Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
On Twitter: dcsportsbog and PostSports  |  Facebook  |  E-mail alerts: Redskins and Sports  |  RSS

On Song Leaders, and Pasta Salad, and Dogs Named Earnie

(Editor's note: Since I bailed on work yesterday to recover from a grievous illness, I'm gonna go ahead and post my leftover entry from Sunday's D.C. United game. I swear, I'll stop focusing on this team and their fans at some point. Maybe 2009.)

The thing I really wanted to know about the Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles was this: how do they decide when, in the middle of a game, to switch their chants and songs?

From conversations and listening, it would appear that there are about seven or eight standards that are used repeatedly throughout the typical match and halftime drum circle. Sometimes, there are a few seconds of peace between numbers, and sometimes the end of one song sort of smoothly transitions into another chant. And sometimes, everyone stops singing and just yells "[Bleep] you ref" for a while.

Still, I figured that, as a trained reporter, I'd be able to figure out who were the conductors: who decided when it was time for a new song, and who decided what that new song would be.

I started by asking Bill Stevenson, tattoo artist to MLS stars (or at least, to Santino Quaranta).

"It's the consensus of the noisiest," he said. "That's the beauty of the Barra."

But Bill pointed me toward The Grillmaster, who has among the biggest drums. The Grillmaster denied responsibility for song choice, saying songs organically crop up in different sections of the crowd, and that others then join in, until consensus is reached. Which sounds good, but still, someone has to be the first to start cropping the song up, right?

(The Grillmaster, who was drinking from a bottle of Knob Creek bourbon as he cooked, did admit to being the author of one of the newest chants, "Dale Dale," which is apparently set to a Portuguese melody, and loosely translates to "C'mon, c'mon; C'mon my Heart [United]; We're gonna win, we're gonna win; We will be the champions." Since this is a new song, and since most of the Barra are Gringos at this point, someone holds up a big poster with the lyrics when they sing "Dale Dale." It felt like watching Sesame Street or something.)

(The Grillmaster was trying to get me to eat some of the flesh he was charring, but others pointed me toward two massive trays of vegetarian pasta salad that had been provided by Jaime Moreno's wife. It was excellent. Next weekend, I hope to taste Mark Brunell's wife's tailgate cooking. Although, word is, she never shows up until the fourth quarter.)

Anyhow, per my request, The Grillmaster advised I speak with some guy named Jay, but before I found Jay I met Paul Planzer, known as Captain, whom I had seen at previous games in the middle of the chanting mayhem. So I asked Captain if he was The Conductor, and he sort of took partial credit. When it starts getting quiet, he and two or three lead Barras will start "getting into it, and then everyone just goes with the flow," he said as a guy stumbled up and asked where he could get a beer.

Next came Jay, a lawyer wearing a tasteful-in-so-many-ways t-shirt that said "[Bleep] Red Bull, Ride the White Pony," who is famous for his "shrill banshee" voice, which forces others to agree to his song choices in an attempt to drown him out.

"I'm the guy," Jay admitted, when I asked who was responsible for choosing the songs. "Quote this: I'm white, I'm Jewish, I have no rhythm, but I'm loud."

Jay then launched into his Theories of Soccer Chant Leadership, which a colleague pointed out could also apply nicely to wedding band leadership.

"Leading cheers is very hard," Jay said. "Like, you run out of breath and you can't go 100 percent all the time. The way I do it, when everyone's going crazy for like five minutes, then they need something slower, something to catch their breath. It's all about pacing."

Jay, though, wanted me to talk to Srdan Bastaic, one of the Barra's elders, a Croatian with unimpeachable soccer-chanting credentials.

"He's old-school European," Jay explained. "He's, like, our legitimacy."

But Srdan and I instead wound up talking about how to purchase massive European-style soccer flags, which it turns out is a lot more difficult than you might imagine. Anyhow, soon the game started, and I watched the mayhem from right outside Barraland. ("Cheer, [very bad word]," some Barra lady kept screaming at me, not understanding the concept of strict journalistic impartiality.) Srdan and Big Rob and a few others were standing at the very front of the Barra section, backs to the field, literally acting as conductors, with the flapping arms and the expressive eyes and total command of their choir. Interestingly, their responsibilities meant that they didn't technically watch the game. Srdan later told me he had recorded the game at home and would watch it later that night, since he only experienced the action via brief glances at the jumbotron. The sacrifices one must make for art.

