The Foundation of a Football Club: The Supporters
The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and the consistent topsy-turvy lifestyle that a supporter will endure once embroiled in the journey of ‘their’ football club is unrivalled.
I began supporting Arsenal during the 1989 season, specifically the match when Michael Thomas scored the 2nd goal versus Liverpool on the last day of the season hence handing Arsenal the Championship. My navigation towards Arsenal stemmed from the principle that my cousin was a Liverpool supporter, and as we sat in his house on Heath Street in Birmingham watching a 12” television, I witnessed his sentiment transfer from joy to despair. I observed a 9 year old British kid encapsulated in the beautiful game and most importantly, ‘his’ club. Being somewhat tyrannical, I took the side of the opposition to the Reds as family bragging rights were to be had. Being a foreigner unbeknownst to true football culture, I had free reign to decide on an affiliation for myself.
My support for Arsenal wasn’t immediate. In fact, for my sins, I was actually brought up leaning towards Aston Villa due to my entire family residing in Birmingham. However, I never felt the passion I perceived until I huddled around the television that May day with my cousin. My passion for the Arsenal grew into a religion when I lived in London. It gave me the opportunity to engross myself in the culture of watching Sky Sports News, reading the sports section of the Sun newspaper and constantly refreshing the NewsNow Arsenal feed throughout the work day. I travelled across England and Europe spending my paycheck on travel, beer, match tickets and memorabilia – and would do it one thousand times over.
Every time I entered the Emirates stadium or another ground on awaydays with the Red and White Army I felt as though I was surrounded by a band of brothers. Nothing else mattered than the passion we all shared for our football club. Whether we agreed on the direction of the club, the manager or the players on the pitch, once the match kicked off the majority were one – standing, sitting, hands on face or fist pumping.
Living in Canada, I am now deprived of watching my beloved Arsenal in the flesh and have to settle for early morning kick-offs on television, but the passion remains. My daughter even yells ‘YAAAAA’ when ‘we’ score – it has now grown into a family tradition.
Why doesn’t North America have the same hardened supporters that Europe has for their clubs? I’ve heard so many conclusions to this question which vary from: ‘there is so much else to do’ to ‘we are such a multi-cultural society and our first love is a club and sport in our home country.’ I don’t concur to any of the inferences stated. My conclusion is that Globalisation is young. We are only recently seeing the expansion of television rights and the availability of most European matches on television. The matter of ‘accessibility’ is where local supporters learn the tradition and longevity which has engulfed football fans all over the world for generations. Over time, we will see the same devotion envelop supporters in North America. In Vancouver, I already recognize the development of supporters happening with the Vancouver Whitecaps who were only resurrected in 2010. The Southsiders, Rain City Brigade and Curva Collective amongst others are formidable supporter groups for a club so young and they transmit the passion of the sport to those around them.
My advice to ensure that organic growth in support for MLS clubs continues is to keep spreading the word. Get more people to matches, develop traditions such as the march, create an atmosphere representative of the city as a whole and show your pride, your passion to the entire world. It seems far-fetched but every success is built on foundation – and we are doing a great job.