When my wife and I went to dinner a couple weeks ago with the leaders of the of the Real Monarchs supporters group, the Wasatch Legion, I was asked the question "what more can we do to help the team and help the players"? At that point, I think I gave a very simple answer. Later when I got home (and on multiple occasions since), I've caught myself thinking about the importance and value supporters bring.
Some of my most fond memories of home are those spent going to the Wolverhampton Wanderers games. Walking under the subway from the Wolverhampton City Center to Molinuex Stadium - feeling the atmosphere, feeling the tension, feeling the excitement of the game to then walk out of the subway to see the stadium - the John Ireland Stand (now the Steve Bull Stand) and the south bank. My dad now takes my son to every home game and is creating the same life long memories for him.
A lot of coaches, players and field staff talk about the crowd being the "12th man" - their enthusiasm contagious as they urge their team on to victory or for their giving their team that extra energy in times of need. I could not agree more as both a player and a coach. What supporters bring to a team is invaluable.
The more I've thought about my personal encounters as both a player and a coach, I wanted to go into a little more detail about my own experiences in Europe, and now in America, and the differences between the both I have found.
Having experiences of playing in England, Denmark and Malta, I have quite a vast scope on different cultures and demographics when it’s comes to supporting their team. In Europe, it’s definitely much more ruthless and demanding from the supporters. IT’S A WAY OF LIFE. Football is what people go to work for Monday through Friday. They work so they can go and support their team at the weekend - let off all the steam and get behind their team. However, from my time in England, Denmark and Malta, I now recognize that personal relationships are not really there with the supporters. It’s two separate worlds, which I feel breeds negative energy towards the players, coaches and front office staff of each club. Supporters cannot relate on a personal level and don’t have a relationship with anyone involved with the club. Therefore, when results and things go wrong the fans become extremely fickle; the team and players they were in full support of only three weeks ago they are now screaming for them to be fired. "You're ____ and can't play" or "you're a disgrace to the club, not fit to wear the shirt." Nothing is off limits. Fans are very unforgiving in Europe to say the least.
It was an extremely surreal and wonderful experience when I came to the United States to play football. After my first game, as I walked back to the changing room, the coach told us to grab a pen and stay outside. I was a little unsure as to why or what was going on, but did as I was told. After a few minutes, the fans began filing in through the gate. We signed autographs, chatted, talked shop a bit and truly got to know the community that supported us. It was an experience that I wasn’t accustomed to after being in Europe for so long throughout my career. These interactions would happen after every home game - adults, children, friends, girlfriends, wives - there was no separation, no segregation and it was extremely refreshing. Those interactions translated to the fans in game day; it’s very much a family atmosphere in America. Game day in America means utilizing the whole of your Saturday - tailgating outside the stadium with BBQ’s and games right around the stadium leading up to kick off.
As for the question "what more can we do to help the team and help the players", show up. Be at every game you can. Bring your energy and share it however you're comfortable sharing it. If you're not one to yell, that's okay. We can still feel you and your energy and we feed off it. There is no replacement for bodies in the stands.
Support, no matter how it comes, is invaluable for any and every player, team and coach.
A football supporter for life,