By Jordan Brown, writing from Chicago
Watching last Tuesday’s United States Men’s National Team match against Guatemala, what struck me most—beyond the team’s confident performance—was the support in the stands. The stadium was a packed array of red, white, and blue. The atmosphere was fantastic; the crowd was active and loud, the American Outlaws section enthusiastic in both dress and volume. They also seemed so distinct from a European crowd, so uniquely American in the whole endeavor of support—the Dempsey big-head that got a top billing, the ‘Shot, Shot, Shot’ chant that came out a few times—hints of bombast and swagger, beer in the stands, questionable body paint all spake very American.
The antics weren’t a simulacrum of our European cousins, but instead showed an individual character, and I was suddenly aware that I wasn’t a part of it and dearly wanted to be. The match made me realize that for all my fervent interest in the Beautiful Game, when it came to my own nation’s expression of the sport, I have been an absent participant. It’s taken the week ‘till now for me to consider my situation, but I feel I’ve found a reason: for all the grassroots movement and growing national interest, most Americans are and have been Soccer Orphans.
In Luke Dempsey’s fantastic piece in Howler’s recent first issue, he discusses the difficult position of growing up a Manchester United fan in the West Midlands, home to of clubs like Aston Villa and West Brom—essentially not Manchester.
“If you’ve watched British football from early childhood, your loyalty is probably going to be about your father and which team he supported. I have an American friend who picked Chelsea when she came to the sport as an adult, because she had watched them lose the Community Shield in 2006 and ‘always likes to root for the underdog.’ Bless her.”
In two sentences, Dempsey effectively sums up the identity crisis facing American soccer fans. The America I grew up into is a land of many fathers, but I’d wager that very few of them supported soccer, much less any individual club with any ardor. And the other side of the coin Dempsey has tossed out is a good-natured, but still somewhat common view of the modern American support of European clubs—that it is more novelty than authenticity.