Ten years ago in New York City

Photo: 215pix

There used to be a bar on the Lower East Side called Fontana’s. It’s not there anymore, like most rock bars in most cities these days. Even its website is gone, wiping the entire space and its shared internet history right off the map.

In the basement of Fontana’s was a cramped but quaint performance space: a small bar on the right as you walked down the stairs, a few stools on either side, and a stage just big enough for a drum kit and three people to hold guitars.

The only reason I know about this is because, in another life, I used to play gigs there with my band.

One of the last gigs we played in that basement before we broke up and the venue vanished was on April 10, 2010.

The other thing that happened that day was the Philadelphia Union’s inaugural match.

Match Day 1

I didn’t plan on missing the first Union home game of all time. Of course I didn’t.

I had my Sons of Ben membership (member #107 back then) and was given a Union kit for Christmas in 2009: I was as authentic and real as they came, so I thought. At the very least I was an early adopter, and this was before playing FIFA was even cool (and I played a lot of FIFA back then). The team existed in my mind as my own personal version of the joke: “How many hipsters does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”

The answer to that joke of course is, it’s a really obscure number, you’ve probably never heard of it.

Mine went like this:

You’re really a fan of the MLS? 

First of all, it’s not THE MLS, and second of all…

I was a bit younger than I am now, 10 years or so, and fancied myself a rock star. So, as any somewhat irresponsible rockstar might, I didn’t actually process the fact that the gig and the game were on the same day until the weekend was upon me and by then it was too late. The privilege of youth, as it were.

Thus, I had to choose between two passions, and frankly there wasn’t much choice: the game could go on without me but certainly the gig couldn’t.

I suppose there’s a universe where I might have been able to go to the game and then haul it up to the City for the show. That sounds like the rockstar thing to do doesn’t it? In reality, the Union game started at 6pm (at least according to this account) and we had to be in the City by 6pm to load in so we could sound check at 7pm. The first band went on a 8pm, and if you threw in a bite to eat somewhere, there wasn’t really much room for error.

We could’ve bailed on sound check and the other bands I guess, but we were trying to play music and be respectful… and, I’m nothing if not pragmatic. Well, I’m pragmatic and chronically early, particularly by musician’s standards, and I have unwieldy bouts of travel anxiety on even the clearest day,… and you never know with New York traffic.

My suspicion is we probably needed to leave at 4 to get there at 6, but like wheels rolling at 4, I’ll be there at 3:45 so we can leave at 4, leave at 4.

Indeed I was.

Who needs tickets?

I was dating a girl at the time this happened.

Well, dating is a strong word. This was deep in Year 5 of my nearly decade-long foray through the muck and mire of online dating, and as anyone who has ever participated in this medium for personal connection can tell you, the bar is low for what qualifies as quality interaction. In the relationship spectrum that has “Married” on one end and “Simply aware of in the Universe” on the other, I was in the “Emailing outside the app and met in person more than once” phase.

So, “dating.”

I had gone out with this girl several weeks before the 10th and was doing everything in my power to salvage an obviously fading relationship. Despite some chemistry, she’d neither seen me play music nor been to a professional soccer game and had only really shown genuine interest in the latter.

I thought, Maybe if I give her my soccer tickets, she’ll have such a good time that she’ll fall in love with the beautiful game, then subsequently me because I was the one who furnished the experience in the first place, and we’ll end up together.

That seemed logical at the time, but in saying it out loud now… love is irrational after all.

In truth, I split the season tickets that year with an old college friend who of course wanted to go to the game. The first Union home game of all time… Of course he wanted to go to the game and of course he had dibs on my seat if I didn’t want it.

Of course.

So he got the tickets, as well he should have, no questions asked (other than, Oh, I was going to give them to this girl I know if you didn’t want them… you’re sure you want them then? Ok).

“This girl” wasn’t going to drive to New York to watch me play music, she couldn’t even be bothered to meet me in person in this city let alone another. Nor was she going to use my tickets (thanks to my friend), sit in the Sons of Ben, and fall in love with soccer while also missing me so desperately in the moment that she fell for me too.

