Editorial: Columbus Fans Right to be Annoyed but Put the Team First

Posted in Fan Culture, World Soccer

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Published on August 29, 2013 with 7 Comments

The Hard Hats represented well in Seattle!

The Hard Hats represented well in Seattle!

Some of the dust is beginning to settle on yesterday’s controversy over the Capoing and other organisational issues at the upcoming USA v Mexico match in Columbus, Ohio.

As the day progressed, more information spilled out rapidly and some of the initial anger seemed to dissipate as the earliest conclusions were revealed to be less than the whole story.

That is not to say that there are not unresolved issues about the manner in which the football fans in Columbus were treated.

However, the earliest headlines about AO Seattle being ‘transplanted’ in to run things, which would have been a horrendously bad idea, proved to be an overreach at worst or a misunderstanding of what the parties had agreed at best.

Invitations had been sent out more nationally and many Capo volunteers including some from Seattle responded.

Later, we will tell the story of one of those, Tanya Keith a housewife from Des Moines Iowa, who is driving to the match to Capo and has spent a fortune on supporting the USMNT.

The article on her quaintly named Soccer Family Style blog took some of the initial steam out of the row, when she at least burst the myth that this was all about a Seattle takeover.

Even if that part wasn’t true, the Columbus folk had every right to be annoyed. Their role in the history and development of noisy support for the USA, especially against Mexico, is something that is very dear to them.

Even before this furore unfolded, AO Columbus President Brock Hemphill emailed us in connection with a separate article we are writing on the Rise of the American Outlaws.

He told us of the pride the City of Columbus takes in their role, especially with regard to the Mexico fixture:

“We definitely take pride in the rich soccer history here in Columbus.  There is a reason why Crew Stadium is Mexico’s hell.  We feel that this is the National Team’s home and we intend to keep it that way.”

The US fans of Columbus have earned the right to be treated with respect because of that history.

If they feel they have not been, either by AO’s National Officers or by US Soccer, then some goodwill measures and some damage repair is necessary.

This should be the case whether they are being territorial or not. Reasonable or unreasonable. They have earned the right to have their feelings considered.

But it’s not just a matter of bruised pride. They have been working hard for some time as Hemphill confirmed:

“Planning for night before and day of festivities have been underway for months.”

There are several issues for the AO, US Soccer and the wider fan community to consider and debate.

Firstly, we can all agree that the atmosphere in Seattle was fantastic. It surpassed some of the best atmospheres produced by some of the world’s best supporters, in some of the world’s biggest venues.

But does that necessarily lead to the conclusion that it should, or even can, be replicated in other venues and cities with a different fan culture, a smaller capacity, or a longer history of loud cheering. Is standardisation necessarily desirable?

Or even was it desirable enough to be worth this row?

There is a second point which is particularly hard for this website to make, given our homebase, but we’ve never shied from controversy.  “Seattle” can be a divisive term in the supporter culture world.

The claims that spread across the net that Seattleites invented everything from ‘tifo to touchlines’ irritated plenty of longstanding fans elsewhere. It also must be said in defence of the Seattle football community that a fair share of grown-ups in the Emerald City also cringe when they see some of the braggadocious stuff posted online by newbies, claiming to speak for Sounders fans.

On top of the online bragging, the national football media had been fawning over high attendances, especially at Sunday’s game with Portland. That media focus exacerbated the irritation. Lastly, Major League Soccer’s generous gift of America’s best forward to Sounders FC magnified the general feelings elsewhere of media overkill about Seattle.

In that context, telling the Hudson Street Hooligans, Nordecke and AO Columbus that the atmosphere had to be ‘like Seattle’ was ill timed and unfortunate.

On the other hand, US Soccer and the AO are charged with providing the best atmosphere to support the American National side as they can organise. They did this in good conscience. They fulfilled their mandate.

We have seen it argued that US Soccer should not be in the business of organising Supporter Culture at all.  Or, from the other point of view, that AO must remain fiercely independent of the USSF.

Look No Capos! Fans in Crew Stadium watch USA v BelgiumPhoto: Sam Fahmi (Massive Report)

Look No Capos! Fans in Crew Stadium watch USA
Photo: Sam Fahmi (Massive Report)

That is superb idealism and may hold water in a country where the sport is not trying to grow.

Consider that issue from this angle. Most of us welcome the idea of fans being involved in the running of a club or having representatives attending board meetings. The idea that supporters have no interest in the running of the clubs that they love is not even the reality in places where the sport is king.

If we accept that fans have a legitimate interest in the running of clubs, it is hardly an ideological stretch to say that club, or in this case the Federation, have a legitimate interest in assisting supporters. There is simply no ideological barrier being crossed here. It is a matter of degree certainly and respect, but there is no big deep line in the sand.

The National AO have every right to continue a consistent dialogue with US Soccer, who we would surely all fault if they were unwilling to communicate back.

LA Galaxy have on occasion offered journalists use of the empty seats on charter planes when they travel to CONCACAF matches. If a club can assist journalists, even with  their mandate to be impartial, to fulfill their function then surely assisting the fan experience has a degree of legitimacy.

Of course there are limits. Fans cannot pick the team and Front Offices should not involve themselves in the myriad world of Supporters Groups’ politics.

In this instance, the USSF tried to ensure logistics for a match in which they definitely have a vested interest.

If a line was crossed, it seems to be one of etiquette, respect and proper consultation procedures.

