Reminders and magic

 Posted by on June 25, 2014  Editorial  3 Responses »
Jun 252014
 

Every once in a while, I get a reminder of why we do the things we do. I got another one today.

This has been an up and down season, difficult to navigate, difficult to understand, difficult to stay up for games when the results have been so inconsistent.

For those that don’t know, I’m the one behind the Twitter account. I do my best to answer questions there and give out a bit of info here or there on where away day viewings will be or when we’ll have Fanladen open or when we need help with tifo or whatnot.

I also get to see the other side of it that a lot of you might not see. I see when people click that favorite button.

And I see when players follow the account and when they click favorite on its tweets. And sometimes it makes me cry.

One of the other things I do is write a bit about the Thorns for a soccer website. I’m not very good at it, but I keep doing it anyway in the hope that maybe someday I’ll get better at it. It allows me a little extra access on game days. I get the good stat sheets from the team and I go to the post-match presser and listen to Paul Riley and try to figure out what he’s thinking.

And when I leave the presser, because I’m lazy, I take the elevator up to the concourse to head home. Tonight, one of the Thorns, an injured player who did not play, rode up with a bunch of us.

There was a visiting journalist who’d been asking me about the game and if I enjoyed it.

“Well,” I said. “I enjoy all games in varying degrees.”

“What do you mean?” he asked as we all piled into the elevator.

“I like wins better.” The words were already out before I realized the player was there with us. I felt like an idiot. She doesn’t know me, she doesn’t know the small role I play in the Riveters.

But she smiled and said emphatically.”I do, too!”

I got off the elevator and thought about it all the way home. What a dumb thing for me to say and what a remarkable reaction she had.

For some odd reason, she follows my personal account on Twitter and I sent her a message when I got home to apologize for being snide and to reiterate that we’re not in it just for the wins, but to support the team when they most need us.

She replied almost immediately. “I do know that. Rain or shine, win or lose.”

Those words touched me. Rain or shine, win or lose. That’s the epitome of what it means to be supporters.

And, when I posted those words on the Riveters Twitter account, three of our Thorns hit favorite and I was again reminded that they play for us. All heart, all emotion, they want to win for us but they know that we will be there for them even if they don’t.

There’s some magic in that.

Apr 212014
 

So this past week we’ve all been discussing this piece from Juliet Macur in the New York Times and ranting about how badly the author missed the mark. Our type of supporters had been ignored, deemed irrelevant, as if nothing we’d done since the league started to promote our passionate supporter culture had made any impression. Shortly after the NYT piece came out, Texas supporter Dana Crane posted an op-ed piece on The Soccer Desk site, and we nodded our heads furiously, seeing her take on Macur’s assertions one by one and dismantle them with real-life positive counterexamples. Among those examples were us, the Rose City Riveters.

The same Riveters who, in my opinion, just failed to bring it in New Jersey against Sky Blue, despite overwhelming numbers in the stands supporting Portland Thorns FC and not the home team.

So what the hell happened there and what can we learn from it?

This was the local hype leading up to our trip to support the Thorns against Sky Blue in New Jersey. H and I traveled from Portland and brought a couple of local fans in with us. A boatload of other Thorns supporters— some players’ friends and families, but also Paul Riley’s youth soccer club from Long Island—promised “the potential for a loud away crowd.” Families of Thorns players from around the area tailgated in the parking lot and invited us over for food and drinks. Allie Long’s boyfriend grilled burgers. Amber Brooks’s awesome mom fed us sandwiches and beers and cookies and fruit salad. Courtney Niemiec’s people gathered around another vehicle with their own coolers. There weren’t very many Sky Blue fans around. It seemed like maybe we were collectively going to rock the place. Our house, in the middle of Jersey.

