Brandon Chiarmonte is the web man for Upper90.com and a founding member of The Situation Room, a supporters group in Buffalo. He penned this piece to help explain the difference between what Americans call sports fans and what soccer folks call supporters.
Soccer was not big in my hometown while I was growing up, so I never really understood the passion of being a soccer supporter. Sure I was a fan of the local sports teams. I had the jerseys and hats, watched every game and was able to attend what I could in person. I considered myself a fan. When I started following a local NPSL soccer team I began to understand the difference between being a fan and a supporter.
To me, a fan is someone who does go to the games, follows along with the ‘ohhs and ahhs’ of the crowd. They will chat with their coworkers about last night’s game around the water cooler. Their families will ask “What is wrong with your team?” During the offseason they find something else to do, find another team to follow. Unless something drastic happens, they tend to forget about the team until the next season comes around. Your proverbial bandwagon fans can fit this mold, but they only seem to show up when the team is doing really well.
A supporter on the other hand is someone who tries to make it to every game, regardless of importance. They somewhat ignore the “ohhs and ahhs” at the game, they are too busy in the stands singing and having a good time. Most of the time their families and coworkers don’t need to ask about the team. A supporter has already told them all of the details of whatever is going on, most of the time without asking. A supporter does not have an offseason. The team may not have any games for nine months, but they always feel they have work to do.
In most major American sports supporters are out there, but they do not have a unifying voice. Relative to the big four sports in America soccer is fairly new. The supporter culture has been a major driving force for soccer in America. With supporter groups you see everyone with a common goal, unified together in a central location. Other sports the fans are scattered. They may have a common goal, to root for their team, but they do not have the common voice. Take a casual fan with an open mind and put them in the middle of a supporter group and they will be singing in no time.
Supporters in America have been influenced by a mixture of European, Central and South American cultures. The passion can be seen by the unified groups in the stands. Flags, banners, scarves, drums and “more cowbell” can be seen in the mix of any supporter section. The songs sang in perfect cadence (the European influence). The rhythm of the drum is intended give the beat for the song (the Central and South American influence). The cowbell just clanging away completes the melting pot of support (The North American influence). The massive TIFO, occasional flare and smoke bomb make its way into the mix as well, depending on culture. A supporter stands on his feet, stands on his seat, they make themselves visible.
Supporting soccer in American is a year-round job. We are always looking to see what they can do to support their club. We are walking talking billboards for the club via word of mouth or bringing people to a game to experience it for themselves. We spend hours thinking of songs, painting drums and banners… doing whatever we can to prepare for the season. During the season it is much of the same and but a whole lot more. This includes spending countless hours in the car driving to the away games, late nights painting the spur of the moment banners, even skipping family weddings to spend 16 hours in a day on a bus to see a team play in an Open Cup game.
The one thing a supporter wants in return for all of this work they do off the field is for the players on the field to understand and appreciate it. We may not be physically talented to be able to play the game. We most likely can’t really sing well or play the drums properly. What we do is give it 100 percent and we want the team to give 100 percent back. We feel a loss just as bad, we get as excited for a win just as much.