Jim Oliver, former President of the Dark Clouds, contacted us with this piece he wrote about Atlanta’s golden spike and asked us to share it on fiftyfive.one. We appreciated Jim’s unique view and way with words and were happy to oblige.
Lots of people in the town that I’m from hate Atlanta United for what I think are dumb reasons. They entered the league in the same year Minnesota United did, and Minnesota United hasn’t done much but suck, and Atlanta United seem poised to win MLS Cup tomorrow, so a lot of(Minnesota)United fans think (Minnesota) United should compare more favorably to (Atlanta) United, but they don’t and that makes them sad.
I think that’s ridiculous, given the different histories and markets and blah blah blah. Plus, I don’t get how you like soccer and still watch Atlanta and hate them. They’re super fun to watch (when they’re not embarrassing a team you actually like… did you see what they did to Minnesota in Minnesota? Jesus god), so just turn it on and enjoy. Be jealous, sure, but enjoy. The world is ending, smile where you can.
There is one thing about that club that drives me absolutely nuts, though. One thing that kills me every time I see it.
That stupid fucking railroad spike.
I don’t hate it because of the symbolism. Atlanta served a crucial role in American expansion during the early railroad era, and… cool. Clubs need symbols and I don’t care what you pick. Trains and stuff are fine. But when you choose something as a symbol you need to treat it like it matters, and when you perform it you need to go all the way lest it look like you’re taking people for a ride at Disney World.
The Timbers get this right, obviously. They have an actual experienced professional using an extremely dangerous tool performing their club symbol every time they score. If he fucks up or if that chainsaw malfunctions, somebody’s getting really hurt. But they take precautions they need to to put the real shit in front of people and it is extremely cool every single time.
A couple dozen steps down the cool ladder we’ve also got Minnesota United. Currently the biggest symbol of the club is singing Wonderwall on the rare occasions when United wins. That song is terrible and no one knows all the words to it, but it’s the song that we sing and when you’re in the stadium singing it feels super rad. The stadium pipes the first verses through the PA to help stage manage when it starts, and hopefully one day we’ll get past needing that, but it’s a simple thing and you feel the most important part of it when there’s thousands of people singing the chorus all together.
By contrast, look at this shit:
That is Big Boi–definitely one of the top five coolest humans alive–performing their ceremony of hitting a railroad spike with a hammer. A big plastic railroad spike that is carried by ONE MAN and placed into a stand that has some kind of articulation in it so it sinks down when it’s struck with a NERF hammer, and the crowd chants “A-T-L.” I don’t know how this makes you feel, but every time I watch it I get offended.
Look, obviously everybody there is having a blast. Their team rules and they’re in the presence of a genius, and they’re all partying so I can’t get down on that. But the fact that that symbol of the club is a piece of stage craft that belongs in a children’s museum exhibit makes my teeth hurt. To my mind that spike should be 300 lbs of cast bronze and iron, hollow and drilled for maximum ring. When a grown man hits it with a sledgehammer it should deafen every ear for 50 feet.
And, hey, maybe they’re at the same place Minnesota is with singing Wonderwall and soon it’ll be something that has some weight and real feel to it. We’re watching all this stuff take shape before our eyes. And the revulsion I have for this is aesthetic, so ultimately it isn’t worth much, but when a club is asking me to care about something and actively trying to give me reasons and ways to to care (that’s the work that symbols and ceremonies do), I need it to feel real. That’s the idea behind sports, after all. It’s my favorite TV show and the conceit is that the drama is real people really trying to win. The big NERF railroad spike is a betrayal of that, and I want it to have the heft and show the commitment of real, heavy metal.
So good luck, Portland. May the best mascot win.