Sunday, July 1st, 2012 – Detroit City FC 1, Erie 2
Another title that I’ve shamelessly borrowed from Fever Pitch, “Graduation Day” is a chapter in which Nick Hornby describes his “debut” as a fifteen year old – moving from the Schoolboys’ Enclosure to the North Bank, the Arsenal supporters’ section at Highbury.
I had plotted my debut with great care. For much of that season I’d spent more time staring at the alarming lump of noisy humanity to my right than straight ahead at the pitch; I was trying to work out exactly where I would make for and what parts I should avoid.
The final regular season game of 2012, in which the division winner would be decided, was my graduation day. Up to then, I’d watched every game from the main stand, frequently referred to as the “Family Stand” or “The Quiet Side.” If asked to describe myself, the words loud, rowdy, and boisterous would never be used, but I couldn’t keep myself away from the supporters’ section any longer – it just looked too damn fun.
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As with the Rust Belt Derby showdown with Cleveland, this game didn’t go according to plan. In the scorching heat of a Sunday afternoon an early City own goal and a late winner gave Erie the 2-1 victory and the division title. In the first round of the divisional playoffs two weeks later, Cleveland ended City’s season by the same score.
Despite the season ending with a whimper, my experience in the supporters’ section was invigorating. Contrary to some reports and complaints, I found that the people around me were not murders, arsonists, rapists, or human traffickers. Some of them are mentally unstable, but having too many normal people in one place would be boring anyway.
I’m an easygoing guy, but I also believe that there is no better reliever of stress than screaming and yelling at the top of your lungs. Most of us have ample daily motivation to do this, but because of our fears of firing, arrest, and general alienation of the people around us, our opportunities are frustratingly few and far between. Unless you regularly find yourself on the top of a mountain or the bow of a ship, sporting events are pretty much all you’ve got.
A raucous atmosphere is the exception and not the rule in pro sports. College football and basketball are better, but generally favor raw noise instead of coordination. Soccer is easily the best outlet for vocal energies and visual displays.
[ ^ Number 2 on my 2014 song/chant wishlist behind Dirty Old Town.]
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I love the supporters’ section and that’s where I’ll be for the forseeable future, but there is something to be said for sitting across the field in the main stand. Watching a soccer game is nice, but watching a soccer game with a mass of people in the background and a wall of sound coming at you is incredible.
Again from Fever Pitch:
…atmosphere is one of the crucial ingredients of the football experience. These huge ends [supporter sections] are as vital to the clubs as their players, not only because their inhabitants are vocal in their support, not just because they provide clubs with large sums of money, but because without them nobody else would bother coming.
It would be arrogant and presumptuous for supporters to claim credit for all of DCFC’s success – the players, coaches, and owners (most of whom have careers outside of the club) have put in thousands of hours of their time and thousands of dollars of their own money into a situation where success is essentially measured by entertaining people and breaking even.
That being said, supporters ARE responsible for the club’s popularity. Without a passionate, dedicated, vocal following, Detroit City would simply be at best another run-of-the-mill team with a few hundred people showing up to each game, or at worst another occupant of the ever-growing NPSL expansion graveyard (52 and counting since the league’s inception in 2003).
Having sat in the main stand and listened to the people around me, I can say that a great number of them were there not only because of the winning team on the field, but also because of the incredible atmosphere that is generated. As a wise man once said, “We make the party and people show up.”