Welcome to Self-Indulgence Sunday, an occasional feature where I rant about whatever's bugging me in the world of soccer rather than talking about something at least a little bit relevant or interesting. For the first installment in the series, take a look here.
Last week, I received my Vancouver Whitecaps season ticket package. I wasn't supposed to receive it, but that's a story for another time. The point is that one of the things featured quite prominently in the package is a so-called "Supporter Pledge". It appears on the inside of the box the package came in as well as on a page of the booklet of season tickets. It runs eleven items, and they are as follows:
- Building the atmosphere on the Whitecaps march to the match.
- Being the first person on my feet to cheer our team at the start of the game.
- Ensuring, win, lose or tie, I'm the last person standing to applaud them at the end.
- Blinding our opponents with a sea of white jerseys, caps, scarves and flags.
- Deafening our visitors by joining in our Club's chants, songs, and shouts.
- Celebrating every Whitecaps goal as if it's our last.
- Lifting every Whitecaps player if times get tough.
- Making our home field a fortress; a place no visitor wants to play.
- Enjoying our successes gracefully and accepting our defeats with dignity.
- Growing our Club by encouraging new fans to support our teams.
- Bring proud of our Club, our Whitecaps teams, our City.
It's all good, generic, we-will-protect-our-house stuff. More marketing than anything but, still, probably a nice touch. "Look at how hardcore we are!" except written in family-friendly soccertainment terms. Naturally, to some of the actual hardcore supporters, to whom standing at the beginning and end of a match is pretty much necessary for standing through the whole match, it's a bit of a bewildering document. Not just because they say to wave flags while flagpoles are banned inside the stadium, either.
It's awfully, well, inclusive. Coming on the heels of Bob Lenarduzzi saying in a radio interview months back that all Whitecaps fans are supporters to him, it seems to reek of an almost FC Dallas mentality except the bouncy castle has scarves hanging off of it. Meanwhile, the organization is having trouble getting a supporters' section together for its season ticket holders, having even more trouble getting an away supporters' section together for fans visiting from other, inferior cities, and generally behaving like they'd be happier if we all just gave a "WHITE! CAPS!" when Winger told us to and got on with it.
I'm not saying the real Whitecaps supporters don't come by their fears honestly. I'm just saying, just because we're the loudest fans doesn't mean we're the only fans.
I don't want to come off too harshly against the real, standing-singing-and-chanting Whitecaps supporters. I mean, apart from everything else I am one. There were dark old days, before my time, when the Whitecaps front office viewed anything related to supporters culture with suspicion, if not actually alarm. It's only very gradually that the hard work of a few dedicated people has been rewarded with acknowledgement and cooperation from the club (a word which, in defiance of the Supporters Pledge, I will continue to spell with a lower-case "c"). Small wonder many long-time supporters are leery of anything that diminishes their status, lest hard-won concessions on standing and chanting and waving flags be slowly clawed back under the iron grasp of "we are all supporters".
But there's also an element of snobbery, I think we'll all admit it, and I'll even admit that I quite often fall into that trap myself. This isn't just a Whitecaps problem. If the subject comes up with almost any group of North American soccer supporters, you'll see the same attitudes. Stupid regular fans, sitting on their hands, cheering when the team tells them to. With their crappy mascots running around and their doing the wave and the way that, when told to "MAKE SOME NOIIIISE", they respond with aimless shrieking and stamping rather than, y'know, something interesting or useful. This is on the rare occasions when they're deigning to make some noise at all other than chatting on their cell phones about things that could not be further from a soccer field. Call them supporters? What the hell are they supporting, except Bell's profit margin?
Now, everybody recognizes that these 20,000 pseudo-supporters per game are what keep a club profitable, but that doesn't mean we can't look down on them. Although we probably shouldn't.
What we have to remember is that the casual fans of today are the supporters of tomorrow. I wasn't always a raving, screaming nutbar. I was a soccer fan from an early age but my parents never brought me into some shouting supporters section where I learned about supporters' culture from the moment I was sentient. I'd been to plenty of soccer games already but at one point in my early twenties, I made the mistake of hanging out with the crazies for a Canada - Honduras match in Montreal and that was it. The end. Would I have been down there if, every time I'd gone to a Canada match previously, it had been made clear to me in no uncertain terms that I wasn't a "real" supporter? If I'd been condescended to the way I fear we sometimes condescend to the casual fans in today's stands?
The truth is that some people, particularly children, really enjoyed having Winger around mascot-ing it up. If you're more used to the CFL than MLS, that "White! Caps!" thing would have seemed quite familiar and even comforting. Not everybody is wired to stand for ninety minutes plus stoppages singing from what is, by MLS standards, a fairly large songbook. Maybe these people will someday grow curious about "real" supporters culture, as does sometimes happen, and come to join us. Maybe they never will and will prefer to enjoy the game their way. And if they come to Whitecaps games, pay for their tickets, buy merchandise, and enjoy the beauty that is professional soccer, then who the hell are we to complain just because they're not "doing it right" and because the club is catering to them rather than treating them as ten thousand lepers?
No, that's not the way it is at Anfield, but in case you haven't noticed this isn't Liverpool and never will be. This is Vancouver, and thank god for that.