Updated: Mar 15, 2019
I have considered many ways to begin this essay, and I think I’ve settled on situating myself in context as the most productive route. I do so despite the fact that I know that the beginning will make some of those who know me roll their eyes the way you do when you hear the same story again and again. Nonetheless, here is where I begin:
Almost exactly a decade ago, I wasn’t a soccer fan. More, I was one of those people who actively despised it. My standard line was that the only way to make soccer interesting would be to give all of the players guns. So, what changed?: I was out in Portland visiting a buddy of mine, when he suggested we go see the Portland Timbers, the USL franchise at the time, as their U23 squad was playing the final of one tournament or another. I had no interest but went with him, figuring at worst the stadium would have good craft beer, and I could always leave early. But that night changed my life.
I went from being actively annoyed that soccer existed to being a total convert, feeling the closest thing to love that I’ve ever felt to a sport. And get this: it wasn’t even about the game at the time. Never having played, it still looked pretty much to me like grown men (well, U23 grown men) were chasing a ball around. No, it was the supporters’ section, the Timbers Army. Thousands of people standing the entire game, chanting the entire time in unison, celebrating the ups, smoothing out the downs. To me, it was just an amazing sense of oneness. All of the tricks generally used to unite people, to constitute them under one name, were in play. And they all worked. I must have known the words to twenty chants by the time the night was over.
When I got back home, the first thing I did was look into how to get involved in more soccer. This mainly involved pretty dispirited Metros games and the occasional wonderful celebration with the American Outlaws. With the Outlaws, I again fell in love with the experience of the chants and songs tied to the group, making us feel as one. The same story reemerged as my love affair with Chelsea grew and matured. While I was also growing an appreciation for, and knowledge of, the game itself, it was clearly the fan base that was the first attraction to the game (that said, it didn’t take long for me to lose sleep over losses and bad crosses, rather than if chants were loud or sustained enough).
But an odd thing happened over time. I went from finding the supporter’s groups as my way into soccer, my community, to becoming something I found less interesting, to something I thought was . . . to be frank, an annoyance, a distraction from the game. It was the result of a number of factors: first, it seemed that no matter where I was, we were all chanting some variation of the same damned songs. I get there is always a bit of thievery but the lack of originality in most of these groups is startling. I even found myself singing about the wrong team at times (Who’s number am I marching in with this time?)
Secondly, there is rarely any room for spontaneity. While the TA was the only one of these groups with “official” capos, in every other group, it feels as if there are unofficial capos. It would be difficult for something spontaneous to emerge when someone is always restarting the same chants.
Third, and this is less true about AO than about other groups, it often feels as if the Supporters Group is far more about the Supporters group than it is about supporting the team. That is, both during the games and outside of the games, the attention is paid to the groups, not to the team itself. During the game, I find it harder to watch the actual game from the supporters' section than I do outside of it because the supporters often act as if they are the action that everyone has come to see. Outside of the game, this sense of a hierarchy fanship leads supporters' sections to act as if they have earned more of a say in the team’s business than anyone else, when in fact, the team’s business is the team’s business. They choose the names, the colors, and so forth. While it’s nice if they think about the fan base, the fact that you have been shouting the same chants for several years longer than the guy in Section 121, D 4 knew there was a team, doesn’t give you special rights.
While I realize that this could be idiosyncratic to me (or, it could be, as my buddy Dan would have it, just part of our evolution as fans), I can’t help but think that the issues I’ve pointed out are all solvable, and all would be improve the overall level of support. In the best of all possible worlds, I want to hear the sound of Roadies’ based NSC support rather than hearing the drums and chants that signify, with a few word changes, that we could be anywhere in the entire world (same drums, same songs, same sounds). It makes me cringe. We live in one of the most creative communities in the nation; we can do better than this. Rather than the repetition of the same old, same old, why doesn’t Nashville’s supporter section (again, looking at you, Roadies) sound like it is uniquely Nashville’s? Why doesn’t it look uniquely Nashville? Even those moments where we saw glimpses of it (e.g., the clown and circus theme that emerged directly after the Metro Council vote seemed to have a lot of promise), people stopped doing it quickly with reasoning that seemed inane to me (e.g., “I don’t want to base our image on something that emerged from people who were opposed to soccer.” Hint y’all: That’s how reappropriation works, and it allows ‘you’ to be creative and undermine your opposition at the same time). I honestly don’t understand how, after a season, the most “unique” or original signifier I saw was a Big Bird. Finally, I should point out that even those unique moments for a supporters' section (e.g., the Timbers Army’s “Sunshine cheer”) become rote and stale and need rejuvenation.
Perhaps it’s none of my business. After all, I no longer sit with supporters, and so, I’m not likely to do any of the work I’m talking about. Moreover, maybe the supporters section can do its work with others the same way it did with me (i.e., draw someone in, get them hooked, and let them go). So, again, maybe it’s none of my business. That said, if we want an environment that is inviting rather than exclusionary, that is creative rather than derivative, then just perhaps, some of you should make it your business.
I do want to end with a couple of disclaimers. First, I know the supporters groups do a lot more for the community than simply cheer (e.g., the Roadies' work with Soccer for the Nations). Second, I love loud support; I love that some of you are really trying to push the bar here; I love community as well, I appreciate that it is being offered; hell, I go visit the supporters section every game to see some of my friends. So, take this as a friendly challenge rather than a critique. Take this as a quest for reflection, invention and conversation rather than attack. I’m on your side.
This article is an opinion piece. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Speedway Soccer as a whole.