Soccer in the US is often associated with youth groups traveling to participate in tournaments. But there is a growing number of professional-league fans who cover many miles to support their teams.
I missed the goal. I had traveled 521 miles by bus to be at the game, and I now missed my team’s goal.
Disappointed, I slowly elbowed my way through the crowd back to the seat. I had come down to the concourse to buy something hot to drink and take refuge from strong winds and 30-degree weather. I must have been in line for at least 20 minutes, only to get tea that cooled within 60 seconds. “What a waste of time this was,” I thought as I proceeded up the aisle, my eyes getting watery from the cold.
I did witness two more goals, but they were scored for the home team by a former Chicago player. “Fire reject!” I heard a few people chant behind me. My fellow Fire supporters of Section 8 Chicago did not hide their frustration with the game’s progress. After the final whistle, we gathered all our banners, flags and drums, and waited for security to escort us out of the visitors’ sector. “We-have-health care!” shouted a few Canadian fans as we were leaving. “Stick-to-hockey!” we responded.
We held our heads high, but there was no denying that we had hoped for a different outcome. To see your team lose is upsetting, but to see a loss on the road is even more so. Yet, despite the score, feeling exhausted and having suffered one of the coldest May days we could remember, we were still glad to be in Toronto. The annual supporters’ trip north of the border is one that many of us look forward to.
On the eve of this year’s road trip, I am wondering what it is that drives us to take time off from work, spend hours on a bus, and ardently cheer on our team in any weather conditions, no matter what the final score may be. Is it a sense of community? An excuse to socialize? A way to show local pride? I believe all these factors play a role, along with passion.
Soccer supporters are traditionally among the most devoted fans in all of sports. Sometimes the devotion goes too far and the sport becomes an excuse for violence, but thankfully, hooliganism is not common in American soccer. What is on the rise, however, is the number of organized fan groups throughout Major League Soccer that provide visual and vocal support during home and away games.
These fans are not mere spectators, but influencers who are an integral part of the game. Recognizing the power of being the 12th player on the pitch, they use chants, drumming and elaborate visual displays to invigorate their team and intimidate the opponent, all with the purpose of having an impact on the course of the game. Energy created at games is infectious and addictive. It brings people together, unites them around a common cause, makes them feel important. In a number of cases, it also extends beyond the stadium and translates into charitable work. Some of these groups are registered non-profit organizations, actively involved in supporting a variety of causes.
Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a lively community, centered around a shared interest and powerful enough to make an impact?
This year I am driving to Toronto. Gas in my neighborhood costs $4.65 per gallon, but I know the trip is worth the money spent. I have traveled to support the Chicago Fire in Canada since 2007, the year that marked Toronto FC’s inaugural season with the league. In these four years, not only have I made new friends within the Fire community (and had engaging – and friendly – conversations with Toronto supporters), but I’ve also had a chance to discover the city bit by bit. With its rich cultural scene, diverse culinary offerings, great walkability, and cityscape blending North-American and European aesthetics, Toronto is one of the most appealing urban destinations I’ve experienced.
Time to pack.(Photos by D. Henderson)