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Posing in my new Pats gear.

They are two venues well-known to New England sports fans. I lived in Vermont in the 1990s and picked up the New England Patriots as my team. Rather than try to make a connection with a California team when I moved there next, I just stayed with the Patriots. In 2003 I moved to the Boston area, and it was a whole load of fun when the Patriots won the Super Bowl that year and again in 2004. These days it’s popular to not like the New England Patriots, but back when they were still new winners, many people were wildly enthusiastic about them. It was fun that a team I had decided to follow years earlier were now superstars.

And Bostonians…well…they are a sports city like I had never seen in my life.

I learned this in 2004 while picking up a second New England team, the Boston Red Sox. The American League Championship Series began frustratingly, as the Red Sox lost to their rivals the New York Yankees, one game after another. The series score was 0-3 when the fourth game began, and while we loved our Sox, we were admittedly half-convinced that night would be the last of the series. But it was not. The Sox turned it around, and kept it turned around. Our minds were blown when the Red Sox won the next four games and THEY were ALCS champions. Against the Yankees, no less.

I had been watching the games with my boyfriend and we had been yelling and cheering at the television screen ourselves. During one of the last games in the series I had to go outside for something, and was outside when the Sox scored. The whole neighborhood erupted! I could hear cheering from houses on all sides of me. That was my first clue about Boston and baseball.

Next up was the World Series. In October 2004, the Red Sox entered the series with a really jazzed up fanbase. Games one and two were on the weekend, and our excitement grew when the Red Sox won both of them. I was back in classes for the Fall at Brandeis University, and couldn’t be home to watch the beginnings of the remaining games. Most other people had to work, too.┬á Again, I saw evidence that the whole city was the audience. Game 2 ended at midnight and Monday morning I got on the train and saw my usually-friendly and chipper friends all sprawled out on the seats asleep. Up and down the train, on all the cars, red eyes and saggy pale skin greeted me instead. People protectively clutched travel mugs of coffee.

Pre-superfast cell service, nobody knew what was going on while we were on the train. It was an hour and a half ride from the Brandeis/ Roberts stop to the end of the line, and before the game we huddled together in agitation comparing notes of what had been happening right before we left the office or the computer to get on the train, or what the spouse had said on the phone just before boarding. By the third game, on Tuesday night, someone got wise and brought an old transistor radio. He brought a handful of aluminum foil and taped it up to a window and stuck the antenna into the foil, then turned up the volume and bent his head down to the speakers to hear the announcer above the rattle of the train. The game started before we got home, and this man called out the action loudly enough for the whole car to hear.

Someone took it upon himself to run to the adjacent cars and announce the latest score. In fact, this is how I found out the radio was on board. I was sitting in an adjacent car and heard the announcement. I was not the only one grateful to get the shouted news. When I learned it was a friend who held the radio, I moved into that car.

Once we got home, we could watch the end of the games that lasted well into the night, and it took a toll on us. The Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals and by Thursday morning after game four we were wrecked. I can’t remember how late all the games went, but we were not getting enough sleep. After all that excitement it took awhile to wind down and then sleep. And moments later our alarms got us all out of bed again so we could get to the train on time.

Wrecked, but so happy. It was a big deal because it broke the Curse of the Bambino. After 86 years, the Red Sox had finally won a World Series. There were so many tired but blissful smiles on the train Thursday and Friday. I wonder if anyone has documented the lack of production in the city of Boston that week.

Let’s talk about 2019 now.

Will bought us tickets to see the Red Sox play at Fenway. On the way up to Boston from Rhode Island, I asked if we could stop at Gillette Stadium, the home of the Patriots. I bought a T-shirt because my old game day T-shirts were getting pretty worn out. Then I posed on the grass. I had to sit on the ground because I wanted the shot to look like I was actually on the field. I’m not. It’s just a patch of turf outside the store, made expressly for silly tourists like me.

