EDITOR'S NOTE: As part of MLS Unites, a joint initiative between MLS and the MLS Players Association, we will be shining a spotlight on and showing our appreciation for the supporters who continue to inspire us during these uncertain times and drive our return to the field. Visit our MLS Unites for Supporters page to see everything the league, clubs, players and coaches are doing.
And it came to pass that the city of Nashville was awarded a soccer team. And lo, on the day of its arrival, a man of the people clothed in the finest robes and adorned in the finest wig and beard that could be delivered by the online delivery service of the time, appeared where two or three or 59,069 were gathered and sent a message to the world. A simple declaration to be heard by the masses: “Let my people goal.”
And the people rejoiced over the offering. And they took pictures with the man. Which begat tweets. And then the man and his people marched into the arena. And a TV producer looked upon the man’s message with favor and displayed the man and his message to all watching. And this message of salvation spread like wildfire all through the region. Which begat even more tweets.
A decree went forth that the man shall be known as “Soccer Moses.” The people agreed. And there was much rejoicing.
The next day Stephen Mason and his wife walked into a local hot chicken joint for Sunday brunch and found themselves in line with a few visiting Atlanta United fans. He thanked them for coming to the city, asked how they enjoyed the game and then looked over their shoulder at the TV on the wall. Whatever ESPN program the bar had selected that day opened with a shot of Soccer Moses.
Mason screamed. His wife looked around and saw the screen. She screamed. Mason was on ESPN.
Even before becoming Soccer Moses, Mason would have qualified as one of the most interesting people in Nashville.
After 20 years as lead guitarist for the multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning rock band, Jars of Clay, Mason decided to take on a new challenge. In 2014, he qualified as a master barber. Known to his clients as The Handsomizer, he opened a barbershop near the Nashville Fairgrounds (future home of Nashville SC) under the same name.
Mason and Jars of Clay are still going, but we have to go back if we want to understand the origins of Soccer Moses. In 1997, the group went to London to record their second record, Much Afraid. The sound engineer happened to be a massive Arsenal fan. He also happened to have a few extra tickets to a testimonial at Highbury.
“There was a streaker at halftime and we're in the terrace stands there at Highbury which are wooden, and it's just vibrating and it is equal part terror and elation. I mean I can't even describe it,” Mason said. “I just fell in love with the sport. It's the disease that wakes me up at 5:30 in the morning to watch Swansea and Leicester.”
A little over 20 years later, a friend in Nashville invited Mason to take in a Nashville FC (yes, FC) game from the team’s supporters’ section. Somewhere along the way, Mason found himself occupying a drum.“'I’m a big fan of pageantry and, you know, give me liturgy, some symbolism and some chants and songs and I'm in,” Mason said. “That awakened something for me on a local level that, when we went into the USL, I saw an opportunity, which is rare these days, to start something on the ground floor.”
Mason continued to support the team and even got a few clients for The Handsomizer out of it. In fact, Stephen Robinson, a capo and vice president of The Roadies, a Nashville SC supporters’ group, was in the barber’s chair when he relayed the story of a buddy watching the men’s World Cup while in an Irish pub. Nigeria’s Victor Moses scored for the Super Eagles, which resulted in Mason’s friend standing on a chair and loudly proclaiming “LET MY PEOPLE GOAL.” Because...ya know...Moses.
“He told me that story. I'm a dad and I pissed myself laughing. This is the culmination of something that I love and it's also a dad joke,” Mason said. “I said ‘That needs to be a t-shirt.’ He told me ‘If you want to do it, you take this and run with it.’ And I was like, ‘First of all, thank you. Secondly, opening Photoshop as we speak.’”
And thus Mason created a t-shirt bearing Soccer Moses and his now-famous mantra. A prophetic email predicted the shirt’s arrival the Friday before the first match. Mason took this information and confided it in Robinson during the haircut. Robinson replied by confirming that t-shirts were excellent, however, the path to the promised land might lie in a real-life appearance from Moses.
