I’ll start this by saying I know this post is going to inspire some ire. It will be taken the wrong way. Some will take it personally, even though that’s not my intention. Angry emails will be received, my mentions will see the same, and I’ll probably have to tweet out another 5000 words on Twitter to defend my intentions. Suffice to say, I know what I’m getting myself into.
What exactly is it that I’m about to get on about that requires such an opening?
My growing annoyance with the ever-increasing childish tendencies of American soccer supporters groups, that’s what.
Now, that’s a pretty broad brush stroke I just painted with: I’m well aware that not all supporters groups or supporters group members are bad apples. So when I mentioned earlier that some are likely to take this personally, if you already feel like I’m attacking you, take a deep breath and give me a minute. I might not be talking about you or your group specifically at all. I could be, but it’s statistically not likely. In truth, most of you are great. But some of you are annoying as all hell. Read on to learn on which side of the divide you fall.
Also, before I get too far into this, let me also dispel any thoughts of me being against supporters groups on the whole. I’m not. I’m actually a bandana-brandishing member of the American Outlaws — Chapter 154 in Dayton, Ohio — and a card-carrying member of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.
In fact, I mostly love what supporters groups bring to American soccer: energy, passion and some absolutely fantastic human beings. The fanfare they provide makes for great atmosphere, and has been one of the largest contributors to the vastly improved match day experience at American professional soccer games.
But I mostly love that from afar. While I have plenty of close friends and acquaintances in supporters groups who I love to catch up with at the pre-match tailgate and post-match at the pub, I usually keep my distance from the actual supporters’ sections in the stadiums themselves.
Again, this isn’t because I dislike what those sections have going on — it’s just not how I personally like to take in a match.
It’s that point that I feel is often lost on some of the loudest members in the American soccer supporters’ movement. Not everyone enjoys the game in the same way as you, and other people enjoying soccer in different ways to your’s is perfectly acceptable so long as it’s not offensive to and respectful of those around you.
When I go to a game, I like to stand, watch and calmly discuss what I’m seeing with those around me. Sure, I can occasionally get into the moment, but that usually entails shouting at a player or the referee — the likelihood of which normally shares a direct correlation to the number of beers I’ve consumed to that point. But seeing how it all plays out from a tactical standpoint and watching individual bits of skill are the reasons I go to a live match in the first place.
If I stand in the supporter’s section, all of those things become a lot harder to do due to all of the flags being waved, chants being sung, drums being banged and all the others tasks that are needed to provide that electric energy to the stadium scene.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to take in a game in the way that I like to in a supporters’ section, but the times I have reinforced my belief that it’s just not my cup of tea. And for the most part, other supporters tend to get that.
But there’s still a vocal segment of fans who have deemed my style of going to a game as unacceptable. According to these “harder core” supporters, you’re not only not doing your part if you’re not singing and obstructing your view with a tifo for the entire 90 minutes, but you’re also not as good of a fan as ones like them.
The arrogance of it makes my skin crawl.
But this kind of supporters group judgement isn’t restricted to “boring” or “normal” fans such as myself. Nope, this type of critique is often hurled between members of opposing supporters groups too. And the net effect is it’s making supporter culture look like a gigantic pissing match with the end goal of somehow proving your group’s superiority.
We’re totally better fans than you! We’ve been around longer! And we cheer so much louder! There’s more of us than there are of you! [Insert city name] is definitely “Soccertown, USA”, not your town because you’re posers! We’re ruining football! Why don’t you come up with an original cheer, like that one song we sing that came from a team in the 2. Bundesliga. How can you even cheer properly without a capo?!?! Our passion runs so much deeper than… blah blah blah blah.
OM f’ing G.
You don’t know how much I care about my team, and not everyone has the time and energy to devote to preparing tifos for games or volunteer to be a capo. Nor do you know how long I’ve been at this. And even if you do care more or if you have been around longer, that doesn’t make you a better fan by default. Is there even an adequate/appropriate way to rate fans? Not that I’m aware of, especially one without any built-in bias to favor one group or another.
I know that it’s natural for there to be some banter between fans of opposing teams. And there’s nothing wrong with playful, harmless back and forth. But time and time again, we’ve seen playful cross the line into the territory of bullying and insults.
What I can tell you? Berating — or in rare circumstances, beating — other fans, stealing other people’s property and being a prick on social media to people who don’t agree/align with you definitely does not make you a better fan. And believe it or not, I’ve actually heard “fans” at matches bragging about doing all of those things. And if you think it does make you a better fan, then just go ahead and unsubscribe. You’re not needed or wanted around here.
Last time I checked, soccer is still a niche sport. A growing niche sport, but a niche sport none the less. And when you’re a game that’s still trying to grow itself, finding a way to alienate other people who share an interest in the game seems like a horrendously bad idea. That person you’re screaming at for “not knowing the words to our most popular chant” might be a brand new fan, and you’ve just given them an experience that they’d never like to revisit again. Or maybe they’ve been a fan for a long time, and they’ve just never heard the song before. It happens. Really.
If you want to jump up and down, scream at the top of your lungs and wave around a flag… be my guest. But don’t rub it in my face. Don’t stir up trouble. Be respectful of those who made the journey to your stadium, and of the stadiums and fans in them that you go to visit. Share a beer with them even — it turns out you both have stuff in common.
And if I want to sit down over here, where I’m not impeding the way you’re enjoying the game, then that’s cool too.
In the famous words of Funkmaster Flex, “you do you and I’ll do me”. And if we can all do that, then we can all enjoy the soccer however we please.