Lost and Found: The Great USMNT Banner Heist Of 2012

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Written By Chris Azzopardi

Boston-based Prairie Rose Clayton is American soccer’s resident banner-maker extraordinaire. Her work, for both her own New England Revolution as well as for the U.S. Men’s National Team, is a fixture at stadiums across America, and when the USMNT travels, across the world. For that reason, it was big news within American soccer circles when two of her banners were stolen after the USMNT played Guatemala at Livestrong Sporting Park.

Prairie herself (who is also known as “Hoover” and on Twitter @hoover_dam) couldn’t attend the game in Kansas City due to a prior commitment, so she sent the Herculez Gomez and Steve Cherundolo banners to LSP with a friend.

I can’t get to every US game. I’ve got a day job, after all, and sometimes non-soccer travel gets in the way, like this past October, when all my pals were heading to Kansas City to close out this year’s World Cup Qualifiers, but I was off to Pittsburgh for a wedding.

Our pals Doug and Tanya from Des Moines were in town the weekend before, and I asked Tanya if she’d take some banners with her to serve in my stead. I’ve done this before, loaning banners to friends traveling to games I can’t attend. Everything’s always come back safe and sound. “I don’t know,” Tanya said, “at Livestrong Sporting Park they do hang banners out of the way of the crowd.”

“It’ll be fine,” I reassured her, and sent her off with the Boxing Dolo banner and a brand new Herculez Gomez one I’d made specifically to sell.

Famous last words, huh?

In the aftermath of the game, the banners are nowhere to be found. Maybe they were misplaced, or someone grabbed them by accident. These things happen.

The next day, they don’t turn up. I put out the word on Twitter, telling Herc his banner is missing, letting the various AO groups know two banners didn’t make it home. Like I said, the Herc banner was meant for sale, and, while I could repaint them both, that’s still a couple days worth of work missing. My pal Julie spreads the word to AO HQ, figuring the more people we have after them, the better chances we have of getting the banners back. Word gets out, tweets get retweeted, it’s like the Gardner Heist, only for soccer banners, and also kind of stupid.

These banners aren’t cheap to make. If she didn’t get them back, Prairie would be out hundreds of dollars.

And then things went up a couple dozen notches. Local TV news producer Troy Diggs contacted Prairie to do a story on the missing banners for Kansas City’s Fox affiliate.

Meanwhile, the staff at Sporting Kansas City was working to track down the perps.

The security staff at LSP promised to review the camera footage from that night; it’s not quite the zoom-enhance-look at this dude’s pores level you get on tv, but high enough resolution they can get at least some physical description. Julie got a photo of what appeared to be two people stuffing the banners under their shirts. It wasn’t looking like we’d get them back.

Bad news. How to track down two people only identifiable as grainy images on security camera footage? And has anyone ever stuffed something under their shirts for altruistic reasons? I think not. Luckily, persistence pays off.

A week later, Julie gets an email from Chris Wyche at the Sporting KC offices. “We’re halfway there,” he said. They’d identified the suspects via security camera footage, then tracked down their information via Ticketmaster. One banner had been returned, and the other was still in progress.

Ten days later, there’s a package on my doorstep, return address of Livestrong Sporting Park.

A happy ending, just as it should be, and with only minimal damage to one banner. We’d prefer the satisfaction of seeing the banner thieves lined up against a wall and egged indiscriminately. Aim for the junk.

Prairie is just glad to have the banners back. She’s better people than we are.

But they’re back, and that’s what matters. Even if they hadn’t come back, I was blown away by how eager everyone was to help, how quickly everyone got connected. It’s a pretty great community we’ve got here in American soccer. So to Doug and Tanya, to Julie, to Troy, to Chris, to the LSP and KC staff, to all the AO national and AO KC crew who, as advertised, did not stop:

For a look behind-the-scenes with Prairie and here banner-making process, check out this video from Major League Soccer’s Supporters Week back in May.

via tifosi.hooverdam.net

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