Nothing without fans

A recent tweet by Alexi Lalas casts derisive eyes at the pundits who are “clutching pearls” over the proposed creation of the Super League. Simultaneously, columnist Brian Phillips aligns himself with readers who love the current structure and “feel nauseated at the thought of losing promotion and relegation.”

Normally, I would roll my eyes at claims that pundits were pearl clutching or that fans were feeling nauseated at the idea of the massive implications that would result from the creation of a Super League. However, having personally spent the last several nights in an uneasy sleep, hoping to wake up to the knowledge that the Super League is all a bad dream or that the teams have withdrawn the proposal, I have experienced literal nausea, and, in my more private moments talking to friends, I’m sure at times that I appeared to be clutching at pearls.

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The fact of the matter is, I don’t know that I ever felt more angst at a potential change in a sport structure than this one. (And I do understand that Patrick Bamford is right: it would be nice if we all get more ‘felt’ discomfort when it came to racism).

I neither need to, nor wish to, rehash the arguments themselves. Most everyone has a strong opinion on this and most of those opinions are already pretty damned firm. Instead, this is one of those moments that I hope club ownership at every level and in every country sits up and takes notice.

As has been said hundreds of times before: soccer is unlike other sports, especially in the relationship between the fan base and the club. While the clubs are all materially owned by someone who can technically do what s/he wants with the club, the supporters feel an emotional ownership of the club, more than any other sport. The insomnia many of us experience? The “nausea” Phillips mentions? These are not the symptoms of fanship so much as they are the symptoms we feel when there is an illness in the family, when we are waiting on different news from the doctor. 

The unspoken pact we have with the club is materially—or at least physically—real. We have a fear right now that soccer—as it exists in Europe—is about to be ruined. The nausea is from both the worry about impending doom, but also, importantly, the sense that we’ve been betrayed. This sense of betrayal is especially strong if we are aligned with one of the six clubs who are attempting to pull away. 

Again, this isn’t simply sport. It’s more.

While Major League Soccer does not allow for the emotional roller coaster of investment that promotion-relegation (and Champions League qualification) do, the investment… the alignment… of supporter with club is every bit as real. And the clubs need to underline this, never take it for granted and act with the supporters as decisions are made, as communiques are drawn.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I thought the Nashville SC front office had made a slight misstep in how they communicated about the ticket dispersal at Nissan stadium (not the action itself but how it was communicated), and I stand by that. However, in the largest sense, I think we support a club that, with Ian Ayre at the helm, understands the relationship between supporter and club. 

I doubt that NSC in specific, or MLS in general, will ever have to face such an awful moment of anguish as the one caused by the Super League debacle, but I do have that everyone is watching. And thinking. And filing this away.

We supporters are not just along for the ride. We are part of the game. And soccer is more than just a game.

Editor’s note: At time of publication, Chelsea and Manchester City are reportedly withdrawing or considering withdrawal from the Super League.

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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