Written by: Tony DeGenaro (@tonyisapoet)
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Let me tell you about the city you think let you down so badly that you’ve decided to let us down so badly. There’s a poem I became rather fond of when I was an English major at Otterbein College just outside of Columbus, Ohio. It was “The City in Which I Love You,” by the poet Li-Young Lee: a tremendous missive from the poet to a beloved, framed in the romantic notion of travel. To me, this was perfect: I so badly wanted to be rooted, not in place, but by an object of love. I loved Columbus, but I wanted to leave Columbus. You know the feeling, right?
I mention Lee’s poem because it came into my life around the same time as another substantial love of my life: Columbus Crew soccer. During one of the summers I opted to stay on campus to “work”, a dear friend (one of the editors of this very publication, in fact) gave me a ticket to see a match for my birthday. It was an August unlike the summer months we live through now: chilly and cool, tucked in the corner of the then unceremoniously named “Crew Stadium.” Today we are blasted with wicked heat, but back in those days, August meant fall was close.
Today, literally – not the wistful today of sweet memory – we are blasted with news. Bad news. You, Anthony Precourt, your own wicked name conjuring more ugliness than any profanity I could write in its place, have peeled back the thick froth of your false face to reveal your intentions to relocate the Columbus Crew, as if those two words could be separated the way you intend to pry apart a charter team from its home. A home that built our team its own soccer stadium, unique, the first of its kind in the United States.
Think about that: Columbus, a little city in the Midwest leading the vanguard of cultural change in America. You lied to us. We supported our team, we bought season tickets during years you did nothing to improve our experience. We came for passion, not for glitz. Leave the glitz in Silicon Valley where you people belong. But, as this is a letter, written with more care and consideration than the scraps you threw to the ticket holders you scammed into buying your lame duck season yesterday, I will reserve my pathos for elsewhere.
Nearly ten years ago, the team was so raw, so hot off an MLS Cup win. That single game is still one of my favorite memories of Columbus, and the beginning of the Crew’s inseparable relationship to how I perceive the city. I instantly became a fan. I went to many more games that first season with people I love, who love the Crew. The next spring, I became a season ticket holder for my last year in Columbus as a college student, and then the next summer, I graduated and left. Do you see that Columbus is a place where a college student, a barista saving money to move to San Francisco – a land you can easily afford – still managed to love his team enough to buy in?
Where are you in the cities in which I love you
In San Francisco, I was 2,454 miles away from the woman who I am going to marry the summer the Columbus Crew will play their home opener in Austin, Texas if you have your slithery way with our team. I was that distance, plus about 18 extra miles from Crew Stadium, which I know because my visits to Ohio always included pilgrimage to Crew games. Those trips were for the person I loved, who lived in the city I loved, supporting the soccer team we loved. In those days, everyone I missed from home cheered for that yellow soccer team.
Luckily, the Bay Area had its own soccer team, and my original favorite Columbus Crew player, Steven Lenhart. It was odd to see Lenhart wearing blue, and even more odd to see familiar faces wearing yellow so far away from the city in which I loved. Of my three years in California, I only got to see the Crew play in San Jose’s tiny stadium once. I had to ride my bike, take a train, and then a bus, and then my bike to the stadium. I’ll admit, it was much easier to fly back to Columbus for that much better environment to see a game. My point is: when you are so far away from what you are familiar to, you recognize not this brave new place, but the place where your body belongs. Your lack of residence in Columbus suggests that you have poor taste, and it suggests to all of us how hollow your assurances about your commitment to our city really was. Don’t bullshit a bull shitter Precourt, I told my parents I would stay in California to make it as a writer.
It was easier when I moved back to Ohio, into my little suburb of Akron. Now just a short drive from Columbus during spring & summer 2015, the only obstacle was not having a car. No problem the Greyhound couldn’t solve. Mr. Precourt, you may complain about our attendance, but did you consider how many fans will show up to Austin via the Greyhound to attend your games? I did in my now loved to death Glidden-patch Crew jersey. I also took that Greyhound from Detroit, when I moved there, to see games, to be back in the city in which I loved the Crew.
I’d do that again in a heartbeat, but I drive my own vehicle now. And like I tell the ticket sales agents every time they call, “I go to as many games as I can a year!” Can you imagine what I will tell them next season when we have to enact a charade where they are saying, “hello, I will be unemployed next year, would you like to hear about these ticket packages?” and I will have to say, “no, I am sorry, I no longer live near Columbus, but that is not why I will be ending my decade long commitment to spending money and time I can barely afford to drive/fly/Greyhound bus to your games because the Crew’s ownership won’t match the passion my friends and I have for his team.”
“Oh, okay,” I imagine they will feebly respond, wondering if the grass will be greener in the proposed space in suburban Austin, even further from a city center than the office they will cease to work in is from Columbus.
Morning comes to this city vacant of you
When I return to Columbus, what city will I be returning to? Surely the place you describe our city to be is not a place contained within the geographic walls of Columbus. It will break my heart to ignore next season, should it be the Columbus Crew’s last as the Columbus Crew. I cannot in good faith give you another dollar Mr. Precourt, and believe me, as my fiancé and I negotiate how to pay for our wedding, I am very, very aware of each dollar we’ve spent on the team you are stealing from us. I’m not going to destroy the artifacts I have collected from the Hunt-era, God rest his soul, and the image of his team you aim to tarnish. I will not say goodbye to my team from the Nordecke. How could I not meet the expectations you have prescribed to me, you villain: poor ticket sales, low attendance, unsustainability. Fine, I will not be sustainable. I will not support the MLS, not your fellow grifter Don Garber, not you, not any of it. Expand like a balloon hell-bent on rupturing, and when you do rupture, you and the morally bankrupt MLS, do not leave any of your snakeskin rubber on The City in Which I Loved the Crew.
Columbus will not be the same, nor will fans of the Columbus Crew. I return to Lee: I re-enter / the city in which I love you. / and I never believed that the multitude / of dreams and many words were in vain.
Columbus ‘til I die glares back at me, like a fraud, from a closet full of jackets, hats, and t-shirts. “Columbus ‘til I die” is only four words, not many, as Mr. Lee writes. “Columbus ‘til I die” is a multitude of dreams, the largeness of what they mean to my city, the people I love, the team I loved, certainly, are now vain, indeed.