You remember the Baltimore Bohemians, the upstart minor league soccer team playing its games in Charm City while wearing some uncommonly swagged-out uniforms. Joe Tirabassi, one of the Bohs founders (and designers of that awesome kit), will be keeping a diary of the Bohemians inaugural season for us. His first entry is here and his second is here.
Watching your team lose is what I imagine it must be like to watch your child fall. The Bohs are the closest thing I have to a child, and I've been watching them fall down a lot during a rough at the start of the season. Through our first seven games, we've gone 0-4-3. We're not getting blown out or outclassed, but the record is the record: we weren't exactly setting the world on fire. It's a painful thing, pride-wise. But we still need to sell tickets.
So what to do in this predicament? How to convince people to come out to watch a team that has yet to make a dent in the win column? Throwback Night, obviously—and not just because it has always been my favorite promotion at various games I've attended. The older fans wear their "I remember when" smiles; younger enthusiasts witness a spectacle heretofore unseen; there are, of course, the weird retro fonts and logos and such, which is a treat for those of us who enjoy that sort of thing. For me, it has always been even more fun when only one team climbs into the DeLorean, leaving the other looking goofy simply because they're stuck wearing uniforms from their own time.
So Throwback Night it was. We chose to honor the Baltimore Bays, a NASL franchise started in '67 by a man named Jerold Hoffberger, who just so happened to own National Brewing, the company that made our beloved Natty Boh at the time. They shared Memorial Stadium with the O's and the Colts, and even had their own theme funkified, drumbreak-strewn team anthem.
Despite the song, the Bays eventually folded like so many of the other teams of their day. The Bays name has since existed in various incarnations over the years, most recently as one of the most dominant youth clubs in the country, one that our coaches and many of our players have come up through and still have close ties with.
The old Bays (sorry) wore a gold and red strip with their numbers as big and as bold on the front as they were on the back. The placement of those digits may have been adopted from pigskin/gridiron football, because it's an unorthodox numbering alignment for soccer. As much as I love the damn league—and I really do—the NASL started a precedent in this country for garish soccer kits that we've been unable or unwilling to snap out of, even up to this day. The Bays kits were no exception, and if we'd lost in these gold and red numbers, the players would have wound up looking like a bunch of sad Ronald McDonalds, and Pagliacci in cleats kind of defines "not a good look."
And so we arrive at the problem with Throwback Night—you really need to win, or risk looking silly, in more ways than one. Luckily we got paired with the Westchester Flames, a club sharing the cellar with us at the time. We won handily, 3-1. More encouragingly, the team finally looked as though it was beginning to click, even if it also looked like the Baltimore Bays.
I went to New Jersey recently to see Argentina and Brazil do battle in a meaningless friendly at MetLife Stadium or the Meadowlands or whatever it is. Somewhere on the order of 80,000 people crammed into this bowl. Messi vs. Neymar. "Clash of the Titans," they called it. Two of the greatest footballing nations in the world. Two teams that turn every game into a spectacle. Two teams that exist very much at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Bohs.
But, beyond all that, these are two of the biggest soccer brands of all time. Every player on that field also hires himself out to other brands at various spots on the globe, regardless of their passport. This may sound bleak or reductive, but I think it's a point that too often gets lost. Teams aren't meant to be brands, although the bigger ones inevitably are. They're meant to be clubs—something you can be a part of, with members instead of employees. And that may sound too pollyannish, not bleak or reductive enough, but for the Bohs to work—as a team and as a venture—we'll need to get that sort of buy-in.
As silly as the gimmick of Throwback Night is, it was worth it just to hear some of the old timers reminisce about the glory days. These guys made a connection with that team. They were, collectively, a part of something. This guy was a ball boy, someone's brother played left back—these are things you miss out on with the major clubs. Hopefully those who have adopted us as their team can look back as fondly on this time one day, and maybe enjoy a reminiscence of it while someone else complains about how garish those Bohs uniforms were. We should really get to work on a theme song.