Jay Sparks is co-founder of American Outlaws: Chapter 85 in Columbia and co-founder of CoMoCauldron, the Columbia chapter of the Sporting Kansas City supporters group. He works as a bartender at McNally's Irish Pub.
I hate running late. Early is on-time and on-time is late, my father always taught. And as I hustled down the stairwell in the parking garage I was verging on late.
I rounded the entryway and pushed the door open, a door I’ve passed through with almost an alarming rate of regularity for the last 16 years; a door to fun, to drink, to meetings, to work, and for the first time, I think, to speechlessness.
I’ve never fallen victim to a surprise birthday party, and Publisher’s Clearinghouse has never shown up on my doorstep. But I have to imagine that my reaction would be similar to what I encountered walking through that door.
Almost 300 people, reverently standing, in the midst of a quiet accompaniment of the National Anthem prior to a sporting event. Every booth and table full, almost every square foot of space filled with supporters of a bunch of guys halfway around the world.
My step faltered and my mouth hung open. The tears in the corners of my eyes would have left cool streaks down my burning cheeks. One my earliest compatriots in all of the build up to this moment raised his hand nearby and smiled. I had to concentrate to tell my facial muscles to smile back and for my lungs to breathe. He said later, “You looked like a proud papa seeing his baby all grown up.”
Somewhere near the end of regulation versus Belgium, with little to do as people had long since turned their eyes away from drinks and food to watch the stalemate, I pretended to take up my phone and thumb through whatever flotsam and jetsam of messages had accumulated there in the last thirty odd minutes. Instead, I looked over the top of my phone, and surveyed the crowd. Faces I knew well, that had searched me out in the beginning, four long years ago, and had cursed and cheered alongside me over that span of time. Faces I hardly knew, rapt to the glowing green rectangle and the emotions contained within. Nervous faces. Uncertain faces. Hopeful faces. I scanned along and my heart warmed to witness the sheer mass of humanity crammed together for this spectacle. It kind of hurt inside to be so proud.
At some point between Landon’s Algeria Goal, a 2-1 friendly victory over Manchester United, the Sporting re-brand, and the phone call three and a half years ago with the Cauldron to set up a Columbia chapter, I realized what I wanted.
(And if all of that sounds like gibberish, don't be alarmed. Suffice to say, a flurry of professional and national soccer activity in a short about of time totally tuned in my radar to the potential of its growth here in Columbia.)
Not a soccer bar (as a recent spate of media has suggested we’ve become). Not special favors from “soccer folk” (which I’ve gratefully accepted). Not even to be the “soccer guy” in town (which I’m not). What I wanted was to share this particular growing feeling with others because it was too big inside of me to fit anymore.
And I think … I think, I succeeded.
(And by “I succeeded,” let’s be clear. I was joined and assisted and surpassed at most every turn by people with more passion, more knowledge, and more organizational prowess than I will ever have. They deserve much more credit than I have time to type. But, thank you. For allowing and helping me to make this to be a real thing in the world.)
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