I can’t get to every US game. I’ve got a day job, after all, and sometimes non-soccer travel gets in the way, like this past October, when all my pals were heading to Kansas City to close out this year’s World Cup Qualifiers, but I was off to Pittsburgh for a wedding.
Our pals Doug and Tanya from Des Moines were in town the weekend before, and I asked Tanya if she’d take some banners with her to serve in my stead. I’ve done this before, loaning banners to friends traveling to games I can’t attend. Everything’s always come back safe and sound. “I don’t know,” Tanya said, “at Livestrong Sporting Park they do hang banners out of the way of the crowd.”
“It’ll be fine,” I reassured her, and sent her off with the Boxing Dolo banner and a brand new Herculez Gomez one I’d made specifically to sell.
Famous last words, huh?
I watched the game from home and saw the banners hanging from the upper deck, alongside the AO Des Moines one that’s made it mostly around the world by now. Afterwards, I get a text from Tanya: The banners are missing. I text back that they’ve probably just been misplaced, perhaps picked up by another American Outlaws chapter by accident. They’ll turn up.
The next day, they don’t turn up. I put out the word on Twitter, telling Herc his banner is missing, letting the various AO groups know two banners didn’t make it home. Like I said, the Herc banner was meant for sale, and, while I could repaint them both, that’s still a couple days worth of work missing. My pal Julie spreads the word to AO HQ, figuring the more people we have after them, the better chances we have of getting the banners back. Word gets out, tweets get retweeted, it’s like the Gardner Heist, only for soccer banners, and also kind of stupid.
While in transit to my cousin’s wedding, I get an email from Troy Diggs of the Fox affiliate in KC. He’s a soccer fan and wants to help the banner search by getting a piece together for the next morning’s broadcast. I tell him the story, and the next morning I wake up in an unimpressive Pittsburgh hotel to watch a clip of a morning news show in a city I’ve never been to talking about things I made that got stolen from a game I wasn’t actually at.
My life’s kind of weird.
The security staff at LSP promised to review the camera footage from that night; it’s not quite the zoom-enhance-look at this dude’s pores level you get on tv, but high enough resolution they can get at least some physical description. Julie got a photo of what appeared to be two people stuffing the banners under their shirts. It wasn’t looking like we’d get them back.
A week later, Julie gets an email from Chris Wyche at the Sporting KC offices. “We’re halfway there,” he said. They’d identified the suspects via security camera footage, then tracked down their information via Ticketmaster. One banner had been returned, and the other was still in progress.
Ten days later, there’s a package on my doorstep, return address of Livestrong Sporting Park.
The Herc banner is damaged slightly–one corner got ripped out. It’ll be re-hemmed, and will be placed for sale as planned. The Dolo banner is just as it was, and will also be for sale.
But they’re back, and that’s what matters. Even if they hadn’t come back, I was blown away by how eager everyone was to help, how quickly everyone got connected. It’s a pretty great community we’ve got here in American soccer. So to Doug and Tanya, to Julie, to Troy, to Chris, to the LSP and KC staff, to all the AO national and AO KC crew who, as advertised, did not stop: