Part of the problem any new soccer team has is the fans.
I'm not even kidding. You see, the patrons of any team that's just risen to prominence can be divided into a few groups. There are the hardcore supporters, the sorts of people who read websites like this (hi guys!). They stand and sing and cheer and do their best to keep it going, win, lose, or draw. In the case of a promoted team like the Vancouver Whitecaps, many of those fans have been doing the same act for long, less-than-glorious years. Others only joined the ranks of the hardcore when the team became "major league". Nothing wrong with that; they all sound the same when they're singing.
Then there's the casuals: the prawn sandwich brigade, the soccer moms, the guys we love to make fun of. They don't visit sites like this so much because they have better things to do than read factually dubious, unproofread ramblings about why Philippe Davies is a better option on the right wing than Wes Knight. So I can get away with doing things like calling them "the prawn sandwich brigade" because they'll never see it anyway. But don't be fooled: they're true blue fans too. Many of them buy season tickets for higher prices than the supporters pay, they cheer, they'll even stand sometimes. Without them, the club could not exist. I love you guys too, even if you'll never know it.
Then there are... um, the others. Those whose idea of support isn't standing and chanting, or sitting and clapping, but rising up and doing damage. To the stadium, to the fans, to each other. We call them "hooligans" but they hardly deserve the name: they're wannabes. There are too few of them to really matter but too many to be ignored, and whenever a new team comes these posers come with it. Convinced that they're the highest form of soccer-supporting life until they are mercifully euthanased by the twin pressures of stadium security and social scorn.
We ask ourselves, why does soccer have such a public relations problem in Canada and the United States? These yahoos are why. And Vancouver is not immune.
This post was, I confess, inspired by a comment on the Vancouver Southsiders forum. I am a Southsider, so I'm coming at this from a prejudiced position, but still. This guy seems to have a rather interesting idea of what being a soccer supporter entails. I'm going to post his comment in full; if he thinks his copyright is being infringed, I encourage him to e-mail me with his identifying information using the link at the bottom of this page. I may or may not forward that identifying information on to Empire Field security. Anyway.
The southsiders are a bunch of POSERS!!!! During the game (Van v KC) today the Caps were down 3-0. I looked over to the "official supporter firm" of the Caps and you bunch of POSERS were clowning around, throwing a frisby and tossing empty cups on the turf. You guys are a joke! A REAL FIRM would have been chanting for there team to get back in the game not playing frisby like your down at kits beach in 30 DEGREE weather. And dont try to take credit for the comeback tie- the manager made the right subs.
Us REAL supporters on the EASTSIDE ripped our plastic chairs off the bleachers when the Caps completed the comeback tie. We showed real passion! the southsiders showed there true colors! POSERS!
I'll quibble with his facts a little. I was in the press box for yesterday's game, and I commented to Trevor Leach of goal.com that, in a pretty quiet stadium, it was amazing how well you could hear the Southsiders launch into a rendition of "We're Blue, We're White". I'm not going to pretend they were shaking the building down like after Camilo Sanvezzo played hero, but given that their hearts were being ripped out through their throat they were doing a pretty good job. According to Marc Weber, Davide Chiumiento agreed with me.
But that's not really the point, of course. The point is that this guy seems to have gotten his soccer culture from movies, not from soccer. Calling the Southsiders a "firm" shows he has no idea what that means; I've been a Southsider since 2009 and have never once stabbed a Portland supporter in the kidney with a sharpened screwdriver. Not only that, but he seems to think that being a firm is a good thing: he describes dismantling the stadium (and costing the Whitecaps, his club, cash to repair the damage) as the act of a real supporter while merely standing and singing is for babies.
If this guy were a lone lunatic, I could just laugh at him, but he isn't. One fan yesterday lit a flare, then when security came tossed it onto the plastic pitch. Another set off a fire extinguisher in the south end as a form of smoke: while I love smoke bomb and admire that kid's chutzpah, he could have picked a smarter way to do it since actual smoke bombs are easily available and fire extinguisher "smoke" is toxic. A few fans wearing Canucks jerseys in section 230 reportedly spent most of the game drinking and trying to challenge people to fights like this were a Toronto Blue Jays game. They're isolated elements, obviously, but they're still there. Taking "let's go fucking mental" to its illogical conclusion.
Vancouver's by no means the only city to have these teething problems. The incident with the flare recalls a similar event in Toronto in 2009; sadly, somebody was hurt that time. Flares are used for tifo in parts of Europe, but there it's an organized effort: all the fans working in concert, knowing what they're doing, with plenty of sand on hand to extinguish the flares harmlessly. Meanwhile, any fan in Seattle or Philadelphia could sympathize with me when I speak of the lunatic fringe that makes the rest of their supporters look bad.
Frankly, I just don't get it. There are assholes at every sporting event, of course, as the recent stories of fights in the 500 level at the Blue Jays home opener help make clear. But soccer seems to attract the idea that such ridiculousness is part of the culture. Never mind that hooliganism has almost ceased to be a concern outside of eastern Europe, with even the great English firms now the stuff of nostalgia. Forget that the near-elimination of said hooligans is unanimously agreed to have improved both the fan experience and the standard of play in western Europe. There are definitely people who, to use a favourite phrase of mine, thought Green Street was a documentary. Whose idea of supporting the club is to cause havoc, alone or in small groups, rather than to stand and sing and cheer and never stop.
We complain about the media treating violence at soccer games as evidence of hooliganism whereas violence at football games isn't even news. But let's face it: hooliganism is part of the culture. In countries where they've actually experienced hooliganism, it's a dark chapter to be looked down upon. And in countries where it's a novelty, there are some people who think that it's the highest form of support.
These people are idiots. In time they will be weeded out. But a few of them come into the mix with every new team and, at risk of sounding like a Toronto Star columnist, they must be stopped. If you see somebody ripping out seats in your section, or a few morons lighting flares with goofy grins and no exit strategy, get a picture and let security know. I don't want family friendly soccertainment any more than you do, but that doesn't mean I want supporters who damage the game rather than add to it.