Gillette Stadium opened in 2002 in Foxborough, Massachusetts

I love my team ­čÖé

We then headed up to our hotel just blocks from Fenway. We had splurged for a hotel close to the park so we could just walk there. We checked in, dumped our bags, and headed over.

We joined the other fans on their way to the ball park.

Panoramic view of the whole field and the Air Force personnel lined up to support Memorial Day honors.

A big flag is unfurled as we all took time to honor those who died while serving the United States Military.

Will and I found our seats and settled in to enjoy the Memorial Day honors. Multiple veterans appeared, and multiple family members were honored while the stories of their lost loved ones were told. There was one person honored for dying “from Agent Orange,” and I shook my head. Of course I respect and appreciate the Vietnam Veteran who died. I just wish the US didn’t continue to perpetuate all the fear and myths surrounding Agent Orange – the herbicide dropped to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam. I could go on and on about it, and I won’t. Just please don’t buy into the hype. The government used waay too much herbicide, and it had health impacts. Your diabetes mellitus II is most likely due to your lifestyle, however.

The game was fun and our team won!

Players took to the field on a beautiful Spring day.

It was a good game for the Red Sox and their fans.

The downside to being a woman.

At Fenway for the first time!

This guy was selling Del’s Frozen Lemonade, a Rhode Island tradition.

People began leaving early after it looked like a Sox win was bound to happen. We stayed for the whole thing.

We hung around after the game and explored the seats above the Green Monster: the big giant green wall seen in the panoramic photo above, and the wall behind the US flag. Then we walked back to our hotel in the warm night. On top of the building was a patio where we got drinks and watched the sun go down over Boston.

View of the field from the Green Monster.

A Boston landmark that always makes me think of the Red Sox.

View of the city and the lights at Fenway left of the city skyscrapers.

A great place to watch the sun go down.

Providence Park before the last Timbers home game.

Providence Park before the last Timbers home game. The Timbers Army is already on their feet and cheering, as the teams warm up.

I was invited to my very first Portland Timbers game last weekend. The Timbers are a soccer club in Major League Soccer. There is a waiting list for Timbers season tickets, and most of the individual tickets are already sold out for the year. Because of this, getting invited to the game was a pretty big deal.

However, that’s not the reason I was thrilled to have a chance to attend. We all know the game is called futbol to everyone else in the world, soccer to those of us in the U.S. I bring that comparison up intentionally, because here we do something else that is common around the rest of the world, but rare in the U.S.: Portland hosts some ferociously enthusiastic soccer fans. They call themselves the Timbers Army. I had been invited, not merely to the game but to join the Army, and it was an opportunity to experience┬áultimate soccer fandom. The Timbers Army is kinda famous. I read about them in Sports Illustrated in 2009. Yeah, a story about the fans.

So we go, and we sit in the north section of the stadium where the Army has taken over. Thirty minutes before the start of the game, the Army section is already packed, people cheering, flags waving, and the rest of the stadium has barely begun to fill up. You can see this in the photo at the top: a clear line of delineation between regular fans and the Army.

Let me take a tiny step back from the scene for a second. My degrees from Brandeis are in cultural anthropology. Even before that, at College of the Redwoods in northern California, I had studied cultural anthropology, and over the years gained experience in conducting ethnographies. This is when you, an outsider, try so hard to understand a community that you actually join them. You do what they do, in their environment, in an attempt to gain their perspective. While I stood there in the stands at Providence Park, surrounded by roaring and chanting and drumming fans, I was constantly thinking of ethnography. The group is rich with things to study.

First of all, the chants got my attention. Listen here as they yell “When I root I root for the Timbers!”

You’ll also notice both hands go in the air, in a sort of genuflection. However, the position of the hands can be a little tricky. As a friend explained to me at one point, “You have to make sure you’re holding your beer in your right hand during this one, because you don’t want to be doing the Nazi salute.”

When I root, I root for the Timbers!

When I root, I root for the Timbers!

When the opposing team came onto the field, everyone pulled out their keys and shook them. The message: Go Home!

