It's Saturday night, July 28th, and my wife, a friend, and myself excitedly head to a DC United soccer game in their new stadium at Audi Field. I followed the saga of its development on Buzzard point for some years and tonight was the night I'd finally set foot inside. As a casual soccer player and fan I was personally excited to attend a soccer game in a stadium built for soccer - instead of football stadium turned soccer stadium that was their old stadium at RFK. Not only was I excited about the new stadium, but the recent signing of Wayne Rooney, the english football legend, meant that I was about to see one of the biggest names play the game.
Surely in the DC United box office somewhere someone watched our group and thousands like us filtering toward the stadium and gleefully noted that the new stadium and signing were having their intended effect. Soccer fans like me - who only rarely attended MLS games - were buying. I imagine I wasn't the only one. I wanted to be a part of this new chapter and see what all the buzz was about. Maybe I'd grab one of those official jerseys on the way out.
We arrive and the lines are long. No matter, we expect some hiccups along the way as this would be only the third game in the stadium's history. My wife and her purse, and my friend and his bag - their accessories noted for reasons that will become apparent - get in line and we shuffle 10 minutes to the front. I note the clean steel lines of the new stadium and wonder just how steep the walk up to our rows will be and how it will feel to bask in the glory of a goal in MLS's newest stadium. I pull out my phone, having pre-downloaded the DC United app, ready with the tickets.
Our hearts sink. A woman at the front aggressively points to a jumbo index card wrapped in laminate - and states that those with bags larger than this are not allowed access. "It's for security, " she says. We sigh and are a little surprised by just how restrictive its size is. We note how both my friends and wife's bag dwarfed the placard at least 4 times over. This is the first we hear of this policy and we protest. She suggests putting them in the car but we didn't drive so we had no trunk to stuff them into. "Go to gate A" she says - while waving us along. "You can check your bags there."
The line at gate A is longer than the previous line. Despite the delays we anticipate checking our bags in and making it to our seats just as the game begins. I squint my eyes past the gate and excitedly note that I can see some players warming up on the field. "Is that Rooney?" I asked myself.
Ten minutes later and another rejection. Wrong line. The bag check-in line is not here but over there. The there being the longest line we have seen thus far and most definitely not gate A. The line of fans and their friends checkered by bags and purses twisting by their side. We join the line, and like the many families, friends, and couples ahead of us holding family totes and Louis Vuitton branded ball and chains; all of us required to use a $20 locker service to keep our bags safely locked away.
My wife - known to express her disappointment - spends several minutes expressing it. Our frustration mounts. My enthusiasm now thoroughly diminished. I look around. No longer blinded by the glistening newness of the stadium I notice all around me a sea of frustrated fans who either because of the bag policy or lack of phone connection (you are required to use an app to get your tickets) cannot get into the game. We hear the star-spangled banner and subsequent kickoff within the stadium. The lines are still long and our denial turns to anger as we begin to realize we are officially missing the game.
We send a scout to the head of the locker line to understand what kind of rejection awaits us there. All lockers are full we learn. Short of hiding our bags in some drainage hole outside the stadium we are not getting in. We finally join our last queue of the night feeling hopeless and now desperate to at least get a refund for the $207 spent on tickets and fees. Our time is spent sandwiched between an obviously drunk woman who is unable to pull her tickets up on her phone and a considerably pregnant woman whose bag just slightly meets the requirement of security threat. We vent our frustration at anyone who will listen. How did this happen?
At last our humiliation complete: at the end of the line we our given our last rejection of the night. "No refund for you," the man says. "You bought your tickets from a third-party and our bag policy was clearly communicated on the website." Exhausted, our emotions move from anger to acceptance. Having been picked at for all we're worth, we limp away from the jewel on Buzzard's point as we hear a cheer rise triumphantly from the stadium - and Rooney scores his début goal.