Inside, though, that illusion blew apart quickly. Inspirational girl pop played over the PA. The kids of the soccer club had been instructed by email to wear their own club’s jerseys, “does not matter what color or type”; though some of them were in tune enough with the Thorns to have chosen red and white, many hadn’t bothered. Alongside the club kids, the stands were packed from end to end with other young girls and their mostly uninterested parents. At one point before the match, Alex Morgan toured the pitch smiling and waving like a pageant winner. The trio of preteens in the bleachers above ours gushed and fawned when she went by, and I commented how funny it was that they’d brought her here to just walk around even though she won’t be playing probably for months. They looked at me like I had three heads.

Since we weren’t allowed to have poles in the venue, we hung our flags up front. We had a Riveters crest travel banner, Portland city flags, a rainbow Cascadia. Nobody stopped us, but security did come over and make us re-hang them lower on the rails so kids could see over them at autograph time. Nobody asked us what any of it signified. Apart from some of the players, I’m pretty sure no one knew.

ipads2We had a travel drum, a cowbell, some claves. Our section and the adjacent one were both full of away fans, so we stood toward the front where we could lead chants and have both the team and people in the bleachers hear us. Bleacher seats were technically assigned, and a whiny mother complained until we moved and made way for her and her kids. Everyone around us sat. The announcer advertised the local Olive Garden.

We sang and raised our scarves during the anthem. People looked at us. We drummed and chanted. People moved away. We looked up pleadingly at our two locals, one of them an old-school Timbers fan, and begged them to make noise and sing with us. They gave us a pained, helpless look and put the claves back in the drum bag. We decided to try just singing without the drum. We sang Onward. No one joined in. Our locals moved into the next section and sat where they could see the game better. We stopped playing and singing and started agonizing about how we were letting the team down, how terribly we were failing the rest of our group watching the live stream. I started live-tweeting miserably. It all seemed wrong. This was *our* crowd. Except it wasn’t.

Rampone scored for Sky Blue. We held our scarves up and sang Rose City Til I Die. A celebratory siren recording played over the PA.

bleachers1croppedWhen Long was near us, we sang to her:

Allie Long, I know this game is killing you
 Oh, Allie Long, your aim is true

Some guy down below us said, “You haven’t used that drum very much.” Yeah, dude, why, you want to chant? “Oh, no, I only know UVA songs.” OK, you teach us yours and we’ll teach you ours. No? Okay, then. So we sang:

We schlepped this drum 3000 miles, we’ll schlep this drum 3000 more
Just to be the ones who schlepped this drum 3000 miles and hope they score

At the half I wandered over to Section 9 to find someone to chat with in Cloud9, Sky Blue’s new supporters group. Not many were there and the contact we’d been chatting with online was out of town, but a thirties-ish guy in a Red Bulls jersey recognized the Riveters scarf and shook my hand. We hadn’t heard any drums or singing way over on our end, but John was in fact their drummer, and he’d come over from the Empire Supporters Club to help the new SG. This match, Sky Blue’s home opener, was Cloud9’s first as an official entity. He said what Cloud9 is really hoping for is a double-header in Harrison. Yurcak Field is too far out of the way, too hard to get to by transit, plus ESC has the history and experience supporting a team for the full 90, and C9 could use some of that.

Long converted a PK in the 75th to equalize. She’s been a beast so far this season. We drummed and sang We Root for the Thorns. Others around us barely seemed to have registered that the team scored a goal.

A boy, maybe 10 or 11 years old, came up to us. “Hey, I’ve got one. I Believe!”

Nah, we told him, that’s for the national team. He shrugged and walked away. We wondered whether maybe we should have humored him and just done it. When in Rome and all that. It’d have at least been something.

A group of little girls up above us started doing “Let’s Go Portland, Let’s Go”. Then “De-fense! De-fense!” The announcer called out the winner of some prize, an autographed boot or something like that. A six-year-old girl. The announcer was sure she was very happy.

At 80’ we sang Keep On Lovin’ You. Around 85’, people in our own sections started leaving.

