Because there is always a time and space for critique and complaint (and Lord knows, we soccer fans know this better than anyone), there should also be parallel moments when we are grateful and offer praise.
Once a year, I teach a course at Vanderbilt entitled “Soccer: Culture, Art, Politics.” The title doesn’t really capture the full range of the class, but “Soccer: History, Globalism, Art, Politics, Religion, Meaning, Significance, Emotions…“ seems a bit unwieldy.
In effect, the course focuses on what soccer means, what fanship does, in both a local and a global context. That is, rather than a focus on winning or losing, tactics and formations, the course attempts to understand soccer’s interactions with the fabric of culture in all its dimensions.
One of my favorite weeks of the course each year is titled, simply, “Soccer in Nashville.” I use the three sessions that week to bring in different speakers to talk about how soccer functions within the local context.
This year, I was blessed to have both Stephen Robinson (capo) and Stephen Mason (Soccer Moses) visit to discuss the perspective of supporters (and their relationship to the club), Drake Hills (The Tennessean) to talk about media coverage of the team, and John Ingram (owner, NSC) to talk about his vision for the club and its relationship to the city.
While I’m fully grateful for their combined generosity in coming to the class, I’m somewhat more grateful for what each of them (and others like them) do in helping shape the meaning of soccer locally and how each talks about it. Each—in different ways—is involved either voluntarily or as a chosen occupation in not only building the case for soccer but helping assure that a fuller, more robust, more generous culture emerges locally.
While both of the Stephens clearly enjoy being the center of attention, they also speak eloquently not only of local organizations they support but also of how important it is for fans—through supporter groups—make sure that they hold the club accountable as an ethical and community minded organization.
While Drake Hills has a job to cover the team fairly and “objectively” at times, he also is very clear that one of his most valued jobs is exploring the humans who make up the team, finding out what makes them click and then drawing portraits of the players. In short, sure, it’s a job, but it’s also a job that can highlight the human elements of the game.
While one might think owners of major sports franchises are mostly interested in profit, John Ingram speaks eloquently and movingly about some of his early hopes for what the team might mean, bringing disparate elements of those who make up Nashville together under one banner. Indeed, Ingram talks about the team as an extension of Nashville and as a place that brings Nashville together in new ways, helping develop an even strong sense of oneness.
All week long, I was impressed with the generosity each speaker showed with my students and the general “good intentions” they have toward this soccer community. Also, all week long, I was flipping through my normal social media circuits, looking at Twitter—where I rarely ever post—and reading reddit threads—where I never do. And all week long, I read multiple of the critiques I’ve grown accustomed to—critiques of tactical decisions, critiques of player recruitments, critiques of local press coverage, critiques of fans. Ad nauseum.
Be clear that I am neither suggesting that we shouldn’t be critical (it’s not only our right but in some sense, it’s a responsibility) nor that some of the critiques aren’t right (some seem spot on to me, some less so). Rather, I’m simply suggesting that we might have a better conversation—between ourselves overtly and to those who read but don’t respond—if we take moments to understand that this is, in many ways, a communal project. We are all Nashville Soccer Club, albeit in very different ways, and we are all committed to a better community, a winning tradition, a more perfect future.
Maybe we would do well to remember that. At times, at least.