One of my favorite things about association football is the nature and spectacle of the supporters. No other sport offers the passion and intensity of 90 minutes plus of controlled chaos. Chants, tifo, parades into the stadia, and flags bigger than you can imagine all characterize the nature and spirit of the supporter's groups. The renaissance of association football here in North America over the past three years with the addition of the Pacific Northwest teams in MLS has been turbocharged by the supporter’s culture. It offers a truly unique fan experience that is unrivaled by the NFL, NBA, or MLB. In a new sporting environment that is dominated by corporate ticket holders and $500 empty front row seats at Yankee Stadium, the supporter's sections and their die hard fans rekindle a connection to the older and simpler days of sport. Days when all that mattered was sharing an afternoon or evening with some of your closest friends and family and giving your all to your team.
I know that fan experience first hand because I grew up in Cleveland as a die hard Browns fan in the infamous Dawg Pound in an old dump of a stadium known as Cleveland Municipal. While the amenities left much to be desired (Can you say urinal troughs?), the memories were some of the best experiences of my life in spite of the fact that the team always seemed to come up short.
We are fortunate here in San Jose that we have one of the best supporters groups in the world with the 1906 Ultras and the Casbah. I was proud to see that in an unscientific study of supporters groups that the Ultras were voted No. 1 in MLS. I am always amazed by their passion and burning desire to support the players and team in any way. Seeing all of the Ultras in New York and Colorado during the playoffs was an awesome sight. They add a great dynamic to the stadium and I look forward to incorporating them into the new stadium in a unique and special way commensurate with their key role in the fan experience.
As everyone knows, the supporters can sometimes run right up against what is appropriate in the stadium. It is their nature to do that. What I hope that everyone can understand is that despite it being funny and cool to push the envelope with language, actions, or tifo it is critical that all sides agree on a set of standards so that all fans can enjoy the match. It is also critical that the visiting team is respected and that there is no violence.
I was asked today by a member of the media if I was upset about the protest at the Toronto FC match where the Ultras did not cheer. Not at all I responded. The action is actually what makes the Ultras so unique and our fan experience so organic. This is what differentiates association football and the Quakes experience. I want to promote that as long as it does not cross the line.
Determining where the line exists is easier said then done. In an effort to take this issue on proactively, this past off season the Quakes management sat down with our supporter's and developed a bill of rights as well as a transparent process of administering any sanctions. This included an appeal process. This was a very productive experience that built trust and rapport between the groups. Everyone signed off on the bill of rights and process. The trust was put to the test early when there was a disagreement over some objectionable tifo that was shown at the Sounders FC match and the following protest at the Toronto FC match. In the end, the relationship and trust that was built up over the off season was critical in resolving the misunderstanding and moving forward in a positive way. I am proud to say that once again the Quakes and our supporters stand shoulder to shoulder in support of the team and players.
With a huge game coming up this weekend against Chivas USA after a disappointing road loss versus the New York Red Bull, we need everyone pulling the same direction to give our guys as much encouragement as possible to get a great result this weekend. I know that together we can make the difference.
San Jose Earthquakes