Is there anything better than a park filled with a peaceful, enthusiastic, supporter group in their sections to rev us up? Seeing them dressed in team colors with their supporter logos, waving team flags, and chanting encourages us to come together. My personal belief is that “a supporter group and loyal fans are the backbone of our teams and leagues.” They keep our attendance, teams, and leagues intact. On the other hand, seeing an intimidating “supporter mob” group looking just to cause trouble and displaying R-rated conduct in front of our young supporters is not productive. It’s embarrassing. This isn’t Manchester or Millwall. We are just “tadpoles in the pond.” Our smaller league attendance here could quickly be in danger of decline…especially if a team isn’t doing well. In addition, the games and parks are public events and places, not motorcycle clubhouses with a bunch of 1%ers.* Therefore, we should have some respect and thought of where we are and who is around us.
Does that mean that every supporters club is a violent ultra group in the works? No. The message is that violent ultra groups like I’ve experienced for decades in Europe will not work in the USA. Period. They (and possibly the club) would be shut down instantly. This is the United States, so groups must take a different route. If teams in Europe lose some fans in attendance per game due to ultras and/or security issues, that’s bearable for them with 25,000-60,000+ in attendance. Over here? Losing significant attendance would be a death knoll.
Supporter vs Ultra
Before we get to the productive and positive side of things, one subject must be addressed. It’s the subject of Supporters Groups vs Ultras. Americans have to get over the term “ultras.” Why? Because the whole scope of the word is not fully understood by many who use it or claim to be one. There are team supporters groups everywhere in the world. There are also ultras. Ultra does not mean “super fan,” but means “extremist.” Yes, the same word used to describe terrorist personnel these days.
Ultras are more of a “soccer gang” that have caused many problems in the soccer world. They have been neo-nazis, racists, fascists, and assorted criminals. They have been responsible for deaths and injuries. They have been responsible for stopping and postponing games and forcing closed stadium matches. They have also helped give all soccer fans a violent reputation with their hooliganism and hatred for all teams that play their team.
Let’s not forget the vandalism and damage to the city and personal property. There may be some less militant and more cooperative ultras than others, but they are still ultras. Think of it this way, ultras are like an outlaw motorcycle club, for example, like The Hell’s Angels. Now just because people may own a Harley Davidsons and rides with others, that DOES NOT MAKE THEM HELL’S ANGELS! So the bottom line is to stick together as true supporters groups and get the “Ultras” term out of your heads. There is nothing good there. We should try our hardest to make sure we never get to the true “Ultras” low or we are done.
The Positive Side of Supporter Groups
Ok, so what about the other choice? Well, it would be about certain groups channeling energies in several positive ways (if there is that much time on their hands). Besides a soccer group loyalty rallying the crowd and team, why not be a civic-minded group as well? If certain supporter groups would be well known to “boost” their communities and not just display embarrassing antics and foul language, wouldn’t that shed new light on what supporter groups could be about? Wouldn’t that boost recognition and attendance?
So now what? Well, the questions may be “what could support groups do to be civic-minded as well?” How about taking a look at the home community and area in general? Helping with improving the community may just boost attendance even further. Consider the following points for supports groups:
- Do you know of any seasonal meteorological hazards or past natural disaster events in your area? If so, why not contact your local Office of Emergency Management and learn how your supporter group could help in the future? The Red Cross, Community Emergency Response Team, Fire Corps, Medical Reserve Corps, FCC licensed amateur radio emergency communications teams and NWS severe weather spotters always need volunteers.
- Are there any children’s hospitals nearby? Why not visit with promotional products making the hospitalized youngsters “junior team/supporter members?”
- Are there sick or disabled kids that love soccer and would love to see a game? Why not support the parents to help them get their child to a game once and awhile if possible?
- Are there any underprivileged kids or endangered teens that could use some gear to play some pickup games instead of looking at gangs and trouble? A ball, some cones, maybe some hockey goals could go a very long way. I’m positive emergency services, especially local police/sheriff/state police/fire/EMS would be glad to help because it keeps kids out of trouble and gives emergency services fewer cases. Maybe introducing kids to soccer may save their lives one day?
- Are there any former athletes at a care center that played or followed soccer in their younger years? Or would some seniors interested in sports like to see a video of the latest highlights of the past games in their area? There are so many activities one can introduce at senior centers.
- What about town or city events? What about having a booth and giving away promotional products with the support of the team and league? That would be a positive way to boost attendance and promote the team.
- What about helping out with local fundraisers that raise money important town charities, emergency services, or community projects? That would be another way to get the group and team in the spotlight…as well as help boost attendance.
- Are there any animal lovers in the group? Any animal shelters in the area? Why not see if they could use some help in the shelter or if they could use some supplies? If they have fundraisers, add a prizes from the group to their raffle list.
- What about starting a Junior Supporter Club? Introduce youngsters to the game and teach them how to be loyal, peaceful, fans. They could receive a junior supporter ID card and maybe a cap, tee-shirt, or scarf?
As we know, not all supporters groups are the same. Some are very friendly and welcome visiting fans and groups. Some may even already be involved in activities I mentioned above. On the other hand, some may be inhospitable and downright hostile. A supporters group does not have to specifically fit into one mold or another or be flawless angels. However, one thing they do have to do is to make a positive effect on our growing game and attendance. This advice is coming not just from a huge soccer fan of 40+ years, but as OEM/state police/sheriff’s office volunteer as well. Experience has taught me that emergency services can be a great support to a club or their worst enemy. The choice all comes down to conduct.
In closing, I hope this article has answered many questions, raised more, and have given many ideas that will help unify us further. I would love to hear about how supporter groups have connected with their communities, local government, and law enforcement to make their “team home” a better place. They deserve credit and recognition. Until then, enjoy the games and atmosphere.
NOTE: *1%ers are outlaw motorcycle club members who are not “law abiding citizen” that have committed crimes for their club