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The Sporting Sauce Diaries #3: Criticism, Support, Dissonance, and Grace
In which I make an allegory, also yes I'm sticking with that name for this series
“We kneel at different altars / but we all desire the same / for someone else to seize the bow / to find the truer aim”
I did not attend the Sporting KC / CF Montreal match last Saturday. I was celebrating my birthday at a miniature golf restaurant. Rationally, this was the correct decision to make. I should feel like I dodged a bullet (though I think ‘dodging a bullet’ implies a closer metaphorical proximity to the bullet than there really was. There was maybe 15% of me that considered going out to the park, basically everything would’ve needed to fall through in order for me to have made the trip out there, so this was closer to standing fifteen feet away from the path of the bullet, like standing on the sidewalk while a good-old Western shootout took place), but I do not – a large part of me regrets missing it. It would’ve presented me with an atmosphere and aura I’ve never experienced at Children’s Mercy Park, which is enough, personally, to off-set the disappointment of seeing the team I care about losing.
This is why I didn’t even question missing out on the US Open Cup match against Tulsa Athletic on Tuesday: I’d either see Sporting KC win a game, or I’d be present for a historic upset (and thankfully, I saw Sporting KC win a game). I do not necessarily consider trips out to sporting events that result in a losing effort to be lost evenings, and this could’ve been the ultimate “it sucked but it was interesting” evening.
Children’s Mercy Park seemed to turn to a dark place on Saturday. “Vermes Out” chants were audible and signage with the same sentiment were visible on the broadcast, and testimony from those who were present reflected a sort of antipathetic lifelessness to the crowd, save for the critical chanting.
There is video of an incident in the members’ stand1 that has circulated since Saturday, one which has really intrigued me. The crowd had started to chant “Hey! Vermes! It’s all your fault!” in unison and the rhythm was picked up by the Cauldron’s drummers. A person, presumably a part of Cauldron leadership (from what I’ve seen, he’s either a current or former capo), walks up to a drummer, stops him from drumming, and repeatedly shouts “Are we really doing this?”
This is a rhetorical question (the answer to the question as asked, provided by many around him, was “yes”) intended to get the drummers and chanters around to question whether or not they, the Cauldron, should be chanting something critical of Peter Vermes. It seems to have crossed a line for him when the chant morphed from a purely fan-led chant to one supported by the drummers, when it turned from a mob’s displeasure to something actively organized and driven along by the drummers. It’s a philosophical statement, in a way – The Cauldron should not be critical.
I understand this, to some extent. The mantras of unconditional support is prevalent in our songs and chants: I’m Sporting ‘Til I Die, Where You Go We’ll Follow, No Other Club, et cetera, et cetera, so there is an incongruity to us turning critical. We said we would only support, and yet, we are criticizing. We’ve lied, in a way. It is easy to say, and indeed I think we all want, to only be supportive, but the reality of putting so much of one’s emotions and finances into a club only to see them give up easy goals to Bryce Duke and Matthew Choiniere drives one to weakness. We go against our own mandates, personal or otherwise. Nobody feels good about it, nobody bought season tickets with the intent of going out to the stadium and feeling upset seventeen to twenty-some times during the year, and that dissonance should only highlight how bad things are when the team’s most devoted followers have turned discordant.
We are free to do this. We, as people who paid for tickets to be here, are allowed to be discordant. With the purchase of a ticket, there is a lot that one can do. There was a guy I met at one game who bought a ticket for the right to enter, and used that right to smoke a joint in the bathroom and get scolded by a middle-aged man in said bathroom.2 We, as fans, are bound by nothing but personal honor to be only positive, only supportive, there is no rule against us being upset about this, we are allowed to be critical, it’s just a breaking of a personal code.
I think this is the main philosophical divide we've seen acted out here: The guy here believes that the Cauldron isn't supposed to be critical in any sense, and those surrounding him do not hold that belief. The Cauldron, in his eyes, is akin to the Soundwave Marching Band, or the Dynamo Girls, or the Columbus Crewzers, or those guys with the Muskets out in New England, entities hired and installed by the club and thus honor-bound or at least contractually-bound or at least it would be in bad taste for them to be critical of the team's performances. We are not bound by anything like that. As a bystander in the video states: We pay to be here.
We are bound only to support by our words and the honor we apply to that, but we are human, fallible, faulty, prone to proving ourselves as liars and sinners, when something as irksome as losing to the 28th place team in the league on two separate occasions is to happen.
Sinners as we may be, there is but one to whom we turn in these moments. There is but one who will always, always support when we turn critical. When the acridity of these uninspired performances chokes us, when the smell of a wooden spoon brings us to our knees, he will remain infallible, he will provide the unwavering, contractually-bound support that we wish ourselves strong enough to bring without question:
We are walking on the proverbial beach right now, watching scenes of Sporting Kansas City moments in the sky above us. We see the Dom Dwyer goal against Houston, we see Jordi Quintilla's penalty against Philadelphia, we see Seth Sinovic sliding in the rain against New England, and we see Sebastian Blanco’s goal, we see Saad Abdul-Salaam’s penalty hit the left and then the right post and bounce out, and we see Alecko Eskandarian clearly punch the ball out of the air… but now we see the scenes of 2023: The two penalty saves in Dallas, and 100-some shots on target saved, and Ben Sweat overcommitting and giving up a goal, and a heavy Khiry Shelton touch, and Jordan Morris scoring, and Jordan Morris scoring, and Jordan Morris scoring, and Jordan Morris scoring.
We look back at the sand behind us, and at points we see two sets of prints, and at others we see only one. Unlike in the poem or proverb or whatever you call it, it is very clear to whom the single set behind us belongs: They are huge pawprints of a bipedal man-sized dog,3 so there is no question there. We don't have to ask him where he was during our darkest moments, and he wouldn't answer anyway as he's a mascot dog man sworn to silence, but we know it is at those moments that Blue the Dog carried us, and it is now that he is carrying us.
We can and will falter, waver, in our support. Blue the Dog will not. Blue the Dog will weather the storm, he will support in our place until we get back collectively to the point. He will show us grace, and when we get back to the point when we're ready to cheer again, he will show us grace, he will high-five us and take pictures and have to make some sign like he's full when I offer him a Guy's Hometown Pretzel. For now, let us allow ourselves to sin, show our displeasure where we see fit, knowing our savior Blue the Dog will offer us grace.
For clarity, I’ll need to use ‘The Cauldron’ to refer to the supporter group and ‘member’s stand’ to refer to the physical location where members of The Cauldron reside during matches
The man’s scolding will echo for eternity in my mind. “Are you proud of yourself?” he asked.
For the Eskandarian handball it would be the huge talonprint of a bipedal man-sized dragon