After seeing this post from Paul Sotoudeh on social media, we asked if we could republish it here, and he graciously agreed. Paul has been a member of the Screaming Eagles since 1997 and was the group’s president from 2007 to 2011. He’s been on the SE executive committee since 2001 and currently serves as the group’s gameday operations chair.
Sunday was bittersweet. The end of an era at a place I (and many others) spent the better part of the last two decades inhabiting and making our own. RFK Stadium was a special place for soccer for so many reasons, not the least of which was the culture we created as supporters both inside the stadium and outside in Lot 8.
It’s the culture we created. There were a lot of tears on Sunday - I may have shed one or two myself. But amongst the tears was also fear and anger that what we had at RFK is going away forever and that the “corporate” Audi Field experience will never be able to compare. I’ve read and heard lots of statements from friends and fellow supporters that they might go to a game or two to see the new place, but they’re never really going to be hardcore supporters in the same way again.
Change isn’t usually happy or easy. But again: the RFK culture is one that WE created. The pregame tailgating and the craziness in the stands and the halftime drum circles didn’t appear out of thin air. They were conceived, negotiated, worked on, and honed to perfection by a whole lot of people over a whole lot of years, and developed to take as much advantage of RFK’s strengths and limitations as possible.
Yes, the D.C. United front office back then was particularly open to supporter culture. But people like Screaming Eagles founder Matt Mathai also made that so by proving to be trustworthy and able partners – supporter leadership clearly motivated not by self-interest but by the growth of the team, the league, and the sport. They could go to the front office, suggest something, and have it be clear that the aim was a mutually beneficial result. And no one, including the current front office, walks away from that.
Getting to where we were at RFK took years of work. Mathai’s influence in creating the blueprint all of us enjoyed until Sunday was titanic. The work to get back there, in a new place, with its own strengths and limitations, has to start now. No one is saying it will be easy. It might be harder than the work our founders had to do. We don’t know what Audi Field will look like, sound like, or feel like, so we’re entering the unknown. But if the people who helped make RFK what it became - and that includes every single D.C. United fan reading this right now – choose to walk away from the work to make the new place just as awesome as the old place, then I am 100% certain that it never will be.