(After the game I also met Paul Johnson, a DCU fan and farm underwriter from Lansing, Mich. who had never before been to a United game at RFK, and who flew in for this game, and who was staying with Big Rob, and who was flying back to Michigan on Monday morning to inspect five farms. "Like nothing else I've ever seen in American soccer," he said of the fan experience. "Just amazing.")

(And I also met Earnie, Big Rob's Jack Russell terrier, named after Earnie Stewart.)

(Big Rob also gave some of the credit for song choice to the Screaming Eagles, which theoretically could mean that I need to go back to next Sunday's game and interview all the Eagles about who picks their songs.)

(After last call, some of the beer venders wandered down to Barraland to watch the rest of the game. When United scored, lots of the beer ended up leaving people's cups and landing, among other places, on our heads. "All this beer flying around," one of the venders said, sadly. "I wish I was still selling.)

By Dan Steinberg  |  November 1, 2006; 10:13 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. United  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: What You Need to Know, in Fewer Than 300 Words
Next: Wiz Preview from Robin Ficker, aka The Heckler


I believe that the Screaming Eagles and La Norte deserve equal time. All in the name of 'strict journalistic impartiality', of course.

Posted by: Kim | November 1, 2006 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Didn't Dan write a piece on the Screaming Eagles bus trip to NJ? I seem to remember a reference to knitting. (wink, wink)

Seriously Dan, in ten plus years I've probably watched a total of 45 minutes of soccer live at RFK. The Barra's not the best place to be if you know...want to watch the game.

Posted by: Chico | November 1, 2006 10:49 AM | Report abuse

You underestimate the importance of a mobs collective mind.
We have all been to a ton of games, and everyone kinda knows which of the chants are needed when.
If there are conflicting chants, loudest wins.
I think it is hilarious when the Barra and the SE's are a little off and the end up singing rounds.

Posted by: James | November 1, 2006 10:51 AM | Report abuse

That's a good point, Chico.

Dan, you're off to La Norte.

Or you're welcome to swing by Section 132, too.

Posted by: Kim | November 1, 2006 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Make sure when you come to the tailgate this time you take a shot of captain.

Posted by: brava rookie | November 1, 2006 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Chicks dig struggling artists :-)

Barra Brava message board -

Posted by: Srdan | November 1, 2006 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for all your attention toward United and the fans, Dan. I'd have to think there was someone reading your work that came out to RFK Sunday who wouldn't have otherwise.

Hopefully after MLS Cup is secured and everyone has celebrated, we can turn our attention toward the Capitals' drive to the playoffs.

That's right. Capitals. Playoffs. Same sentence. Pass the Kool-Aid!

Posted by: Dude in the hockey mask | November 1, 2006 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Dan - No need to apologize for covering this team, sport and fans. If the rest of the media in this town can do 12 stories a day in mid-May on "Redskins players with hangnail injuries," you can surely give coverage - during the playoffs - to DC United!

Posted by: Raul Diaz Arce | November 1, 2006 11:26 AM | Report abuse

In the SEs section 134 it's Paul, Dave and Bryan (who are working with Jay in the Barra to start songs). Dave and Bryan are tall and cab be seen, Paul is not tall but is just a human bullhorn.


Posted by: SEKim | November 1, 2006 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Great job, Dan. You find out stuff even I didn't know about the team. Jaime Moreno's wife makes pasta salad for the fans? How awesome is that? Just reinforces how they play for us and we watch for them.

Posted by: Will | November 1, 2006 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Dan, great article. I take issue with the shrill banshee comment though :)

I just wanted to make it clear that in the Barra Big Rob, Srdan, Grillmaster (and all the drummers), Captain, Oscar, Owen and Marshall, etc. deserve a lot of the credit (more than myself) for leading the cheers.

