Football is played in venues throughout the world, each with their own unique atmosphere and character, from the historic grounds of England, where nostalgia and adjectives go to die, to the stadia of Italy, where spectators have entire sections to themselves.
As a relatively young footballing nation, the venues of the United States may not have the history and tradition of some of the grounds around the world, but they are slowly building it. However there is one ground that offers something entirely unique of any sports stadium in the United States and that is RFK Stadium in Washington DC where you can experience the thrill of third world infrastructure in a first world country.
Designed to fit over 60,000 people, it has been home to the Washington Redskins (the most racist name in world sports surprisingly doesn’t belong to a Russian football team), 2 baseball teams, 4 NASL teams, a women’s soccer team, World Cup matches, and currently DC United. Named after assassinated US Senator Robert Kennedy, RFK was designed in the early 1960s, when the design criteria for American sports stadiums was limited to “big and concrete.” Like many MLS teams of the past, DC United face the difficult of putting what would otherwise be respectable soccer crowds of 15,000-20,000 into a 56,000 seat monstrosity that makes it look like 20 people have shown up. Of course, they have another hurdle to overcome. After 50 years, this crumbling monstrosity is probably in about as good a shape as Senator Kennedy’s corpse.
Bits and pieces are falling off in the clubhouses, holes are opening up in the seating areas, and the chances that raccoons are developing a civilization underneath the bleachers could be described as moderate to high. When the Barra Brava, DC United’s lively South American style supporters group, jump up and down in their section to the chant of “El que no sal-ta Es un hijo de puta!” (“If you don’t jump, you’re the son of a whore”), the entire section bounces. While this adds a distinctly South American character to the proceedings in more ways than one, it also increases the chances that a sizable portion of DC United’s fan base might die if things get too exciting at RFK.
The general shitiness of RFK does add some fun of the DC United experience. The place is such a fucking dump that the team really does cater to the fans and supporters groups, because lets be honest, getting anyone to come to that stadium requires either commitment or a fair amount of work. Groups like the Barra Brava are allowed to get noisy and raucous to a level that is rare in American sports. Hell, they have drum circles on concourse at half time. Trust me, it’s a better way to spend half time than the way I do at the Ravens game, where I just stand in line for the bathroom and complain about the Ravens’ offense for 20 minutes. RFK’s crumbling infrastructure and the DC United fans do create a truly unique atmosphere for an American sporting event. It’s kinda like going to a monster truck show or a rodeo, except that you don’t realize you’re at a monster truck rally or a rodeo after 20 minutes and you might actually have fun the entire time.
However, its obvious problems are still there- being in a stadium that big with 15,000 people makes it feel like there’s 20 people there, you never know exactly what that wet sheen on the bathroom floor exactly is, and you literally don’t know when the ground is going to give out under you. If this was a just and fair world, someone would pay you to go to RFK instead of the other way around.
The really sad thing about RFK is if you go there, DC United have a passionate and involved fan base. The supporters section includes 4 distinct supporters groups, all of whom spend the whole game singing very loudly and waving gigantic flags. The crowds aren’t enormous or anything, but who could tell when they can sell 20,000 tickets and still leave the upper seating bowl empty. And you’d have to think that more than a few people who don’t bother going to games now might come out more often if they didn’t have to watch out for the crumbling debris or worry about the raccoon civilization under their seats. But hey, in the meantime, the football team in our nation’s capital gets to play in a stadium that would probably be unacceptable in the Ivory Coast. That’s something, right?