Sometimes you don’t realize you’re hungry until a breeze catches the smoke from a barbecue and startles you with an intense whiff of charcoaled meat. Suddenly, you can’t wait to chow down – on just about anything.
I imagine that’s a little how Sacramentans felt about soccer, or fútbol, depending on your upbringing. So starved for a club of their own that when one finally showed up, it was love at first sight.
Sacramento Republic FC played a home game for just the second time last Saturday night against the Orange County Blues. Even before the first kick, the club already had a fierce group of fans. A large group. Opening night on April 26 broke league records by selling out Hughes Stadium at Sacramento City College – its 21,231 capacity is almost twice as big as the largest crowd yet recorded for a United Soccer League Pro regular match.
For the second home game on Saturday, the crowd was smaller, but not by much. And the enthusiasm of this group made up for the few empty seats.
I was at the match at the invitation of a city college professor and hadn’t paid much attention to the details. I thought I was heading to a college game with earnest yet unpolished players. Hey, I’m new in town and would attend the opening of a door just to get out of the house on a Saturday night.
This is to say I was not expecting the scene when I walked through the tunnel and into the open stadium. It was a blustery, unexpectedly chilly evening, but still the stands were alive with crowds larger than the last Dodgers game I attended.
I gaped at the sea of maroon and tan shirts, scarves, hats and flags. At my right, a special cheering section, the Tower Bridge Battalion, egged on fans with banners and drums and some large structure that … is that supposed to be a bridge? It is.
How did this happen in just two weeks?
It didn’t take me long to figure it out. At halftime, we headed over to the concession area to buy T-shirts, motivated in part to obtain extra insulation from the increasingly brisk evening. About a million people had the same idea. The line stretched back comically far, even though sweat shirts and scarves had sold out. We stood in line anyhow; what else was there to do?
This is how I missed the Blues scoring their only goal of the night. I didn’t care. I was here to see the other side score. I had fallen in love, too.
Next Saturday, Sacramento Republic plays its third home game – against L.A. Galaxy II – and its final one at Hughes Stadium. (In June, the team moves to the much smaller but new Bonney Stadium at Cal Expo – a choice that seems problematic now in light of the large crowds.) I will be there – with several thousand of my fellow newly minted, but no less ravenous, fans.