Here’s a funny moment I wager that all of us soccer nerds have experienced: Your partner/spouse/gf/bf asks, “When is soccer season over?”
We laugh because we all know, if you really love this sport, it never ends. Not only is there the crossing of the calendars if you follow MLS and other international leagues that make league games go year round, but there’s simply a million other soccer distractions even for the league not playing at the time.
I’m a fan of other sports (e.g., Iowa Hawkeye basketball, Atlanta Braves baseball) but, if I’m honest, I’m only a fan once the season starts with those sports. I may run across any article from time to time about recruiting or about trades during the off season but, truth be told, once the season is over, those teams are out of mind for awhile.
Soccer, as I’ve noted before, is different. In part, I think it’s bound up in the ecstatic public, the “sensate ecstasy,” discussed by soccer theorist Simon Critchely. The game is addictive and builds a sense of community like no other experience.
So, during the offseason, I read every transfer rumor I can find; I look at the photos of leaked kits, act like I’m not, and make fun of my friends who have turned into fashion gurus at the very mention of a new strip. I’m rearranging my scarf and jersey collections. I’m reading through old game programs. I’m setting up wish lists of gear to hand to anyone who asks me what I want for Christmas or a birthday. I’m watching video highlights of victories past. I’m arguing with friends about how our manager is doing, what players we should get rid of. I’m complaining about the fan base of my club. I’m trying to find ways to get local fans together for a beer.
It’s soccer, in other words, all the way down.
Our first NSC season is over, and, for me, and likely, for you, there’s still a lot of think and talk about.
On something of a whim, I contacted different members of the Supporter Groups that make up the Backline to ask what they do during the off-season, how they maintain community. Chip Wilkins over at the Eastern Front noted that, while the group has well over one hundred members now, the original core group was composed of a group of friends who not only played adult league soccer with, and against, each other but also are fans of other leagues (primarily the Prem). As a result, there are now 9 or 10 adult teams with Eastern Front members, and a large social network to banter about Premier League games. While they still together in small groups on the open outdoor deck at Noble’s, they try to keep this limited both for safety and optics. That said, as a whole, the group manages to keep the conversation going.
When I talked to Stephen Robinson, recently elected President of the Roadies, he was his normal spaz ball of high energy. On the one hand, Stephen noted some of the activities that keep the Roadies in touch during the off-season. There’s the annual meeting where they vote on by-laws, hold elections and so forth. While it’s normally a huge end of the year party, this year, on Zoom, like the rest of our reality, it was a tamer affair but still a way to talk. While there are other activities (drum practice and coordination, their continuing support and connection to Kickin’ It 615, the Pharmaceutical Soccer radio show) that keep him busy, he raised an interesting point with me. While everyone in SGs are the type of people who are always already addicted to soccer, there’s still a world out there of Nashville folks who we still have not reached as fans. (As an aside, a Lyft driver who took me to the first playoff game had no idea Nashville had a soccer team).
As a result, Stephen’s obsession—and I do think the Roadies give a great deal of thought to this—is considering ways to draw more attention to the team, make the events more fun, more engaging. So, in addition to the team specific hobbies, he and the Roadies spend time making plans for future games. How do we make this a bigger draw for those we still haven’t reached?
The Music City Heaters, likewise, are working (virtually) on some of the normal “boring” end of the year stuff… closing the books, reconciling inventory, staying in line with the state. In addition, with the hope/belief that at some point we will all be back in the stadium, they are working on a vision plan for what the season might be like, what they’ll do if we can’t go live, what they’ll do when we can. While they would normally have a beginning of the year meeting for all members at Jackalope’s Ranch in Wedgewood-Houston, that will have to be a series of virtual meetings this year.
Their normal correspondence through newsletter and their Slack channel always includes soccer but also has lively discussions of soccer, football, hockey, gambling, golf, culinary arts, Metro Nashville politics and more. They launched H.E.A.T., a cross-Supporters’ Group initiative that tries to be of service to the Nashville community (they are currently working to highlight local minority-owned businesses and help drive incremental business to them). Perhaps most importantly, they’ve ended their pursuit of an official relationship with Whiteclaw Seltzers and are on the market to be courted by other alcohol brands.
So, how do you make it through the off-season?
**Author’s note: I also reached out to La Brigada De Oro, the Assembly, and Music City Supporters but did not hear back by time of publication.