Outside a bar at halftime, one team was up a man and four goals. The crowd outside was split, not between teams but between ideals. Who would go back to watch the second half? It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the beginning of spring and a few of us wanted to go sit in a park. The game was all but over. But for some reason, everybody followed one guy back in, back to their seats at the bar. “It’s part of the contract,” he said. “It’s what we do.”
What contract? It’s the contract we sign as fans. The contract to watch and be a part of the sport in America. But what responsibility do we have to the game? What do we owe it? Are we ever allowed our Saturday afternoons?
My annual fan contracts have evolved over the years with regards to the Fire and the sport of soccer in general. Whereas I used to sign up for the atmosphere, or the results themselves, now I sign for the athletics, the ideas, and the story of the competition. Sometimes, I even take my Saturday afternoons soccer-free.
I don’t have to sing or cry anymore. I salute those fans, those who sign the emotional fan contract. They’re stronger than I. They’re the ones singing at Toyota Park against Red Bulls in the cold. They’re the ones proving the word fan comes from fanatic. They’re the ones spending hours upon hours on tifo or travelling all over the country, dealing with airports and buses and Kansas City. Those fans carry the club. They’re as much a part of the team as the players.
- TIFO TIMELAPSE: The work put in to create home opener tifo
But then, I’m not one of them. I’m a different kind of fan. I’m a supporter, in the true sense of that word. I want the team to do well and I want to support it towards its goals. My contract with the team is to be a part of that progression.
Nowadays, that supporter contracts costs me two things: my money and my time. I pay to watch the games and I give my time to watch and read about my team.
But as a supporter, I can’t stand the occasional debates about who the “real” fans are. They’re tiresome. The truth is that it’s simply difficult in MLS to figure out the “right” way to support your team. Young, and comprised of mostly young organizations, it’s a unique league in the world of soccer. Doesn’t it come with a different kind of contract for us to sign now as fans, supporters, consumers, and participants?
In MLS, there is for us American soccer fans the first chance in a generation to support our local team. Our team in our city. Our contract with the league and our team in the league is about something bigger. It’s about the idea of growing something that is ours.
Our participation, now, is the basis of American soccer.
It’s in that umbrella of growth, that fungal tarpaulin, under which we all stand together. Hipster craft beer MLS fans, soccer moms, whatever. We all struggle with our responsibility, caught between fandom and supporterdom, between Saturday afternoons and the bar - but that’s ok. That’s part of the uniqueness of our American soccer contract. We get to carve out our own relationships with the team and the league. Like a cartoon rumble, we define it as it defines us, and we roll together down the hill.
Some of us will go to the stadium once a year for the tailgate while others go every week out of unshakeable loyalty to the badge; some of us will go to see a new tactical development while others want to see a guy they played against in high school - the point is that we’re all there. Supporters and fans, side by side.
In the end all the arguments about MLS fans are pointless because there is only one way to watch the game. It’s the way that makes you want to watch, follow, and maybe buy a shirt or a ticket. That’s the way we build this thing - so go and find your way.
Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.