Sounders fan and ECS artist Steve Collins was thinking about what it means to be part of the growing soccer culture in North America. As opposed to his usual means of expressing his support for soccer through art, he put his thoughts down in word on his own Facebook page.
We thought they were worthy of further circulation. He agreed to let us bring his thoughts to our readers to widen the debate on what is means to be a supporter, and many other things, in Cascadia circa 2012.
Breaking down soccer culture from a fan’s point of view
by Steve Collins
What does it mean to be a supporter? Are there guidelines you have to follow to be able to call yourself a supporter of your club? What does it all mean? Being a member of a supporter group myself, I’ve been surprised to listen to other supporters and hear their own answers to these questions. I decided to put my own opinion of the classifications within the culture down on paper. Please keep in mind, these are only one person’s subjective view of the culture and it’s groups, you are welcome to feel differently, and many of you probably will.
Before I get started I do think it’s necessary to identify myself, and where I personally place myself within these classes. I am a fan of the sport of soccer. I enjoy watching soccer whether at a MLS, European, International, or Amateur level. My club is the Seattle Sounders in Major League Soccer. I am a member of a supporters group, Emerald City Supporters, and would consider myself a passionate supporter of the team.
I was given the chance to work as an artist for ECS, and now spend at least 2-4 hours a day working on tifo (displays), badges, two poles, and other art related to the group and club. I love my club, my group, and my city. I would consider myself a fan, a supporter, and a member of a supporters group.
As being an ultra in Seattle is based on invitation to a private group, I am NOT an Ultra. As I do not believe in looking for a fight with rival supporter groups, I am NOT a hooligan.
Now to break this down….
In my opinion there are 5 main types of people that enjoy the game of soccer. It is important to remember that you can fall into multiple categories, and in fact most people do. Here they are:
I’ll attempt to break each one of these down individually. This seems like another good point to remind you, these are just one person’s views. You are welcome to disagree.
This is the broadest group by far. Everyone that enjoys watching the Sounders is a fan. Ask yourself this question “Do I like the Sounders?” If you answered yes, then you are a fan of the team. I think it’s safe to say that everyone in the remaining groups are fans. A lot of times within social media and soccer culture this word (“fan”) has meant that you aren’t passionate enough, or are simply there to be entertained. But in reality, we are all fans.
Spectators make up the vast majority of a Sounders (or any other club) match. A Spectator is someone who is there to be entertained. They aren’t there to support their team in any way that distracts from simply enjoying the match. They are the main target group of most front offices, and they pay the bills. They are the families, the first timers, and to a certain extent ANYONE (supporters included) that simply wants to sit and watch a match for entertainment value that day. They are the masses.
Here’s where it gets confusing. Some people would say that if you are a member of Emerald City Supporters, or Gorilla FC, North End Faithful, Eastside Supporters, or any other group under the Sounders supporter group umbrella, that you are a supporter. I think this is wrong.
A supporter is nothing more than someone who, in some way, is showing support of the team. I know this is vague, but if you break it down, that’s all it means. There are no rules to “how to” support your team. There are no real guidelines to what is right and what is wrong. You don’t even need to be there on match day (although it makes it much harder to SHOW your support if you aren’t). A supporter simply takes a bit of effort to show their support of their club.
Given my definition some might argue that purchasing merchandise is a way of supporting. I would agree at the most basic level. When you buy gear, you put money in the teams pocket, which enables them to spend more money. So yes, in a way, buying merchandise is supporting.
Supporting can also be things like talking to people about the team, bringing new people to the matches, participating in stadium wide chants, holding up a scarf, or even (this bugs me to say this) showing your support by supporting the teams sponsors.
Supporting is an act. If what you are doing is in some way supporting the team, you are supporting. If you are supporting, you are a supporter.
Within my own club there are a number of different groups that call themselves supporter groups. When it came time for me to personally decide to make a commitment to one, there was only one option for me, Emerald City Supporters.
For me, a supporter group can be broken down to a group of people that support their team. Every group has a way they see fit to accomplish this. Some belief in community outreach, others simply is cheering with their likeminded “supporters” at matches. Emerald City Supporters, for me, was the group that fit my style of supporting.
This is a choice that everyone makes on their own, or by choice, never makes at all. What should be clear is that being in a supporter group only “makes you a supporter” by giving the group a larger size if you choose to do nothing else. Or, with Emerald City Supporter who require a membership fee, by giving them a donation, through your membership fee, to allow them to have the funds to continue to support the club in their manner.
For me this is where the first real divider comes in though. I might be a supporter by simply supporting my club in any of the ways previously mentioned. But it should be clear that I personally feel you aren’t a ECS member if you aren’t actively supporting the club in the manner the group has determined through it’s mission statement. Each group has identified what their concept of supporting is, and by joining a supporter group, you are agreeing to support in line with their overall belief.
