Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Ode to Fans

I want to take a minute to reach out to my fellow MLS fans.  You guys and gals are awesome.  You show up in the driving rain (I'm looking at you Portland) and scorching heat (Houston, New York!) to support your boys.  You paint your face and sport your team's jersey.  You wave your scarf and sing your songs.

There is something to be said about the American soccer fan.  Most of us have not grown up in a culture where soccer is prevalent.  We have had to search soccer out.  We've had to work twice as hard just to BE a fan.  We drive for hours to show up for a home game.  We fly across the country to support our team on the road.  There is a tenacity to be found in MLS fans, a fighting spirit that refuses to back down even when we get the inevitable raised eyebrows and dubious looks from the non-initiated.

All this is, of course, in addition to the usual trials of fandom--the tears over a devastating loss, the rage at an incompetent ref, the post season depression (so, pretty much all of last season for Quakes fans).

Naturally, we all know that is not by any means the whole story.  We are fans because our team brings us joy.  We love the sport, but we feel like our team is our family.  I was once asked by someone why I referred to the Earthquakes as "we."  I didn't quite know what to say, I had never thought about it before.  It had just never occurred to me not to include myself with them.

That sense of belonging is in full force at home games.  There is no feeling in the world quite like sitting in a sold-out stadium before a penalty kick.  It is so quiet you could hear the drop of a pin.  Everyone has a knot in their stomach.  One of your boys steps up to the spot.  It takes a moment to absorb the fact that the ball has hit the back of the net, then the stadium erupts in a roar of joy.  You hug (or if you're not a hugger, high-five) the person next to you even if you don't know who they are.  At that moment, they too are your family.

Granted, much of this does not apply to soccer fans only.  (Except the second paragraph--that's pretty specific to soccer.  And maybe curling.)  However, I do feel that soccer fans, and MLS fans in particular, share a special bond if only because of their relative rarity in the United States.  We are growing, to be sure, and you are all a huge part of that; but there is definitely a special camaraderie that exists between us because we are comparatively few.  It reminds me of C.S. Lewis' quote: "What?  You too?  I thought I was the only one."  He was referring to the moment that friendship is born, but I think it is equally applicable to us.

So, all my fellow MLSers, keep on keeping on.  If your team is in a mid-season slump, don't give up on them.  If your team is doing well, enjoy it along with them, never forgetting what you've already been through.  Keep sweating it out in the stands during these hot summer days.  Keep high-fiving your boys after games.  Keep inviting your friends and family to games--they'll catch on soon enough.  In short, keep doing what you are already doing.  It's worth it.

And by the way, yes, the Quakes did beat FC Dallas on Wednesday to put 7 points between themselves and their closest followers in the standings.  I am a very happy fan.

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