At the start of Nashville Football Club’s season a few years ago, the year they first moved from Vanderbilt’s soccer facility to the football stadium, I ran into Marcus Whitney, one of the club’s owners, upon first entering. The two of us talked briefly about the upcoming season, and I remarked that while 2000 fans made the soccer stadium look full, the same number made the football stadium seem empty and depressing.
“Well, right,” Marcus said, but importantly added, “The one good thing it does is give a real visual of the difference between where we are and where we wanna be.”
As the team moved up to the USL and into First Tennessee Park, and as it prepares to move on to MLS next year and to another daunting football stadium, I’ve thought about Marcus’s statement a lot. It’s not just a matter of the roadmap that gets us from here to there; it’s also the very question of who “we” are to begin with.
Some of the answers of how we get to where we want to be are pretty obvious. The first MLS season is in and of itself a great opportunity for a lot of locals to buy in. Secondly, there are all the steps along the way (e.g., new signings, new kits) that allow the team to continue to build excitement around the club. And I fully expect that there will be a great deal of excitement in that first year. Those of us who have been with this team for awhile are hopefully going to find ourselves wondering, “Where have all of you folks been?”
So, I feel confident that we are going to see some relatively easy periods of growth through a combination of savvy team marketing and organic fanship around a new team. As proud as this city is of itself right now—with the turnout at the NFL draft and the Predators playoff watch parties of the last several seasons—I think we will demand some of that from ourselves when it comes to NSC. Do we really want to be outdone by any other city? We’re the kings of this stuff!
All that said, I want to focus on the other portion of that question: the “we.” Who is the we of “where we wanna be”? That’s of course a nonsense question in some ways. The fans are made up of die hards, supporters groups, casuals, and those who only peak in out of interest. That said, we also know that “we” can look different according to how we act. On the one hand, it can appear just as disparate as it sounds; on the other, it can appear pretty damned unified (much the way I think of the Predators fan base). I am not talking about a fan base that is conflict free; I’m talking about one that appears fully supportive of the team, a unified front. That’s the “we” I hope we become.
Over the last three MLS seasons, I’ve been down to see Atlanta United play on four different occasions, the first of those games at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd stadium, and one during the MLS final last season. With the exception of the MLS final, these were regular season games, one early one when no one knew how good the team was, one when they did, and one this season, when the wheels seem to have fallen off. In each case, however, even while the mood has been slightly different, what I have seen is a “We” that appears unified behind the team. The supporter section may be made up of a number of different supporters groups, but you wouldn’t know it from the sound. The audience outside of that section is diverse in a number of ways, but you don’t notice that in the noise they make or in the way they seem to greet each other as family as they walk around Mercedes-Benz.
While differences of opinion are vital (about everything from kit design to tifo to tailgating), I hope to see a fanbase that keeps their disagreements and differences hidden at game time.
I understand that the NSC leadership is calling together a wide group of influential fans and groups to try to talk a little about what “we” might become. That’s a wise idea. The team is smart enough to know to listen to what fans are thinking and savvy enough to help incorporate this into their plans.
I look forward to seeing what we become, and I very much look forward to visiting players hearing a ferocious roar of a collective we that wants nothing more than to see each one of them fail.
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.