In the eyes of a first timer

Sometimes it helps to get an outsider’s perspective. Especially when that outsider is a die-hard Preds’ fan.

I first met James at my local bar when I went in one night several years ago to have a beer and watch the then-USL Nashville Soccer Club. As I was the only one sitting at the bar itself, I asked the barkeep to switch the one monitor that was directly overhead to the Nashville SC game. There were plenty of sports on the other 20-odd monitors, but I now had the prime spot mapped out for soccer.

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In walked James, ready to watch the Preds in 30 minutes. While he moved to a table off to the side to watch a different monitor, I could tell he wasn’t happy about it. We had a conversation later that night about soccer—which he didn’t watch and didn’t quite understand—and hockey which, while it thrills me that we have such a strong fan base, was never something I had actively given a lot of attention to. 

As these things happen, over the next several years, we became drinking buddies of sorts and have discovered a great deal of mutual interests, despite the fact that neither of us watches the other’s favorite sport.

Last week, when my seatmate for NSC games was not able to go and let me use the second ticket, I (in the spirit of the Free Beer Movement) invited James along to watch Nashville take on New England. When he discovered it would be free and that I would buy him a beer, he jumped at the chance.

I have to admit, when I settled into my seat about 10 minutes prior to the start of the game, I decided that this was a bad idea. Not only did the place feel empty (honestly, NISSAN makes soccer matches seem like they are being played in a cavern), but I knew my enthusiasm alone was not going to match the game day experience he expected from Preds’ games. 

When James arrived only minutes later, my fears began to solidify.  It was still quiet; it still seemed empty. I explained some of the “traditions,” so to speak (e.g., “Hey Brother, Hey Sister,” the guitar solo, the Backline’s role), none of which seemed to impress him at first. 

Then something interesting started happening; James excitedly point out cheers and chants he associated with the Predators. Rather than see this as “stealing,” he found it delightful. Having been a Preds fan since their debut season, he explained, he thought it was awesome that the crowd was taking cues from a fan base that he thrillingly thinks of as the most hated group in NHL-dom. He was impressed with the size-of-crowd-to-loudness ratio. He was seduced by the heartfelt enthusiasm of the crowd after every shot on goal and after each one of the goals.  He became the first person in history to seem excited when he asked me about rules (e.g., offside, what makes for a foul, substitutions, etc).

On top of that, James had this one piece of remarkable fortune for his first game. In the first half, he asked me, “Why aren’t they passing the ball to that guy?,” he asked, pointing to Alex Muyl who, indeed, was overlooked as an option multiple times in the first half, persistently waving and yelling to his statements about being left alone as he charged up the left side. When, in the second half, Muyl scored for the team, James had already become an armchair manager, explaining that he had been right about Muyl all along (one of those brief moments that mean little but can make for an insufferable fan).

When it was over, James was already asking about the next game. While, in my mind, those mid-afternoon games never have the energy of a night game, and while Nissan Stadium will rarely ever provide the proper setting for an energetic crowd, what James saw was something different: growing enthusiasm, a fan base that would grow and cohere like that of the Predators, an explosive and energetic team (he went on and on about the energy Dax showed that afternoon). 

A part of me seems to naively expect Nissan to fill to allowed capacity at each game. A part of me wonders if we are really growing and by how much. It was nice to have an outsider point out to me, through his enthusiasm, that we are very much on our way.

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.

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