Back now, all of them, to their local lives
...as the dismantled Show
Itself dies back into the area of work.
Let it stay hidden there like strength, below
Sale-bills and swindling; something people do,
Not noticing how time's rolling smithy-smoke
Shadows much greater gestures; something they share
That breaks ancestrally each year into
Regenerate union. Let it always be there.
The winter was a long one. In the time since last season ended and now, we’ve retreated to the distant comforts of our Premier League sides, and none of those are doing anything like what we expected (for better or worse). The roster has turned over almost beyond recognition, most notably in a new hand on the tiller, Patrick "V-for-Victory" Vieira. Only three of the inaugural starting eleven are likely to start come March 6th: Saunders, Mix, and Villa. Enough has changed that being a supporter of NYCFC in 2016 promises to be a qualitatively different experience than it was in 2015.
Not that this is a bad thing in every sense. There’s plenty about last season I left cheerily by the wayside "as the dismantled Show / Itself die[d] back into the area of work." Or so I muttered under my breath, shuffling out of the stadium for the last game of the 2015 season, a 3-1 defeat against a team going on to (slightly) better things. Around me were signs of anything but "regenerate union": a season that ended in disappointment bubbling over into incandescent rage in my section-mates; one short bearded man shouting, more sad than angry, more deflated than sad, "You’re bums!" The failure to reach the playoffs, the 50% loss rate, the eleven games without a win—that can all go ahead and confine itself to history where it can’t get us anymore.
But how will having any "history" at all, however meager, change what it means to support this team? For one, we’ll be done with the Year of the Historic First Everything (TM): the Historic First Set-Piece Goal, Historic First Totally Unnecessary Red-Card Tackle, Historic First Supporters-Group Squabble. It gave the good things the significance of greatness, but it gave the bad things a punishing weight. On one hand, nobody is likely to forget Villa’s first goal or the stadium after that first win. I think about it more than I feel comfortable specifying. On the other, when things fell apart, I have the feeling the pressure of newness made it harder to put them back together.
Now that’s done, the good and the bad—but it isn’t gone. The distinction is crucial. In terms of community, its hard to overstate the difference having shared experience like that makes.
This is more or less what Philip Larkin shows us in "Show Saturday." Of course, it’s almost comical to talk about the poem in the context of our city, and not just becuase it’s a poem about a kind of circus. It’s also that, whether he’s writing about Coventry where he was born or Hull where he died, the difference in scale is enormous. We can hardly say that the ramshackle structures of our weekly "Show" get packed away in the off-season into the backs of trucks: Yankee Stadium still looms over the Harlem River. But it’s certainly true that whatever brings people together in the stands retreats "below / Sale-bills and swindling" when we return to the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue. For the most part, we left the stadium, took off our hats, and went back to stealing cabs from each other. And, sure, that’s probably how it should be.
But now, when we arrive at Yankee Stadium, we’ll already know each other, and we’ll have all those Historic Firsts in common. When you ask what Larkin can tell us about life in the stands, you start to see that its simple recurrence is the basis of its communal power. The culture that began to develop last year, and which is the basis of what will remain intact over an offseason of changes, is the source of what we "share / That breaks ancestrally each year into / Regenerate union." It isn’t the "Show" itself that leads to "[r]egenerate union," but the annual return of the ancestral. In the same way, the first "Hey! Baby" chant will be so triumphant because of its combination of familiarity and long absence. Most important, it will reincorporate into a single mass the multiplicity of individuals, who for months have refreshed their Twitter feeds in isolation, waiting for team news. Returning to the same place makes an enclave of the "local" in a city where that can be so hard to find. The differences between New York City and a small town with a local club are able, momentarily, to be forgotten.
This might not be new for supporters of other clubs with more history. But for us, it’s the Historic First Time We Get to Do This Thing Again.
In an off-season when so much has changed, then, we have gained something: recurrence, the experience of a shared history (albeit brief). This is only gained because of what is retained, "hidden there like strength." And, to echo Larkin: "Let it always be there."
Every few weeks, Ninety-Plus of Blue discusses NYCFC's fortunes in terms set by one literary or philosophical quotation. It's literary aesthetics meets aesthetic football. The full archive can be found on our site.