When the opposing team came onto the field, everyone pulled out their keys and shook them. The message: Go Home!

Down in front of the stands are the capos, like cheerleaders, who get the crowd hyped up, on their feet, and howling in unison for over 90 minutes without ceasing. Everyone around me knew every song by heart. There are particular songs sung at key points in the game, according to action on the field or minutes on the clock. Fans sing songs and cheers borrowed from futbol around the world, and the ensuing roar is nearly overwhelming. They do not. stop. yelling. Not for the entire game, and for some time after it is over and the teams leave the field. Fans immediately call out players faking injuries, rolling around on the ground. They see error in every single call by an official against a Timbers player, and justification in every single call against the opposing team. They see unwarranted aggression whenever the other team gains an advantage. They scream with approval when their own team does the same. Put it all together and the energy is outrageously fun. And loud.

There are so many rituals that I couldn’t keep track of them all. Key to so much of it are the scarves, worn by nearly every single person in the stands (I was able to borrow Tara’s and thus had my uniform). The scarves say Timbers Army on one side and No Pity on the other, and are held into the air in unison to send the appropriate message. ┬áSome cheers require scarves to be flipped vertically, some call for spinning scarves, sometimes we only had to hold them up to display. The scarves also come in handy when a smoke bomb is released after a goal, and you need to cover your mouth and nose.

The tifo went up early in the game. On this night it was a call for domestic abuse awareness.

The tifo went up early in the game. On this night it was a call for domestic abuse awareness.

Flags and smoke in the air.

Flags and smoke in the air.

Another fun ritual after a goal is when Timber Joe saws a piece off a huge log. After cutting the slice, Timber Joe passes the wooden disc through the crowd so people can touch it. At the end of the game, players lift the discs while the crowd erupts.

Timber Jim cuts a slice each time the Timbers score.

Timber Joey cuts a slice each time the Timbers score.

Here, Jim hauls the wooden disc through the crowd so people can touch it.

Here, Joe hauls the wooden disc through the crowd so people can touch it.

They borrow a lot from European futbol fans, including the tifo, which is a big visual display of support from the people in the seats. It’s often done with cards, with flags, and as you see here, with an enormous banner. People have drums and trumpets (I was waiting for vuvuzelas, and surprised not to hear any). The flags are waving constantly, also seen in the photo. People brought in green and white paper streamers, and thousands of people gratefully took programs and brochures at the door, and began tearing them into pieces. I saw all around me hats upturned in laps, filled with torn paper, and pockets being jammed with paper, and it took a long time but YES, you guessed it: confetti filled the air at the first goal. In minutes, people swept up much of the paper in the stands and filled their hats again, awaiting the next goal.

Oh, yes, and there was a soccer game too. Portland is in red, against Salt Lake City in white.DSC_0440DSC_0443

Timbers lined up for defense of a penalty kick

Timbers lined up for defense of a penalty kick

Ball is in the air (a white smudge above the A in Alaska) and Timbers goalie has his eye on it.

Ball is in the air (a white smudge above the A in Alaska) and Timbers goalkeeper has his eye on it.

The game was tied in the end: an odd end for me, since I’m used to games that require a winner. The Timbers failed to make the most of an extraordinary advantage, when the Salt Lake City team was down one player (11 vs. 10) for much of the game, and down two players (11 vs. 9) for several minutes at the end. We only managed two goals (not counting the beautiful one at the beginning of the game, which didn’t count due to a penalty). It wasn’t for lack of trying, as the marquee pronounced 26 attempts in the second half of the game alone.

Twenty-six attempts vs. seven

Twenty-six attempts vs. seven

One final ritual was when wives of the players brought their children out to them for the closing ceremonies.

Ned Grabavoy and his little ones.

Ned Grabavoy and his little ones.

Nat Borchers claps while holding his boy.

Nat Borchers claps while holding his boy.

Ok, if your interest is piqued, you’ve got to see the following video from The Daily. It’s only 4 minutes and does a great job of showing the fanaticism I’m trying to describe. Well done.

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