Julia Ward Howe, call your office

A new soccer team's fight song

3 minute read
Guthrie: The unkindest cut.
Guthrie: The unkindest cut.
I am a restrained sports fan—if such a thing exists. I don't paint my face with the colors of the team I support. I may express myself vocally when there is an impressive play, but I don't shout excessively and certainly would not do so if I found myself in a group clustered behind a TV sports announcer urging the crowd on so that he or she could end a report with a screen full of waving arms and a sustained cry of "Go Eagles!" (or Phillies or Flyers or whomever).

I particularly like a good soccer game and was pleased when my town got its own team, the Philadelphia Union. Why, then, was I so disturbed with the TV spots advertising the new team, the crowd bellowing out, "Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the Union,/ I'm sticking to the Union "'til the day I die"?

My reaction had more to do with history than with my temperament.

When I came home in the 1940s, after I and my comrades-in-arms had saved the world for democracy— or whatever we did in that war— we were suffused with optimism, the expectation that a better, a more benign, a more inclusive world had been born. That feeling didn't last long. It was the same old world with only the veneer of change.

But before that realization set in, we scooped up the education funds provided by the GI Bill of Rights and went off to universities, often schools more expensive than we could have afforded without the federal lolly. Mine was Columbia. There we ex-GIs played at education and love and politics.

For some reason, which I certainly cannot explain, my roommates and I began to sing labor songs, echoes from the 1930s and earlier. Although I grew up in an Indiana factory town where one of the country's first sit-down strikes took place, where unions were an obvious part of our landscape, I didn't come to New York with those songs on my lips.

But there in the Big Apple I found myself singing— off-tune, since I cannot carry a tune— Joe Hill's most famous song, "Pie in the Sky," and the celebrated number about the song-writing labor organizer himself, "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night." Songs, too, about men who worked themselves to death— "Casey Jones," the intrepid railroad engineer, and "John Henry," the steel-driving man. And, of course, Woody Guthrie's "Union Maid": "She never was afraid/ Of goons and ginks and company finks."

It is the chorus of that song, which sticks to a lower-case union, that has been commandeered by Philadelphia's new soccer team. It's a rousing song, so you can see why the ad men, plugging the new team, appropriated it. Although I wish the Philadelphia Union success, I wish they'd left the song where it belongs: with a cause more important than a new soccer franchise.♦

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