We can see you, we can see you, we can see you sneaking out!

rails1The match ended 1-1. Girls rushed the rails for autographs. Some miniature Fran Drescher sound-alike near us whined for Alex Maaaw-gan. The team came over for a very short time to sign items. H scarfed our fancy new keeper, who didn’t understand at first that the scarf was a gift for her, so now Angerer has a BAON scarf signed by Angerer.

One-T is their assistant coach now. H scarfed him too. I went over afterward and assured him how much better it’s going to be next week. “We’ll take the point,” he said. No, I clarified, you guys were great; I mean *us*.

We cut down our banners and packed up our souvenir Rutgers football soda cup. A few more players walked by including Sinc. We waved and yelled after them: “Next week!” Sinc called back: “We can’t wait! Looking forward to the tifo! There’s tifo… right?”

A little later we were listening to the crowd on the RSL vs. Timbers match stream. Even with the classless YSA and Puto chants, I was jealous. So jealous, and not a little depressed.

Are we doing something that’s worth doing? I wondered. Within the context of this particular league, is this just stupid? Complete overkill?

I thought about moving that paragraph above about Sinc to here and just stopping. It would have been a way for me to conclude that no, it’s not stupid and no way in hell should we do that—we support the team and the team notices. But the larger situation is more nuanced than that. It’s easy for us to look at what we’ve accomplished in the past and say everyone should do it the way Portland does. By that I don’t mean necessarily the scale, but certainly the passion. If Portland has ten people at an away game, men’s or women’s, and they sing the whole time and they’ve painted a banner and they know the players’ names and who on the opposing team to heckle by name, that all very much counts. The Riveters have brought it at other away games and we always do the job on our home ground. But as our whole experience this weekend made clear, hundreds or even thousands of warm bodies stuck in seats without any history, passion, or context just leads to massive total suck. That won’t inspire teams or keep anybody coming back. But I can’t imagine how hard it must be to turn things around if you’re a supporter in a home location where that’s your starting point.

So yeah, Cloud9 has their work cut out for them. The cross-pollination with ESC is likely a good thing, but they’re going to need not only local folks who can make it out to the venue, but WoSo-savvy charismatic leaders or at least self-starters and a bunch of very loud regulars who can get everyone used to having visible and vocal soccer supporters of all ages at these games. And those people need to relentlessly *be* vocal and visible, even if others around really don’t approve or care. There’s no other way to make their presence part of the team’s culture, encourage rival SGs to do better, and attract more supporters who want women’s soccer support to be more like that and are willing to do the hard work required.

In Portland we’re lucky to be building on an established tradition of fanatical and organized soccer support. if it were us in Cloud9’s shoes, surrounded by annoyed non-supporters and doing our thing in a venue that treated matches as children’s events week after week, I think I get now how draining it would be at times to keep doing it. The soul-suckingness of it got to us really hard, being abandoned like that even by our own team’s fans. Maybe they were led by the press to expect a spectacle, instead of understanding they would need to *be* that spectacle.  More likely they just didn’t care, or even know it was an option to care.

So since then I’ve been rereading Crane and letting her words reassure me that we’re not completely alone and not completely crazy, and when we get home I’ll be able to summon the energy to help make our home opener something the players will remember for a long time. But I’m also rereading Macur, and I think I understand much better now why she came at it the way she did, although I’m not happy about it. Though I strongly disagree with her proposals for stabilizing the league, I think what she saw in Maryland was in some ways unfortunately spot on. The new coach and players considered this outing a success, but we know from our own experience what success can be like and this wasn’t in any way related. In Portland, the Thorns are a Portland team; we recognize them as professionals without hesitation and we are fiercely proud of them. Elsewhere, they are a women’s soccer team, with all the cultural baggage that carries. And it’s got me looking beyond our own city and wondering where WoSo supporters in this country collectively go from here, and how.

Apr 212013
 

I’m tired. I’m very tired. But every minute has been absolutely worth it. Thank you all.

It hasn’t all been easy. At every turn, there were naysayers. “Let it grow organically.” “Don’t force it.” “Don’t try so hard.” “You’re taking this too seriously.”