Saturday, April 10, 2010 was simply going to be a day in which I played a gig, did not watch a soccer game, and did not have any meaningful or personal interaction with the girl I was trying to see.

Again, this seems so obvious now.

I found out later that she used someone else’s tickets, sat in the pre-River End with the rowdy Sons of Ben, and had a notably great time. It’s unbelievable, I know, but I don’t think she ended up with whoever sold her those tickets either. So six of one, half dozen of the other for me and that guy too.

The show must go on

Success as a non-famous rock band is having people show up to your gig that you didn’t personally invite or who aren’t personally related to you. Right now any musician reading this is nodding his or her head. Though the crowd was small, we had a successful night that night.

In the moment, I forgot about the Union game to be honest. There was too much else to worry about. The Union had themselves a successful night too of course, taking all three points from rivals-to-be D.C. United. No one in the stadium worried for a second about missing my gig at Fontana’s.

I didn’t find out the score of the game until the next morning as there was no Twitter feed to follow, no smart phones in the band, and even getting text message score updates (which we thought was some incredible tech at the time) was limited at the time to the teams in the traditional “Big Four.”

Though the home Astros scored 5 in the bottom of the third, they stayed winless on the year losing to Jamie Moyer and the visiting Phils 9-6.

I don’t really enjoy watching a game to which I already know the final score, so there’s a real chance I haven’t watched this match in its entirety. That’s kind of sacrilegious in some ways regarding the authenticity of my Union fandom. I mean, I’ve seen the goals of course (though the first one is special, the second one is truly an all-timer).

Both this gig and this match, and these days live music and live sports in general, seem like a lifetime ago. Today is the 10th anniversary of both events and this is how I’m celebrating. I hope someday I can be a part of both again too, and even though I know that’s a real future, it still seems like a very far-off one.

So, that’s my story.

Got an interesting Union story? Use the comment section below to tell us about it.


  1. OneManWolfpack says:

    “Success as a non-famous rock band is having people show up to your gig that you didn’t personally invite or who aren’t personally related to you.” – having played/play in a band… this is all too true.
    Like you I’ve been there from the get-go. Not an SOB, but a season ticket holder. I was at this game you unfortunately missed. I remember thinking the place wasn’t that full, but then realizing VP Joe Biden was holding it up for so many people trying to get inside. What a mess. There were people waiting on the steps (that face the WFC) of the Linc, chanting and yelling they were gonna miss kick off. A logistical nightmare. All is well that ends well tho and LeToux became an instant legend.
    Also… love the All 3 Points pod!

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Thanks for the support! We’ll be back soon enough.

    • HappilyRetired says:

      I remember it well.

      My wife and I got stuck in the Biden lines — everyone had to pass through a metal detector, which slowed things to a crawl — and we didn’t get to our seats until halftime.

      We missed the first Union goal, but could tell what had happened by the roar of the crowd. There were celebratory fireworks at that time as well, if memory serves.

  2. good story.
    i was a johnny come lately. got excited with the city getting a team but no one else i was close with was interested in attending a match. my exposure to MLS at the time was a young stud on DC United who appeared on a soup can i worked on. that was it. rooting for United was like rooting for ManU — just wasn’t gonna happen, despite my interest in the domestic league. although i watched a few games, it wasn’t until the next season when i finally got down to Chester did i get hooked.

  3. Must hear one of your originals Chris. Or at least post a link to the band’s myspace page…

  4. I remember watching the live cam they positioned on a beam when the stadium was being built. My bride got my son and I a 5 game pack for the inaugural season. In the years since I haven’t missed 5 games! Well…till now. Thanks Chris! Stay safe everyone!!

  5. Well, let’s see… I still have a “non bimbo” jersey, a set of drums and congas that I’m playing a lot these days (albeit in the basement and not NYC)…and… my autograph from “Ale the First” (Moreno, that is….first assist to an assist in Union history). Does this count? 🙂

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