My relationship with soccer is unlike any other form of fanship or support I’ve ever experienced. I often tell people that my relationship with Chelsea is more akin to love than fanship, far more sacred than profane. Closer to home, my experience with Nashville Soccer Club is moving in the same direction. And if I broaden out from Chelsea or NSC as particular teams to my feeling about the sport in general, it remains true. I can get caught up in any game, watching anyone play, at almost any time. There is a certain lightness and sense of wonder about my relationship with soccer that I don’t have with other sports.
I’ve been mulling this because, over the course of this week, I had two very different conversations with friends about soccer. Last week, I was a guest on The Tailgate Show with Chris Marrazzo, Jason Moles and Toby Lane. During the conversation underlying the podcast, Jason and I found common ground for our love of being “supporters” of a team, rather than just fans. Talking about it once again felt fresh and naively pure. Indeed, it’s a feeling I would want everyone to experience. My second conversation, however, with a different friend, set a more somber tone about the game. Soccer came up with her in the roundabout way that I always end up talking about soccer, and I began emoting about how much I loved it. She immediately sounded a little frustrated. When I asked why, she observed that soccer fans always sound “snobby,” as if there was something more sophisticated about their tastes that plebes would not understand. When we ended the conversation, she said, “I wish you guys could articulate what you love about it without it coming off so snotty.”
These encounters led me to think about what are the many things we love about soccer and what are the ways we communicate about it. Outside of the "fight and win" moron and the occasion dimwit we all encounter, I know of very few people who love soccer because they think it is Platonically superior as a sport or whom have a Eurosnob fetish from which they cannot recover. Hell, I thought, I have access to a pretty big community here; why not just ask them. So, as I’ve done before, I sent out a DM to 20 or so friends and acquaintances and asked each one separately to tell me in one sentence what they loved about soccer.
Of the more than a dozen responses I received, about 90% of them gave some version of the same answer. While there were a few exceptions that matched the respondents’ personalities well--Corey Almon refused to be contained to one sentence and provided me with a short dissertation on the chess like complexities of this very simple game, Clay Trainum puts his focus on the historical and cultural aspects of the game (big surprise)—the single word that came up repeatedly was “community.” Read a few of these examples to get the gist of what I heard in this one way conversation.
Ben Cowherd: “I love soccer because it mirrors the human experience, from joy to sadness, familiarity and change, passion and pain, and most importantly community.”
Helena Green: “I love the community. I haven’t been around a while and I ran into people and felt loved.”
David Bone: “The community. That’s a short sentence and I could probably write a paper on it but it’s the community of supporters that put me head over heels for this sport.”
Jason Moles: “The capability of a game, a simple game, to break down the barriers of the world and its ability to unite such diverse cultures.”
JD Smith: “I love how it brings together a diverse group of fans for one cause.”
Chrissy Webb: “Overall, the community that it is.”
These are not the only examples. And while I know it’s true that each of these people love the game for a variety of other reasons, and while it is likely that the few who didn’t mention community still hold that aspect high on their list, the fact that it was the first word to come to mind for so many of you separately, is very telling. Clearly, we all love watching the games; certainly, we all feel compelled to know something about history and tradition of the sport in general and of our individual teams, but that is not how we responded; we responded with “community,” which isn’t even a necessary part of the sport (hmmm, on second thought, maybe it is absolutely necessary).
I realize that I have skewed my “survey” by talking to friends who are thoroughly embedded in the sport, but we are the same people who will be the best ambassadors when it comes to the soccer curious. And this is how we should talk about it most of the time. We shouldn’t try defending it from someone who thinks it’s boring because “no one scores” and we shouldn’t focus on any aspects which would make us come off as elitist or above other sports. It’s a game, afterall, a beautiful game, and we should invite people in to enjoy the aspects that we love. Let's face it: the group which surrounds NSC now is made up of many people who would never have met otherwise and may have had a difficult time conversing otherwise because of a multitude of differences. And, again, while there are a million different ways to slice it, this sense of community at the micro and macro level seems to be what we love. And the more we reflect that, and the more that reflects Nashville, the better the chance of watching it grow.
“Community” is a pretty damn good way to launch this thing.