Welcome to the refreshed RSL Soapbox! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card [contest rules]. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!
A few years ago, I finished reading a graphic novel series that was so emotional, that I cried for a long time after reading it. I had been a fan of the series for a number of years, and followed it—buying issues month by month—until it ended. I had taken these issues with me to school, to work, on road trips and any other event that called for good reading material, for years. So when I finished the last issue, it was like a chapter of my life—the one that features the series—was over, and ready or not, I had to start anew. Since then, it has become my go-to whenever people ask for recommendations. Student won’t often read books, so I try to coolly push a graphic novel series. Want to read something quick and easy, try this graphic novel series! Want to read something in depth, try this graphic novel series! It tore me apart, but I still recommend it hoping that it will be as important to someone else as it was to me. Soccer is the same way. I always try to take people who have never seen a game hoping that it will reach them in the same way it has me.
Whenever I tell people that I am a fan of Real Salt Lake, I always leave a number of things out. I don’t tell them that I am a season ticket holder; I don’t tell them that I travel to away matches; and I don’t tell them that I was married at the stadium, or proposed on the back of a personalized jersey. I don’t tell people this, because they usually aren’t very interested. To the casual person, or casual fan even, the only important thing about a team they choose to support is how often they win — a fair statistic to observe before committing oneself to a team of any sport. This leads me to believe that the problem in committing oneself to fandom comes from the fact that supporting any team takes time. Casual fans can’t justify spending the time it takes to commit to a team, but can still enjoy the pleasures of a winning system — as showcased in my weekly water-cooler segments. Causal fans love talking about the many ups and downs a team experiences throughout a season. They go crazy over post-seasons and special tournaments, and while that’s all perfectly fine, I could never enjoy a great review of a good series as much as I would experiencing the actual thing.
My first away trip was to Portland to see Real Salt Lake take on the Portland Timbers in the second leg of the Western Conference Final. I went because we were up 4-2. I went because 100-plus other people were going. I went because I knew I would experience something that I just couldn’t experience from home. We drove out the day before the game, explored as much of Portland as one can in 14ish hours, and drove back right after RSL lifted the Western Conference Trophy to the tune of 100-plus fans chanting “We are going to the Cup!” On my way down to join the chants, I looked across me to a defeated supporter. Their season was over, and I somehow felt responsible for his pain. “Hell of a game, huh?” he mentioned to me. I nodded, unable to respond. “Want to do an old fashion scarf exchange?” he asked. I felt honored that he would ask, and agreed to it. “Give Kansas City hell for us, will ya?” and he left the stadium as I went to congratulate our team and celebrate on their field.
The second trip I took came a few months later. The first game of the season. The first game with Cassar at the helm. The first game for Luke Mulholland. Kind of a big deal right? It was in LA, and I was afraid that their fans wouldn’t be as nice to us as Portland. I was right. While LA fans weren’t exactly mean, they were very annoyed that we won 1-0 after Nick Rimando saved a Robbie Keane penalty in the dying moments of the match. They put us next to their supporter’s section. And while there was taunting between both groups throughout the match, there isn’t much that can be said after a win except “good game.” This time, we stayed a few days after the match and went to Disneyland wearing our RSL jerseys. Everyone from Utah stopped to talk to us about the game, an experience that I rarely get here. Utahan conversation was very welcome, as I was beginning to feel a little homesick.
The first away loss I experienced was last year in San Jose. I knew we were on a downward swing, but it always seemed like the next game would be the one that got us out. I wanted to be there for that win. When Justen Glad found a way to get a goal, I was ecstatic. I just knew this was going to be the goal that would lead to the win, which would lead to the upswing, which would eventually become a positive playoff experience. But then San Jose scored again. The ref blew the whistle, and we went home the next day to not win another game to end that season. I had come full circle, becoming the broken supporter I had met in Portland years before. We hadn’t lost a trophy or the Western Conference Final, but it felt like we missed the opportunity to pull ahead and turn the season around. It spelled the end, almost one month before the season actually came to a close.
As we were flying home from our most recent trip, a 4-0 drubbing by the New England Revolution, I looked at the New England scarf I acquired via trade. The guy who traded it to me was ecstatic about the result, thinking no doubt that it would lead to more dominant performances. I thought about the collection of scarves that I’ve gathered from the away trips over the years. And while the flight back essentially stamped the end of the Boston chapter in my life, I was ready to start anew. Soccer has become my go-to recommendation for people who want entertainment, enhanced by the very essence of Real Salt Lake. Want to travel to a cool place on a budget? Go to an away match. Want to travel to a cool place that is exotic and will make you feel like Valentine Michael Smith (Stranger in a Strange Land)? Go to an away match. The result might lift you up, it might tear you apart, but the people you meet, the stadiums you see, and the emotions that you experience can’t be matched. The memories that you make will be important and meaningful in ways that can’t be replicated. Win or lose, you will still have that fandom. Win or lose, you will still have Rio Tinto to come home to. Win or lose, you belong.
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