The constant desire to prove authenticity permeates American culture, in my perspective. Accordingly, the rising tide of football and supporter culture in the United States isn’t immune to it. Although we describe our nation’s culture as a melting pot, it certainly plays out more like a tossed salad when it comes to American supporters’ groups. South American Barra Bravas, Mexican Porras, European Ultras, and English firms all have their own idea of what showing support is about. As bombastic as their displays of support can be, it often clashes with how the U.S. as a soccer federation, thinks a fan should behave.
It seems that both the fans and the U.S. Soccer Federation test each other on where to draw the line for proper fan behavior. Supporters challenge calls from front offices, fellow fans, and local authorities to lower the amount of flares, foul language, and in some cases, political display. When those calls are neglected, hinchas are often met with derision and negative publicity. Thes issues are further exasperated when supporters’ groups clash to claim their own version of “authenticity”
I grew up watching Liga MX and Queretaro’s Resistancia Albiazul. For the most part, they all use the same style and variety of chants in Mexico, opting for instruments and boastful language. Yet underneath the colorful exterior, there was still a desire to make the away fans feel completely unwelcome. Supporters inevitably come to expect and prepare for Las Broncas – clashes among rival fans that belong to teams that are not truly rivals. Evidently, I was warned about going to away games.
Life later brought me to San Jose, right around the time the Earthquakes were brought back as an MLS team. I attended their first preseason match against Houston at PAL stadium and found – despite my best attempt – that the Casbah (the original San Jose Supporters’ Group) wasn’t to my liking. Ultimately, the Casbah’s style was different from what I grew up with as a youth.
I was told on the Bigsoccer forums about the San Jose Ultras and decided to give them a try at the first match at Buck Shaw Stadium against F.C. Dallas. I liked the energy Dan Margarit and his ultras brought, and found myself standing in their section ever since. They were vociferously unapologetic about how they supported the Quakes and how they riled rival fans through tifo. Their ideology doesn’t sit well with other supporters’ groups, yet no one expects the Ultras to care about that. They matched well to what I thought a supporters’ group should be like; similar in passion to the Porras in Mexico despite not using instruments at all. However, that passion came with a price: Earthquakes’ fans and opposing teams took it as an invitation to test their personal definitions of what an ultra was, lead to unnecessary scuffles and scarf stealing.
I currently reside in Phoenix and regularly speak with other hinchas about how to define and grow a supporters’ section for Phoenix Rising F.C. However, I find that each fan’s perception of supporter culture makes this endeavor a complicated process. In 2017, different supporters’ groups exist in Phoenix, and each one uses their own ideology to shape our team’s home field advantage. Topics such as LGBTQ rights, immigration, and the Trump Presidency have influenced the identity of these groups to different degrees. While some fans may be more politically inclined than others, the question of authenticity still comes up during match day banter.
I recently discussed the topic of authenticity with John McPherson, one of the key people leading La Furia Roja 1881, a long-standing supporters’ group of professional soccer teams in Phoenix. His thoughts reverberated the same sentiment. “The constant pressure for ‘Authentic Football fans’ is interesting to me. To me there is no such thing; fans and fan culture are different from country to country, and the U.S. needs to embrace what is ours. Be authentic to who we are, where we are and bring as much cohesive noise to our own stadium as we can.” On the topic of divisiveness in ideology, McPherson added that it was “ …sad that so many (supporters’ groups) focus on picking apart other supporters for how they choose to cheer on their team”. If the end goal is giving the home team an advantage, supporters’ groups should seek to find ways to coexist without imposing upon each other.”
With support for amateur and professional football continuing to grow across the U.S., fans will continue to see the evolution of home field advantage. Up until now, we’ve been able to enjoy the positives of supporters’ group culture without major clashes in the stands. As soccer continues to entrench itself in American culture, violence should not be something people seek out as marks of authenticity within supporters’ groups. 90+ minutes of continuous support and voice, presence in the stands before and after games; these are all the marks of a supporters’ group with the team in mind. Because in the end, isn’t that what our goal is?
- Author: Gilberto Hernandez Twitter: @GilbertoHdz200