Yes. We did take it seriously. And the work put in by dozens of volunteers resulted in what we saw this afternoon.

We are, as promised, setting the standard for the support of women’s soccer in North America.

I just got home and received the following email. It is posted here with the author’s permission. And I offer him my sincere thanks.

 

Anyone that felt the Portland Thorns FC supporters group was going to be forced from the beginning, rather than growing organically, would be very pleased by what happened today. This afternoon, we were able to see the fruits of a few dozen people’s labors. It was imperfect. It was awkward. It was committed. It was awesome.
        A true test of the quality of support came early for the Rose City Riveters, as a few members were forced to ask the folks in the 200s – opened up last minute by the Thorns FO – if they would come down for a few minutes to help with the home opener tifo. As it turns out, it’s much easier for 40 people to cut a thousand seats worth of table roll than it is to fill those thousand seats. The Thorns version of the North End is going to take time to figure itself out. But when people are willing to do the prep work for the tifo, and brave enough to ask for help when the GA section is roomier than anticipated, the opportunity for a new supporters group to succeed is great.
        Despite weeks of snarky comments on Twitter and elsewhere, the chants developed for the first printing of Riveters chant sheets were pretty good. No, not all were stellar, but they were fun and new, and – thankfully – not re-workings of old Timbers chants. Yes, there were PTFC chants and Rose City chants that were used word for word, but no chants featuring the word “Timbers” were used at all. This was a huge relief. We were even able to use a couple of anti-Seattle chants in the first home match. That was a nice touch.
        Bottom line, we all have given the Rose City Riveters and its organizers a hard time throughout this endeavor. Turns out they were up to the task, and appear poised to move forward in a positive – and big – way as the main supporters group for the Thorns. Patch and Sunday were the only capos the entire match, and should be commended for reigning in ten sections of fans to the best of their ability. The tifo crew did a fantastic job of planning the display, getting the player two-sticks designed and painted, then presenting them to our newest athletes upon completion of the match. It was nice to be excited and enthused over something that, more often than not, was the butt of so many jokes leading up to the home opener. Yes, there will be snark in the future, as there is with anything related to Portland soccer. But if this group of supporters continues on in the same way it began, I have no doubt Jeld-Wen Field will be home to the two greatest groups of football supporters the world has ever seen.

Caterjunes

All the f-words

 Posted by on April 17, 2013  Editorial  12 Responses »
Apr 172013
 

Let me just start by saying that I was hesitant to post this here. I was considering posting my views on this particular subject on my personal blog because I don’t want the group to have to deal with any backlash it might cause.

But the backlash began long before I started writing so here we are anyway.

We, your faithful steering committee, have gotten a couple of inquiries as to whether or not the Rose City Riveters will be more “family friendly” than the Timbers Army.

If it were entirely left up to me, my stock answer would be,”Well, that’s going to depend on your family.”

Sports fans – and soccer fans in particular – tend to be a tad saltier than the general populace. We yell louder, we sing louder, we live louder and, yes, sometimes we might swear. In public. Where people might hear us.

And, for those who harbor ill feelings toward the Timbers Army because of its choice not to police (aside from instances of racism or homophobia) the language of supporters in the North End of Jeld-Wen, I’ll happily point out the 5,000+ volunteer hours the TA has performed in the community over the last year.

I’ll also point out dozens of kids who have grown up in the atmosphere surrounding the Timbers Army. They’re good kids. Smart kids. Kids whose parents have explained to them the difference between regular, everyday language and stadium language. Their parents consider this a learning opportunity, a chance to learn about loyalty, community pride, and about how people sometimes have differing opinions.

So, there it is. Taking a cue, as we so often already have, from our brothers and sisters in the Timbers Army, we will be on the lookout for racism and homophobia, but we’re not going to tell you not to drop an occasional frustrated f-bomb.

For those who believe the potential for questionable language will damage the future of our team and/or its league, I humbly suggest you click here for a little insight.