Posted by: Jay | November 1, 2006 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Oh, so THAT's what I was drinking! :)

Posted by: GrillMaster | November 1, 2006 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Hope you're feeling better, Dan. Thanks again for the plug in the previous post.

Posted by: Colin | November 1, 2006 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Dan you should come over and watch on the Quiet Side wherein we engage not is song but in prose poetry:

The Revs are ********
who will get their *****
handed to them
on a ******* tray

Posted by: Kelly in the Big Blind | November 1, 2006 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Dan!
Great read as usual. Please keep it coming. :)

Vamos United!

Posted by: Vicky | November 1, 2006 1:45 PM | Report abuse

The best part is when we eat Bobby Boswell's home-cooked brownies that he brings to the tailgate party before the games. He says it relaxes him the night before.

Sometimes Joltin' Joe Horvath shows up, and we all sing odl Diplomats songs.

About Ken Mokajowa.


Posted by: Bill B. | November 1, 2006 2:06 PM | Report abuse

That jernt was nucking futs! From the time I got to my "seat" to the time I got to the Metro platform, there was no cause (or excuse, I suppose would be more accurate) for sitting down or being quiet, and I have to admit, I loved every minute of it, even the smoke bombs! What a great time, and a huge relief that I didn't bring any Caps playoff karma with me to curse the United. Although, I was a bit worried for the period of time when the Red Bulls were leading.

It was especially great to be a part of a gang of rowdies, rather than looked at funny for cheering on the home team, as well as an eye-opener and a reminder of what fun it can be being part of real inspired fandom.

I'm not sure how this will all translate to my other endeavors (I don't think I could pull off the smoke bombs at the F Street Arena or FedEx), but I can totally see myself with a foot firmly planted under each of the armrests of a seat at RFK, bouncing and clapping and hollering in the middle of a sea of crazed DCU fans on a much more regular basis, so long as I'm welcome back. (I promise, I'll learn more songs for next time!)

Posted by: Goat | November 1, 2006 7:37 PM | Report abuse

I can confirm that the quiet side is not all polite soccer moms and kiddies. The poem that Kelly recited is heard often, but with variations for our guests for the day.

Posted by: Nancy from the Quiet Side | November 1, 2006 10:28 PM | Report abuse

Glad you enjoyed your time Goat. I know I am going to try to make it to a Caps game or two after United's season is over. I haven't been to one since the move to DC proper, but with all this common link talk I have decided to make a few games.

Posted by: Kinney | November 1, 2006 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Goat, sounds like you enjoyed yourself. Hope to see you back.

Maybe you can now bring positive playoff karma to the Caps....

Posted by: Kim | November 2, 2006 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Where can I get a United jersey before Sunday's game?

Posted by: Paul | November 2, 2006 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Not sure where you can get one before the game Paul, but they do sell them at RFK, so you can get one at the game, worst case.

I think there's a soccer store out in Clarendon (believe it's owned by one of the players' families, too) that will likely carry them, though I'm sorry to say I don't know what it's called or where it is exactly.

Posted by: DrunkCajun | November 2, 2006 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Re getting a jersey, yes you can get one at RFK and there are several online stores (search for DC United jersey) but you'll need to order fast to get in time.


Posted by: SEKim | November 2, 2006 11:46 AM | Report abuse

You're always welcome Goat - if you fix one thing - you must promise never to use the term "the United" again :-) It's just "United" or "DC United".
Other than that, it sounds like you caught on just fine!

Posted by: Lonnie | November 2, 2006 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Goat, glad you had a great time and we hope to see you at some more games next year. As I commented before, a game in the Barra is something any hardcore sports fan can appreciate and enjoy. And of course, you're also welcome to join in our tailgate festivities. I didn't get a chance to meet you last week, but I'll try and catch you at a Caps game. Only missed one so far and I'll be there tomorrow night. Pretty sure I know the area your seats are in. Vamos United and Let's Go Caps!!!

Posted by: Duffman | November 2, 2006 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Earnie is enjoying the spotlight though the other three dogs are jealous. Enjoyed the read Dan thanks. Hope to see you Sunday.

Posted by: BigRob | November 3, 2006 4:44 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company