should be from the start, after all this sturm und drang. Nine is a row and counting, an incandescent conga-line of Victory dancing right up the mountainside, and the peak now in sight. It’s important to remember where we were before we were here, because we’ll be there again. Someday. Not today, though.
One of the persistent criticisms of the Guard is that we’re not sufficiently wired into the game, that we’re some kind of sideshow wholly independent of the soccer on offer. And, frankly, there’s times where I can see that criticism landing, usually through the happenstance of a really involving chant crossing over a smoke-shrouded something happening on the field.
Then came Friday night, with its dearth of actual soccer, to serve as that criticism’s ultimate refutation: For 90 minutes after the lightning, Northern Guard stood and sang, chanted and danced in an effort to get the boys back on the field in a mood to dominate – and within minutes of the announced postponement, the songs were over, the stands emptying, even though the rain had slackened.
Without the ceremony of gametime at its center, we’re raising a cone of emotional energy to do … what, now? Thankfully we had Alex Wright and his new fiancee (now wife!) to focus our delight upon, but the rest of the monsoon was devoted to the unspoken business of letting the boys know that, like us freaks in the stands, they needed to keep their game-faces on as long as there was any chance of handing Ann Arbor ass-whipping.
It was a remarkable demonstration of group will. The ferocity of the heavier waves of the downpour was astonishing, our songs accompanied by both the static crackle of water-on-water and the basso thrumming of millions of large droplets of water slamming into thousands of human beings. The world contracts to the people one can see, the rest greyed out like they’re being rendered on an outdated video card. We sang on; the drums kept pounding, but the capos became disembodied voices when the rain hit hardest. Every flicker of lightning brought low groans into the music.
Time swiveled and shifted. We’d been here forever and always would be. We’ve been here five seconds and already feel at home. Everyone’s always welcome because everyone’s already here, one becomes by simply showing up and everyone eventually shows up, so everyone becomes us eventually. No one likes us, except us, which means everyone. We hate everyone else, who is no one else, because everyone becomes us eventually.
Part of the price one pays for that bit of transcendence is ‘difficult sight-lines,’ which translates into singing while squinting through smoke and a thicket of hand-made flags to try to see the actual football. So, no, we don’t always see the big goal, or the hard foul, or what have you. And that means that sometimes we’re caught reacting to things a little slowly – but it’s not because we’re not paying attention. It’s that we understand we have a responsibility above and beyond simply observing the football – we’re the chorus of fallen souls, reminding the living players to press on, press on for City, whatever the score, whatever the weather, whatever whenever forever. And because of that, we simply had to do what we did Friday night.