So as I was working on a post about the New Years Eve activities of some friends and I got to thinking about how I ended up where I did that afternoon and who I ended up there with, needless to say that story will be coming later tonight (if I get the pictures I need).
So the more and more I think about that story it points out something that might just be one of more important things that really differentiates soccer from a lot of other sports, is the tribal nature of its supporters and fans. The only other sport that I think can compare is collegiate sports, I still cheer for the schools I have attended despite not being there for the last decade plus. With so many colleges and with all of them part of built in regional and national rivalries it is easy to understand why people keep their allegiance after spending 4 or more years there. I have seen people with buckeye tattoos and their houses decorated in scarlet and gray, same for burnt orange, maize blue.
More after the jump:
It is rare though that the level of dedication to a college is repeated in the pro ranks, yes there are groups of fanatical fans for every sport. There is the Raider nation, the Dawg pound, and I have no doubt the people who watch the Cubs play, from rooftops are more tribal in nature than they may even realize.
All of that is nice but most of those types of relationships are built over years and decades, and perhaps since MLS and Real Salt Lake are fairly new sports it has impacted how their fans meld together, maybe it is the fact that in the US the sport of Soccer is looked at as a niche sport. Interesting how the most popular sport in the world, yes it is more popular than our NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL combined, is considered an outsider on the US sport scene. Maybe it is the fact that even US fans of EPL or La Liga teams tend to know the history of their chosen team, they know the chants, the songs, everything they can learn about the players. Something is different with soccer fans, and as I look back at the last couple months, I am not sure what it is but I am sure there is something that I have never seen before.
It isn't just road trips, those happen in every sport. With RSL it has been a bit different, it is more about people going being willing to offer rides, share hotel rooms, than people looking for those connections. More often than not I have heard "we have an extra spot, wanna go" or "we are staying with relatives, you can too", it is that those who have made away trips for their team want to share that with others. I think back to the start of the 2009 season when we packed cars for the trip to Seattle and how so many people from that trip became instant friends for life.
It is the same in the stadium, a majority of the people I spent New Years Eve with I have known less than a year, yet they are as close if not more so than family. No matter the drama that takes grip in real life, we know it can be overcome with good friends and with this group there is no doubt that the friendships go far beyond the soccer pitch. We have different opinions on religion, politics, almost every issue but those minor things pale when compared to the shared passion for all things Real Salt Lake, heck even all things USMNT. Each of us has several teams we cheer for in Europe, and while we may tease and harass each other (while poor Liverpool (my team) could only get a draw against Reading in the FA Cup on Saturday, it was much funnier when Man U (Aj's and others team) got beat by Leeds on Sunday).
It is this sense of community, of family; it is this tribal mentality that is the essence of what transpires in the stands. You don't have to be standing and yelling, or in a "supporter" section for it to embrace you, you only have to be willing to embrace your team. Typical sports fans are not always happy, they almost all expect perfection from their teams, but when you become a part of something larger with your team, you understand the mentality of "we will get them next year", or "wait until the Open Cup", a loss or a draw is devastating only until you can imagine the next win.
Granted we have a long way to go to catch up with the crowds and passion of South America or Europe, but for a league just 15 years old and that suffers from huge geographic distances between teams, I think we are getting it more and more each day.
So perhaps it is the beautiful game that should be at the forefront of all diplomatic negotiations, perhaps if we all focused a bit more on the teams we love instead of the differences between us, just maybe the world would be a better place.
OFF MY SOAPBOX