Questions like:

  • Should AO Seattle have been included on the conference call?
  • Should AO Columbus have been given an absolute veto on Capos on their turf?

still remain and these are issues that should be discussed as the American Outlaws and football in the USA continue to grow.

Events may have taken all sides by surprise and found them without the necessary existing policies in place to cope with this particular confluence of events.

Prost Amerika is not going to tackle those questions today. We will contribute to the debate at the right time and encourage everyone else to participate.

Jurgen Klinsmann's side may need just one more push to guarantee qualification<Photo: Ali Gilmore

Jurgen Klinsmann’s side may need just one more push to guarantee qualification

And this is the main thrust of our argument and this editorial.

At this point, we would ask all parties to end this controversy today so that all attention can be focused on the players, the coach and the match.

There is a time to unite and a time to debate.

This is what we’d like to see unfold today:

Give AO Columbus an apology for any perceived slights.

In return, we ask all the good folk in Columbus to park their feelings and concerns for 13 days and focus on the best way to support the side.

Without them, there is no game to watch, no goals to cheer and no victories to celebrate.

Fans can decide whether they want to be American Outlaws down the line when policies are decided in a calmer period. Online declarations of leaving the organisation help no-one at this juncture. If you dislike what policies the AO subsequently adopt, there will be plenty time to not rejoin later.

This clearly is also not a time for formulating general policies moving forward for fans, the AO or the USSF.

This is a time for getting behind Jurgen Klinsmann and his side rather than focusing on issues, albeit very legitimate concerns, that surround Supporter Culture.

It does not mean anyone’s hurt feelings are misplaced, that their concerns do not deserve a full airing or that they haven’t been wronged.

Nor does it mean that we do not  have to face big decisions on issues like local versus national at international games eventually.

The time for that will come and should come. It just isn’t now.

Now is the time to focus on the one last heave that will get the team to Brazil.

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7 Comments

Comments for Editorial: Columbus Fans Right to be Annoyed but Put the Team First are now closed.

  1. I wasn’t on the conference call, and I don’t know what was said, but it sure seems like there are multiple versions flying around.

    There are some good comments on this reddit thread and links to Twitter accounts of some of the people who are directly involved.
    http://www.reddit.com/r/MLS/comments/1l9pia/the_american_outlaws_statement_on_the_usa_vs/

    https://twitter.com/chrislamacchia/status/372774117218721792

  2. As a dedicated USMNT and soccer fan who is also not a member of a supporters group, this looks to me like a whole hell of a lot of territorial *******. I don’t think anyone comes off looking very good here. Supporters groups are very, very good at channeling and leading the fanbase, and I give them the credit they deserve for that, but none of them invented supporting one’s team, and this whole “our town is better than your town at cheering” — from ALL parties, including especially Seattle’s regrettable tendency to believe that we’re the Brazil of chanting, “you invented it, we perfected it” — looks like fighting for scraps of respect that no one else cares about. The majority of people in the stadium or watching on television aren’t going to be allied with a given supporters group and won’t know or care which capo is from where. Every supporters group I’ve encountered claims that “it’s all about the boys on the field”. Things like this make that somewhat difficult to believe, and perpetuate the world of American soccer as an insular subculture rather than the inclusive and integrated part of mainstream culture that we all would like it to be and ought to want it to be.

  3. In physics there is this concept of percolation, where you can think of a grid with randomly filled in squares, and at some point there are enough squares that all sides of the box can be connected through contacting squares. This transition from unconnected clusters to spanning clusters occurs rather sharply, and can be a bit of a shock. The analogy here is that soccer fandom in the US is going through a phase transition. At no other time has the culture connected so strongly from coast to coast. There will be, and has been, some growing pains, but these are signs of progress, not regression. All we need now moving forward is a little improved communication and humility.

    • I agreed with AND understood the second part.

      The first part I just agreed with.

  4. For the sake of disclosure, I am a Seattle fan no longer living in the NW. First off, the “we invented stuff” comments were stupid and actually sincere when the club started, even then most Seattle fans laughed at it and knew it was not true. When it is used now, it is mostly for satire and trolling. Don’t take it seriously.
    I can understand why Columbus might be upset and let’s all agree that the initial articles may have been a bit overstated. You have to ask yourself when it comes to the USMNT can you put aside club loyalty. Hey, Seattle and Portland fans came together to Capo the Seattle USMNT game, but jeez, don’t let anyone other than Columbus people be involved in the México game! Silly, right?
    I think the AO is reaching out to EVERYONE in the US for experienced Capos who can help organize and build chants and lead the SG. Because Seattle actually had organized chants, etc. the AO probably gave them some deference in helping out. Let’s be honest here, and I have been to USMNT games, usually the only chant most people know is USA, USA or “who’s your father referee.” One game people were chanting more to have a guy lower the US flag he was waving so they could see the game. Maybe I’m missing something but if you buy seats in the SG section, get ready for waving flags and chants and screaming your ass off, otherwise sit in regular seating and cheer (nothing wrong with that). USMNT games could be more fun. Why not let AO help build that culture, even if it involves someone from Alaska or Florida, or even Seattle?

    • I believe the match you’re talking about the flag was the DC match. If so, it’s because he had his flag in the air, but not waving it. None of the people in the section had a problem with him having the flag. It’s just that he just left it up and didn’t wave it. If you look at almost every SG section where people have flags, they don’t have the flags up if they’re not being waved.

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