The open heart and the Secret Garden

An email I received this morning concluded with the final line:  “If anybody else wants to join… they can do so just by opening the door to their heart.  COYBIG!”

Point 1: While I will turn to the author of that email later in this two part column, I begin by endorsing it as the position we should take on fanship, on the NSC fan community in general. 

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As anyone who reads this column often (or has talked to me for more than a few minutes) knows that I have a tendency to romanticize any soccer fan community and to want to throw as broad of a net as possible. While not wanting to go into the specific details (they simply are not important to rehash to make my point and would likely serve as a distraction), over the last two weeks, we’ve again seen one of those online arguments that ultimately serves to divide fans up by their… quality, rather than their love for the team.

If I leave the particular instance which got me thinking about this issue and turn to the general points people often make, I’m sure you are all familiar with this type of argument. Sometimes, we have a tendency to want to judge the “authenticity” of fanship by a number of different metrics.

How long have you been a fan of this team? How often do you go to games?  How loud are you? Did you sign up after we’ve had success or when we were struggling? And the list goes on and on. 

While these can be interesting enough conversations among friends, when the answers are used to make dividing lines, they are simply destructive of community.

Courtesy John Sloop

Look, I do indeed like to trot out my Nashville FC member #3 card. I like the fact that I was lucky enough to be around when Chris Jones was first tweeting about launching a new soccer team. That said, I was lucky enough to a) live in Nashville at the time, b) happen to be following local soccer friends who retweeted Jones’ tweet, and c) was enough of a soccer fan at the time to care. 

That doesn’t make my fanship any more “real” or authentic than anyone else’s. While we owe a huge debt to the original Roadies who got Supporter Group culture started in Nashville years before MLS was a reality, they are not truer or better fans because they were there. And in fairness, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of them make that kind of claim.

If you’ve been a fan for five years or for one, if you don’t even know the team exists right now, but you become a fan next year, we are on the same team. We cheer and support together. I don’t care about your longevity or your timing; I just want to know you are behind this team and its players. 

We need to have an open heart to anyone who wants to support NSC (well, except for Nazis; we don’t have to have an open heart to Nazi fans). 

Remember, this gets bigger the more inclusive and open we can be. No one is bigger than the club. No one.

Point 2: Last week, I (and I am guessing a good number of you) saw a tweet written by something called “The Secret Garden” and claiming to be a new supporters group for Nashville SC. As I have been every time a new group has emerged, I was intrigued (and I must admit, the name was enough alone to pique my interest). Just why is there is a new group emerging? Can it articulate how they differ from the other groups? Will there be a tailgate? What kind of beer do you drink?

So, I did what I always do: I slid into The Secret Gardens DM and asked, basically, who the hell are you?

That line about the “Open Heart?” Yeah, that’s the Secret Garden. If anyone wants to join, their “president,” I guess, told me, just have an open heart.

I have to be honest: I don’t have a firm handle on what The Secret Garden (TSG) is, or if it is, and I suppose we are going to find out over time.  Indeed, from my conversation with TSG, I’m not sure they know if or what they are going to be. The Secret Garden right now is more of an idea, more of a spirit. Let me try to describe this.

Again, TSG is a lovely idea of supporters group. Currently, its “full” membership is limited to 1 person, mainly because TSG’s leadership is still hedging its bets on what it wants to do next. I am so impressed by TSG, however, that I might offer them the full membership of the defunct Diaspora SG, which would literally double their membership overnight.

TSG’s leadership have been obsessed with soccer for years and have been massive fans since the first USL season. While they do not allow their current membership to attend games (not until the COVID vaccine has made its rounds), the group used to attend almost all home games. Indeed, sitting at home watching games alone during COVID (or with a few family members), The Secret Garden first hit upon the idea that there might need to be little “at home” supporters groups. But what really pushed this was the deal that the Backline almost made with Advance Financial. 

TSG was so opposed to the idea of this partnership that they wanted to have a supporters group outside of the Backline for like minded folks. They were relieved when the partnership fell apart and have been mightily impressed with the way groups like the Music City Heaters have partnered with minority owned businesses.

In effect, The Secret Garden is about inclusion while celebrating and supporting the team. TSG is interested in making sure that being a supporters group not only supports the club, but also maybe makes the world a little better. At the very least, it shouldn’t make things work.

If you have an open heart, I dunno, maybe drop ‘em a DM. Share your ideas. Or maybe just keep doing better. I think they would be happy with either outcome.

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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