For the Fan(s)By: Sean | February 25th, 2010
“You want to come to my game?”
It’s a simple enough question. Just seven monosyllabic words requiring a yes or no answer, usually asked on a weekend morning a few hours ahead of an adult recreational football match. I’m usually thinking about scheduling for the day–is my daughter going to come with me to the pitch or is she doing something with my wife instead? The domestic lives of middle-aged couples and their children are fraught with scheduling pitfalls and making sure everybody is where they need to be in a timely matter is often an art and a science. But sometimes, instead of emphasizing the first word “You” to make it a direct question, I find myself emphasizing the second word “want” in the form of a surprised rebuttal. Because when I look outside and see dark Oregon skies dumping cold Oregon rain onto a muddy Oregon field, I am often amazed that anyone would willingly want to come out and do anything for themselves much less watch somebody else do something.
But such is the lot of recreational football fans.
For as those of us who play know all too well, there aren’t many of them. As supporters of football, our tribe is five billion strong. We sing for club and chant for country and our voices–especially in World Cup years–fill stadia. American soccer fans, although not quite as numerous, are still very passionate about their teams and show up to cheer in throngs of up to 60,000+ depending upon the event. College and high school contests still can also draw hundreds, sometimes thousands for a match and even the local microsoccer jamboree will have hordes of parents, video cameras in tow and comfortably ensconced in their camp chairs, lining the sidelines to yell and encourage. But if you keep playing long enough, the touchlines grow more and more threadbare until you find yourself on a pitch with twenty-two other people…including the referee. The fans are gone. The sounds of enthusiastic claps and cheers you remembered from your U-10 days are replaced by the sounds of a backfiring muffler on the street and some punk-ass kid shouting “Soccer is for [homophobic expletive deleted]!”
You get used to empty sidelines and so it always surprises me a little bit when the question of whether my wife and daughter really want to watch my match is answered in the affirmative. “You do?” It shouldn’t surprise me, but it still does. Families support each other and so it makes sense that if (a) we go to little Kiki’s game or gymnastics meet and, (b) if Kiki and I watch my wife sing with her band, then (c) it should follow they would come make the 35 minute drive across Portland to watch me kick it out for 90 minutes.
But it still surprises me. On a nice spring day, my club Rangers can get maybe ten or twelve out to watch. Sure, several of those fans are toddlers and there is a playground right next to the Powell Street End goal, but whatever. On a rainy day, maybe there are two or three…mostly kids who had to come with their dad for purposes of child care. The fall season will get us maybe ten fans all season but in all fairness, it does rain a lot. I think that is fairly typical for this age and this sport. There are a few squads who show up at our pitch in a motley caravan of minivans and SUVs, disgorge a fair number of “away supporters” and enjoy a good cheer. I’m torn between enjoying the match camaraderie and having somebody else’s wife yell that I just fouled her man. I’ve often wondered as I go sliding into said husband/midfielder for a tackle, Is this fun for those fans? Do you look forward to this or is it something you do because you have to, like taking out the garbage or flossing? [Editor's note: Technically, I'm not thinking that when I'm actually making the tackle, but more like after the match when we are doing the traditional "Good game...good game" handshake. Usually during the challenge, I'm thinking "AAAAIIIRRRGGHHH!!!"] Are these people on the sidelines really fans or bemused hostages to weekend scheduling conspiracies?
I asked my daughter Kiki if she liked coming to Daddy’s games. My daughter is sharp as a tack at the tender age of nine.
“Umm…why are you asking?”
“I’m blogging to my global audience of (ahem)
millions thousands maybe two dozen. I was wondering if you really like Daddy’s team. You know, do you think you are a fan.”
There was a pause. “Yes.” Another pause followed, then, in an almost robotic voice: “I like it a lot.” I think she was on to the fact that I was fishing for a quote. “Yes, I like it a lot.”
“Because you are a great player,” she continued with Robby the Robot-like inflection. “You are so awesome–”
My journalistic credibility was blown. “OK, that’s cool. Thanks.”
So then I asked my wife if she liked to come watch me play. I was pleasantly surprised by her answer. “Baby, I’d bleed yellow and black (my team colors) for you! There is nothing on earth that I live for than to watch you crush the opposition in those hot adidas shorts! When I hear other wives boo or jeer I want to go rip off their heads and bludgeon all of their substitutes to a mangled pulp with it! I WANNA BE AN FC RANGER! I WANNA WATCH THEM PLAY WITH DANGER! RAAANNNNGGGEEERRS!” Then she head-butted the cat and set fire to the neighbor’s car. [Editor's note: Well, she may not have said that exactly, but I'm sure she was thinking it...on some level. Ahem.]
Let me try that again. Ahem. So I asked my wife if she liked to come watch me play. I was pleasantly surprised by her answer. “Of course.” It isn’t boring for you? “No.” There was a bit of surprise in her voice, as in, why would you even ask me this question? I know that free time for both of us is a premium and the four hours I spend driving to and from the pitch and then to play is a precious commodity that could be spent exercising or napping or Super-poking friends on Facebook…but instead, most of the time, she chooses to spend it with me. That’s pretty cool. She is the team’s unofficial photographer/videographer. She unofficially keeps an eye on the other small children who occasionally come to watch and acts as the playground monitor when they migrate to the other side of the chain link fence to play. She doesn’t have to, but she does. And she done it on scorching hot June afternoons when the artificial turf radiates back at 100+ degrees…on miserable rainy autumn mornings…and (bless her heart) during the now infamous 15 degree (before wind chill!) division championship last December that gusted with 30 mile per hour winds. Really, unless Kiki has a match conflict or something at church requires her attention, she usually grabs the camp chair and hops along for the ride.
That is more than a fan. That is more than a team manager. That’s my friggin’ awesome wife.
So for all of you Weekend Warriors out there who are fortunate enough to have fans/a fan cheer you on at the local park pitch on even a semi-regular basis, tell them thanks. Ours is a global game we play but sometimes it can feel a little lonely out on the field. One lone voice shouting “Nice kick!” can make it feel a lot bigger.