And lo, the haircut ceased momentarily as Mason ordered a robe and wig for arrival the next day. Then, a friend with the capability to make a goofy sign on short notice received word that he was needed. And then Mason sent word to his wife of Soccer Moses’ coming arrival.
“The wonderful thing about having a partner is they usually see the blind spots you don't see. The first thing she said was, ‘This is our MLS debut. Are you sure you want to be the Moses guy?’” Mason said. “I was like, ‘I’ve got to see this joke all the way through.’ Give me a joke that I can manifest into a craft project or something and I'm hooked. So yeah that was the long Genesis.”
Two days after Nashville SC’s first match, a tornado tore through East Nashville. Mason, who had planned to travel to Nashville’s first road match in Portland that upcoming weekend, saw a chance to use Soccer Moses’ newfound fame as a way to raise money for those affected.
But once he began investigating whether Portland security would be ok with him using a sign to provide information on how people could donate, he realized his work was unnecessary.
The power of the MLS community was already in full force.
The Timbers had decided to donate $15 from the sale of each general admission ticket to relief efforts in Nashville. And the Timbers Army, Portland’s supporters’ collective had decided to take donations at tailgates and in the concourses at Providence Park.
The sign changed. Instead of a donation link, it now read “Bless you, Rose City.”
And so it was that Soccer Moses led his people on the long trip to Portland. A cluster of weary yellow and blue parting a massive green sea. And many in green took photos with Soccer Moses. Some, filled with drink, acknowledged their team’s winning scoreline during the match through the hymns of their time.
“It was funny and it was all goodwill,” Mason said. “At one point all their keys started jingling and they started singing “Go home, Moses.” I mean, it was the best thing ever.”
Before he could be cast out of Portland, Soccer Moses held a meeting with the leader of the Portlanders, Timber Joey. Soccer Moses implored Timber Joey to “let my people goal” to which Timber Joey replied “Nah.” And thus, Timber Joey predicted the Timbers’ shutout win over Nashville. Despite their disagreements, the two shared knowledge.
“He's lovely and kinda gave me some things to think about in terms of the practicals of committing to something like that,” Mason said. “And all the things to look out for. And all the ways that it's awesome and all the ways that it's some days a job.”
Even if there may be coming days where dressing up as Soccer Moses might feel like a chore, Mason recognizes that he’s stumbled on top of a legitimate platform. Soccer Moses has his own Twitter account now and with the attention of being a new club’s most famous fan, there’s an opportunity to love thy neighbor.
In our city’s darkest moments, we see its spirit come alive. Our anthem becomes more than lyrics, it becomes a promise.— Nashville SC (@NashvilleSC) March 4, 2020
We will never give up on you, Nashville.
Join us in raising funds for Middle Tenn. tornado relief @CFMT.
🔗: https://t.co/krdeOsfvew#NGUOY #NashvilleStrong pic.twitter.com/raAAVGzfKE
In 2004, the members of Jars of Clay started Blood:Water Mission, an organization that works with grassroots organizations in sub-Saharan Africa to address the water and HIV/AIDS crises. Now, with Soccer Moses, Mason has a chance to spread awareness of the organization to a new audience. Additionally, Project 615, a Nashville based apparel company that uses the funds from its shirts to fundraise for those in need, is selling a shirt featuring Soccer Moses. Part of the proceeds will go to Kickin’ It 615, an organization that provides space and equipment for those in economically difficult situations to play soccer.
“it's a unique love that all these people share with this sport,” he said. “I think if there was a sport that said, come one, come all, all are welcome, I think it's soccer.”
Hopefully, for Mason, that’s just the beginning.
“Even doing something as goofy and fun as Soccer Moses, there can always be a meaningful aspect,” Mason said. “If life can continue this way for a second, if this is the gift of Soccer Moses to this moment, I want to ride this thing off into the sunset for as long as it's good.”