ECS believes in creating an atmosphere that inspires the club to victory, uplifts the club when they fall behind, and encouraging the club to continue when they are dominating. They sing, wave flags, hold up two poles, and create large inspiring displays to accomplish this. For me, it was an easy choice. But simply making the choice does not make me a ECS member (in my opinion). What makes me a ECS member is how I support when I am at a match, away viewing, or anything related to the Sounders. Does the way I am supporting fit in line with the group mission? Am I doing my part? If I can answer yes, then I am being a member. If not, then that day I am not doing my part as a supporter within that group.
This is just one case, and one person’s opinion. There are groups out there that are much more “casual” than ECS, and it’s important that everyone finds the group that best fits their own style of supporting.
Most groups though, accept donations. This is a nice way of saying “I like what you do, but I can’t commit to doing the same”. Groups like ECS rely on this money to do the large displays and support in such a large scale manner. I would suggest that if you like what they do, but don’t want to commit to that level of supporting, that you donate to the group.
Basically, a supporter group is a group of people that have come together to support their club with a common style of supporting in mind. If you join a supporters group, you are usually agreeing to abide by their style of supporting. This should be considered before joining any group.
Within the supporter community this is a group of supporters that always seem to be defined as different things. Personally I find the simplest way to define an ultra is this.
Take the passion level of a normal supporter with a group like ECS, now take that level and turn it up as high as it can go. This is an ultra. An ultra is the “top level” of supporters. They are the most passionate group, and to an extent, direct their personal lifestyle towards supporting the team. If a stadium was the army, the supporters groups would be the Airborne or Rangers, the Ultras would be the special forces.
Some people seem to confuse ultras with hooligans (which we’ll get into later), please don’t. They are two different groups. While in some places people may support in ways that agree with both types, the definition of the two shouldn’t be confused.
Something that a lot of people get wrong (in my opinion) is that during a match the ultras should be the most vocal. This is not the case. Having a level of passion is having a level of passion. How you show it outwardly is up to you as an individual. How loud your voice is has a lot more to do with genetics than how passionate you are for your club.
Being an ultra is, I think, never something you should try to attain. You either are, or you aren’t. Some people think of it as a badge of recognition of your level of support, but in reality, it’s simply another level of the same concept of a supporter group. It’s a group of people that are like minded in their level of support they wish to do for their club, which is typically to a much higher level than your average supporter.
I’ve saved this one for last as it’s something that should really sink in. A hooligan, and hooligan culture, has been recently glorified by Hollywood. Unfortunately, there is nothing here to glorify. It should be looked at in the same light as “gangsters”.
There’s another time and place to explain the details of the culture, it’s history, and it’s place in soccer. Let’s just say that it’s something that, in the United States with its laws and punishments, could never truly work (if “work” is what you’d call it successfully occurring).
The basic concept is that you fight for your club, and more specifically that you fight rival groups in the name of your club.
The only real reason I included this group is to clarify things for people. Supporters are not hooligans. Fans are not hooligans. Ultras are not hooligans. As much as you would be offended if I called you a gang member, they are offended if you call them a hooligan. Understand the difference, and see the movies for what they are, a glamorized version of reality.
There are places in the world where the culture exists, and in some places is considered the regular form of supporting. America is not one of those places. Are there hooligans here, sure, by definition there are hooligans in America and within the supporter culture in the US. But they walk a fine line that can easily land them in jail for 5-10 years, so for the most part, they do not exist.
Are ultras hooligans? No, the easiest way (in my opinion) to differentiate between the two is this:
- A hooligan would see a rival and try to fight them
- An ultra would usually only be seen in a fight defending something or someone
It may be a subtle difference to some, but it’s a difference. In fact, in the eyes of our government the difference between self defense and assault is a rather large difference.
SUPPORTING A 2ND CLUB
I know this doesn’t fit into the classes theme, but I wanted to throw this in here.
Some people think that supporting multiple clubs is alright. I am not one to tell you it isn’t. But what I will say is that supporting your club, and another inside the same league is in direct conflict. If you want your club to win, it means the other club must lose. If you want your club to be champions, the other club must fail. If you consider yourself a supporter of a club, then the failure of every other club they compete with, whether directly or indirectly, is your ultimate goal.
This doesn’t mean you can’t respect the play of another club, or even enjoy their style of play. What it means is that you shouldn’t support another club.
Want to go see a match in another town? Fine. Watch the match as a fan of the sport, or as a casual. But if you do anything to support that team, which goes as far as wearing their kit and creating a more inspiring visual atmosphere for that club to play for, you are conflicting with your support of the original club. It’s simple. Their supporters don’t want your team to win, they want your team to fail, as they should. By supporting their club in any way, you are hurting your own.
I think it’s important that you understand the words there. Being a spectator at another teams match is fine. You aren’t inspiring or supporting their team in any way, which in turn isn’t hurting your own team. It’s when you take place in something that might encourage their team that you hurt your club. Watch the match, enjoy the sport, but in the end, understand that their success means your teams failure, and vice versa.
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