Of the many things I’m thankful for with Nashville SC entering MLS this season, I’m especially grateful that I no longer have to answer the question, “Why did you become the fan of a club from a city or country where you never lived? How can you care about something so far away?”
In one of the last chapters of his seminal How Soccer Explains the World, Franklin Foer discusses the way Inter Milan is understood or positioned by its die hard local fans. The fans he points to talk about the club as having something of a left-wing, anti-globalization aesthetic, despite the fact that the club is owned by an oil magnate oligarch who runs the club in the thorough spirit of capitalism. Regardless of the contradictions between fan articulations and the team itself, Foer fascinatingly dissects the way the local fans understand the club, and, more generally, the ways the larger global fan base tries to find a way to latch onto those meanings, despite not having the same material, lived experience, that would lead them to the same conclusions. Foer’s observations about fanship and the ways we tie ourselves to both local and distant clubs, fascinates me.
I have a friend who is perplexed (and, quite frankly, irrationally angered) by the stronghold fanship has over some of us, especially as it relates to European teams. In effect, he is baffled that we can have an almost sacred or spiritual connection with a sports team that plays in a country that we may have never visited. While I somewhat get the point of his question, I also find it slightly absurd. Not only do I fail to see how my fanship affects anyone else, but also, if we follow a team in the same way that I do, that connection is there, whether I understand it or not. And it does feel sacred. And transcendent. Fans of teams often feel as if they are part of a worldwide diaspora, despite the fact that there is no origin point or mooring to begin with.
It’s sorta strange when you think about it.
Now, in practice, most of us find numerous ways to shorten our distance from the club, making the global feel local. And digital communication has on its own done a lot of the heavy lifting for us. If we are fans of a European club, we craft the feeling of the local in numerous ways: researching the history of the club and its traditions, making a visit to the mother church on occasion, joining online communities, and, most importantly, we join local fan organizations and attend watch parties and other functions together. The funny thing about this is that we often attempt to craft the feeling of local fanship (read: authenticity) by mimicking and recreating the practices, chants, and perspectives of those who are actually physically and materially local to the team. Hence, rather than create chants or songs at our own pub, for the most part, we seek out the songs and chants sang at the stadium. When the crowd begins booing a particular manager, or has a take on a particular player or event, we often see the global friends practice local, authentic behavior, by falling in lockstep with the truly local fans.
In such cases, we are more or less playing out an authenticity narrative. If ritual has meaning based on its emergence in a particular time and space, as some philosophers would have it, then our reproduction of those rituals reflects someone else’s lived experience, not our own. Now, I realize that this might seem all ado about very little (i.e., who gives a crap as long as we’re having fun?)—and in some ways, it clearly is—I’ve been wondering what it will be like to be living the tribal experience at the local level. Rather than being a fan from afar of Portland or Chelsea, and trying to cut down the distance from the global to the local, our experience with NSC will truly be based on our own ritual, the creation of community, our own material circumstances and needs. A part of me thinks that this simply has to offer the opportunity for a very different, dare I say, more materially authentic type of fanship. I’m not quite sure what this all means, but somewhere, knocking around in my brain, is the sense that this could be a different, more enjoyable, less frustrating, form of fan experience.
In lieu of a conclusion (because I’m not quite sure where I would go beyond my hopes and expectations), I offer each of you not only a Happy Thanksgiving, but also thanks for being part of this large and wonderful tribe.
The above is the opinion of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Speedway Soccer as a whole.