By Anna van der Zwaag
I can barely name the emotion that has been coursing through my body the last few days. Anger and sadness are part of it but don’t paint a full picture. The Crew are my life’s blood – I bleed black and gold. I’ve gone through a box of tissues, sat up at night unable to sleep, ignored my homework to pour over Twitter and write this letter. I’m sitting here in class shaking with rage as I write this. But emotion is how fans experience the sport of soccer. Emotion is what brings us back to the stadium week after week, season after season.
I know that my words and sentiments are not unique – they are multiplied thousandfold by my brothers and sisters who stand by me week after week. My tears are their tears. My anger is their anger. My grief is their grief.
I’ve been attending Crew games since I was 8 years old – 16 years of dedication. I felt so honored every Saturday when my dad asked if I wanted to go. Yes, please! We started off with seats on the East side of the stadium until we got too tired of glaring into the sun, and my dad finally splurged on season tickets for the West side. Huzzah! Match after match, we’d try to catch the t-shirts flying from the cannons. We’d wait out rain delays. We’d wait hours in the heat to get signatures from my favorite players.
Year after year, hundreds of matches later, we had established a routine. We had a rehearsed number of steps around the plaza, pausing to listen to the live band and enter a raffle. We’d wind our way up the steps and walk around the upper deck, stopping for a while at the North end to watch the players warm up and practice our selfie skills. When we were feeling healthy, we’d do an extra lap around. After ten minutes or so, we’d find our way to our seats and settle in. Goal after breathtaking goal, we’d shoot up out of our seats, screaming, and together we’d high-five 3 times. Always. For each and every single goal. It was our routine.
Simple, but noteworthy. A pattern that has stood with me my whole life. When I went away to college out of state, my heart stayed in Columbus. It pained me to think of my dad going through the motions – doing our routine alone. That hurt. In 2015, I spent a year in Washington, D.C. doing a volunteer corps. I made $60 a month and I spend at least double that on seeing the Crew through to the MLS Cup final. I took a bus up and down the eastern coast to New York twice, and traveled home to Columbus multiple times to witness my team, my city, my league in all its glory. Despite the outcome of that final match, I remember standing in complete awe at what had been created in Columbus, Ohio – a soccer city. I cried not just for the loss, but for the wonder of seeing MAPFRE Stadium packed to the gills with each person standing the whole 90 minutes. Columbus had indeed become a soccer city.
I returned home from my year in D.C. for unfortunate reasons – my dad, my favorite person in the whole world, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colorectal Cancer. All of a sudden, each Crew game we had been to together became a more significant memory. And each game remaining became a vital memory to be made. He fights still and will continue to fight. But all too soon, it will be my turn to do our routine alone. I dread that day more than you can know. But I know I will be okay because I won’t truly be alone. I’ll have my Crew family by my side.
If I’m being completely honest, hearing this week’s news felt like receiving a whole new diagnosis – a new cancer that will take another family member from me. I tell this story to express how inextricably linked my dad’s and my story is to the Crew. Going to the stadium each week is like going home. It’s like wrapping myself in the comfort of a black and gold blanket. I need that comfort now more than I ever have before.
Glory to Columbus – for ever and ever.