At The Beautiful Game

Chris Gardner

A tribute to the Union game experience

We run opposite the birds in spring, flocking south down to Chester. We rest under the Commodore's bridge to watch the Union play their game. And who will be anointed a hero today? As we round the turn, arms wave us in - half welcoming a long lost friend, half directing our wheels that roll like soccer balls over the stones. People idle through a dusty haze. The rolling wheels make the sound of popcorn popping, and for certain there is theatre nearby.

We stand together holding drinks, our sun baking each forehead. The structures, the river and the cargo, the sun. Children run and play the bouncing ball while the dust mingles. Crumpled shirts are goal posts. They make do. Out of the corner of our eye we watch for the spectacular, even among the children.

The coliseum dominates the skyline. We have borrowed those same arches from the ancient builders. That elliptical body of sport that fans have stared across these fields for millennium. The mouth opens to the sky - hungry, searching for competitors, with concrete teeth. The steel beams, its wrinkled forehead that will tell the tale of anger or joy. Deep in the belly, the athletes wait and stretch - their own bellies growing numb with anxiety that comes every week with the distant hum of the cars and the rise of the voices. Soon they will walk out to us and call upon their instinct. This instinct has become the sum of their life. The sum of their sweat. The feet will engage in a moment and there will be judgment. There will be a feast. Some will be eaten. Some might dine at the table of the ancients.

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Our heads grow tighter. The lot dust swirls from the ball with purpose, but then gives way to the breeze and floats away with us to times past. Old Chester Station - once the center of power, now a cavity in steel and cinder. Built before there were wars of the world, it stands a reminder of how quickly all goes forgotten. But not our desire to divide men into sport - that has lasted forever. That will last forever. Sport into men. Across the way the dust breathes into the workers of Chester Station as they stand, recovering from the first war. They are taking their break. Smoke and dust exhales through their noses. They stare up the Delaware at the bridgeless sky and speak of the great Bethlehem Steel Football Club. There was a player coming over from England. A long ride on a boat to play soccer, they say. Silenced all as their mind rides those different boats, with different purposes.

We come back to this moment, this space. Time is relentless and the cement mouth calls, angry for its prey. We all stand closer near the entrance. The boats roll down the Delaware carrying things we cannot imagine from places we cannot imagine. So we do not imagine, speaking of this and of that. We are inspected by strangers. This first tangible reminder that all is not right in this world of ours. That evil lurks. Not in us. But nearby. We are through and that is soon forgotten.

The beast that captivated us outside is now but a busy cathedral on the inside. Communion in the commons. We are reunited. We chant and sing praises to the Gods of the flatland that they might look kindly on us. Give us this day. We stand up and sit down. We rise in anguish together. We rise in joy. Our men in blue feel their feet upon the sole patch of living earth. Their instinct is to dance with a simple ball. Distance makes them small but they are larger than this place. They are growing larger and the concrete and this bridge and the ancients cannot contain them. Through our breath the collective will is passed to them as they struggle and dance and now we have completeness. Now we have Union.

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