A long, long time ago, the Boston Breakers used to play at a municipal stadium called Dilboy. It was fine if you were a local rec team playing on the weekend, or if you just needed a place to jog around a track. It was not fine for a professional soccer team, but these were early days - and in any case, we all know how it ended for the Breakers as they couldn’t keep up with league growth.
Anyway, Dilboy had its field surrounded by track, then on the audience side there was a slope with bushes that led up to the concourse and the bleachers. On this particular night, the Portland Thorns were in town, and there were Karina LeBlanc fans waiting to see if they could get an autograph or a word after the game. Dilboy’s grounds crew were particularly zealous about not going up the slope to get from the field to the concourse, instead preferring to route everyone the long way to a tarp they had laid over the track at the far end, but LeBlanc saw a group of kids at the near end and promptly clambered up the slope (without stepping on the vegetation, I want to add) and over the rope barrier to sign shirts and shake hands, even though it was late and everyone else had trickled towards the locker rooms to change and get the heck out of there.
There was another time at the end of season one, when the Thorns had just won a championship in Rochester. (I swear this isn’t purposely a Thorns highlight reel, it just shook out that way.) Traveling fans had been invited to the players’ after party, a gesture of thanks towards a small but intense group that had been willing to fly cross-country, some of them to Boston, followed by the six-hour drive to western New York. There was the question of the tab, which was closing. One player promptly put down her own credit card and the party, which wasn’t huge but also wasn’t insignificant, kept rolling.
The third and last nice memory I have for today is of Maddy Evans, who was a Breaker before she ended up at Orlando, and seemed honestly delighted and just a little bewildered when I and a friend of mine (you might know her, she writes for The Athletic now) enthused that we were fans of hers. At the end of one season, we made up a couple of favorite player awards, including one commemorating an urban legend that had trickled down to us: that Maddy Evans once ate two Chipotle burritos in one sitting.
There’s lots of stories like these from around women’s soccer. Woso players have a reputation across the board for being personable and kind, often taking selfies and signing jerseys for hundreds of fans at a time. We can’t discount that it’s partially because they have to be that way; at the beginning of what we count as modern women’s soccer, the sport was so under-supported that the players knew they always had to act as ambassadors for themselves and their teams, and sometimes for female athletes as a whole. It’s still that way, honestly. And part of it is that the players are just really grateful for the fans who make the effort, especially if they’re not big-name national team players.
It’s time for some nice, wholesome stories. What was your nicest interaction with a player?