Soccer Culture

Near the end of the summer of 2011, the technological world advanced beyond me.  My computer was no longer compatible with the “new and improved” video streaming software and (since I don’t subscribe to cable or satellite television) I lost my ability to watch professional soccer.  Rather than being disappointed, I looked for other ways to watch soccer.  I started going to the matches at the local high school and attended some of the youth club matches (in addition to the matches my son played in).  By December 2011 I was suffering from soccer deprivation (there was something I missed about putting on a soccer match, plopping on the couch and drinking some fresh craft beer), so I bought a new computer and immediately purchased subscriptions to two online services which stream matches live and on-demand.  Since then, I’ve never been without a match to watch whenever I felt the urge to take in a game.

In the spring of 2012, I started attending MLS matches at the soccer-specific stadium in Harrison, New Jersey (a three hour journey).  What was a little easier was catching matches in the summer at Cy Donnelly Stadium in South Huntington where the Long Island Rough Riders play (only half an hour away).  At the end of July, the Rough Riders’ season was over.  I still took the long trip to New Jersey about once a month for the odd MLS match.  Then it was over.  But I still had my online streaming subscriptions and so (in September) I started following the English Premier League.  Really, though, I am just passing the time until the MLS kick-offs in the spring.  And later this year, I plan on following the NASL.  In August the new retreaded Cosmos will be joining the NASL reboot.

But recently, I began to question whether the EPL, the MLS, or the NASL deserved my attention.  With my paid streaming subscriptions I’m subsidizing a form of football that runs counter to my social, cultural, and political convictions.

Recently, I read Glen Wilson’s article, “Out of Love – On finding it hard to follow your club.”  While reading what Wilson had to say, I thought, “What am I doing following the Premiership?  I should be following my local team.”  And I remembered all those Saturday afternoon matches I attended at Cy Donnelly Stadium cheering on the Rough Riders (both the women’s and men’s sides).  The Rough Riders are relatively close; they play at the highest level of soccer within a thirty mile radius of Long Neck.  The Rough Riders play in the USL PDL with sides consisting of college players trying to keep their form.  The level of play is quite good.  However, when sitting in the stadium with a few hundred other spectators I don’t get the feeling that I’m a part of something.  My friends who live in Long Neck still think driving to South Huntington is too far, so it’s hard to twist their arms and doubly so since there is not beer concession at the stadium.  I was hoping to find a Rough Rider supporters group, but found none.  Starting one myself seemed a quixotic idea.  My days of crusading for causes are over.  Aren’t they?

When the Cosmos announced their entry into the NASL, I thought I might help organize some support out here on the Island.  As long as it was easy and didn’t take up too much of my time.  But lately I’ve been having second thoughts about the Cosmos, their foreign ownership, and the lack of information about what’s happening with the club.  Aside from buying a name, a logo, and some colors, what have the new owners done?  And even when (if?) the Cosmos do arrive, I’ll have to drive to Hempstead (an hour away) to get to the matches.  Of course, if I can get enough fans together, we could hire a bus, and take a keg of RPAB with us.  That would be a fun day out with the lads and lasses.  But why don’t I just move to England if what I really want is a well establish local football culture?  I could move to Manchester and join FC United Manchester.  That’s what I really want.  I want FC United Long Neck and FCUM would be the model.  What is FCUM?  Here’s what the blurb says: “FC United of Manchester is a community football club owned and run by its members. Its membership is open to all, with everyone an equal co-owner, holding one voting share in the club.”  Is something like that possible on Long Island?  Even the Rough Riders, a club that’s been around since 1994, struggles to get spectators into the stands.  For the typical Rough Riders match, you’ll see maybe two or three hundred in the stands.  Reported figures sometime spike in the six hundreds, but that’s a pretty light showing if you are looking at laying an economic foundation on which to build a club.

Perhaps attendance would improve if the Rough Riders had an active supporters group.  The biggest hurdle is getting a group of people interested in watching a “minor league” soccer match.  People willing to put on the colors and show up at a match on a Saturday afternoon ready to have a good time.  But American sports fans are so used to watching (passively) the big leagues that even those interested in soccer in this country (for the most part) aren’t chomping at the bit to get out to watch a fourth tier (USL PDL or NPSL) side.  Even getting support for the Cosmos playing in the second tier (NASL) is a challenge.

Another problem with building a local supporter culture for the Rough Riders, or even the Cosmos, is that neither team is really part of the community, at least not the community of Long Neck.  Long Island is so big and spread out and compartmentalized.  The villages and hamlets tend to be small and the people have a suburban mentality where what passes for a “town center” is often a strip mall.  Even if Long Neck had a soccer club fielding a fourth tier side, few people would instinctively identify with it as something representing their community.  Not only do we lack a soccer culture in this country, we lack a community minded culture, or perhaps it’s just that community spirit expresses itself in different ways than identifying with a local sports team.

This morning, I chanced on an article called “Saving the Soul of Soccer” posted on Parlor City Football that touches on some of these issues, and identified (correctly, I believe) that the foundation of soccer culture in this country must be the supporters (not spectators).  Soccer culture will grow as the soccer supporter culture develops.  And to develop that we need to get involved at a local level and help our local clubs and leagues grow.

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4 comments

  1. N.A.O.

    I once read, in Soccernomics if I recall, that owners of a club are more like caretakers; that the fans are the true assets and that clubs will exist regardless of owner or financial state. While this might be true in Europe, it’s not yet true in the US, with monopolized major league franchise systems, owners willing to move teams over stadium disputes, and fans who see watching sports as just entertainment. In that void, the concept of the “community club” has been ably filled (if not always ably executed) by collegiate and high school athletics.

    In most ways, “soccer culture” in the US looks a lot like the wider US sports culture. Does it have to be that way? Can there be some blend of the two? For American soccer to reach the “next level”, should the development of a distinct “soccer culture” that looks more like Europe (at its best) be the next step? And if so, how do we go about it?

    If “Can a first-division soccer league survive in the US?” was American soccer’s big question of the past 20 years, this question about “soccer culture” will be the big question for the next 20.

    • The Angler

      I was talking with one of the Borough Boys this past weekend and one of the points that came up in our discussion was how soccer culture is different than any other sport culture. At the root of soccer culture is the fact that supporters are not just fans and they certainly are not just consumers of an “on field entertainment product.” The idea that the supporters are the true owners of the club regardless of financial investment is something “sports fans” in the US are not used to.

  2. Kenny

    I really do think that the only way that soccer culture is going to grow in the United States starting in the near future is through opening the leagues. What this means is US Soccer Federation (NOT MLS) putting all the teams in the US on to one (or two considering the size of the country) pyramids that will give teams the right to control their own destiny rather than being limited by playing through a single level of competition through the teams existence. If done right over a number of years this could massively change the way investments and interest are made into lower league teams.

    • The Angler

      Agreed. We can help things along by building clubs from the ground up. What I mean is that supporters should form actual clubs that function the way member-owned clubs do in other parts of the world. If you want to build a pyramid, you have to lay a foundation first. It’s not a top-down process.

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