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The Evolution of Far-Flung Supporters

I'd consider myself a die-hard fan of three teams; the Aston Villa, the Seattle Sounders and the Seattle Mariners. The Seattle Seahawks I'd place in a tier just below that; it's certainly not a casual fandom, but I don't live and die with the results in the same fashion. When the Seahawks are bad it's momentarily annoying, but it doesn't cause me to go in a week-long funk either. I don't obsess in the same way about the daily goings on of the team and when a game gets out of hand I can bring myself to go do something else rather than feeling beholden to prolonging my misery. University of Memphis basketball kind of falls into this category as well, although I'll admit to paying more attention when things are going well largely because the games are easier to pay attention to. If we're talking about obsession though, it's just Villa, the Sounders and the Mariners.

Somewhat in keeping with this week's theme, I've been thinking a lot lately about the differences between supporting Villa and supporting my local teams. We talk a great deal about the distance involved in both the physical and cultural sense; the difficulties in finding broadcasts, or the trouble we have dragging ourselves out of bed at 6:00 AM on the weekends. That's not what I mean in this context though; these differences are emotional. At times it's liberating, while at others it's incredibly isolating. It's a different feeling.

The lack of community is obviously the biggest factor. There's community in a virtual sense, of course; what we have here during match threads or on Twitter or what have you. And of course there is the soccer-loving community you'll find at pubs or the like, but it's rare that I find a Villa fan in such settings. I watch most games alone on my couch, and generally that's fine with me. It's how I watch most Mariners and Sounders games too, and I'd wager that it's how most fans watch their teams the vast majority of the time. But the difference is that when I'm feeling more social, I can't call up a friend and ask if they feel like heading down to the pub to watch the match the same way i can with the Sounders or the Mariners. It involves checking days in advance to see if and when the match will be shown, deciding whether watching at the pub is worth cutting yourself off for the entirety of the day, coordinating schedules and praying the staff remembered to set the DVR. It's fairly often a pretty massive pain in the ass, to be honest, and it can make following the team feel like an obligation at times. The amount of work that goes into catching a mid-week match with a friend is generally more extensive than actually attending a Sounders or Mariners game.

More than that though, it's the lack of people around you that are even aware Aston Villa exist, let alone care about how they fared on a given day. When Felix Hernandez strikes out 12 or Leon Washington returning two kickoffs for a touchdown, people talk about it; at work the next day, at the bar, in line at the grocery store, everywhere. It's hard to be out in public in Seattle for more than a few minutes without seeing someone in the Rave Green of the Sounders. Seattle's teams are all businesses of course, but they are also civic institutions that bring the region together. I've had conversations and developed friendships with numerous people due in large part to our shared fanhood. With Villa I'm largely alone.

That can be fun. It's nice to be in a good mood all day without other people knowing exactly why. I'm a fairly reserved person generally, so it's a nice change for me to be able to stand up and shout in a bar all by myself without anyone batting an eyelash. When it's not going so well, I can shut off Twitter and go do the dishes or something without having to be constantly reminded of the fact. Villa feel like my team to far greater an extent than most others, because I'm often often alone in the joy and defeat. And in the right mood that's where the isolation comes into play. While I'm on the balance perfectly fine with the state of affairs, not having the option of connecting with other supporters in a real-world sense can be frustrating. I enjoy the writing, the virtual chatter, the text messages and all of it, but when I'm in a certain frame of mind none of it can replace actual interaction with other people who understand exactly how you feel at a given moment. While watching last year's League Cup final with a Chelsea fan who knew the result in a bar where the only other person at all invested in the game supported Manchester United and also knew the result, I had began to wonder what would happen should Villa end up winning. My initial reaction would have been to jump out of my seat and run screaming through Pioneer Square, but such a reaction without proper context most likely would have gotten me arrested or at least 86'd from Fado.

And all of that makes following an English club just feel different. The emotional investment is just as strong, of that I have no doubt. But the emotional connection? It's not, or at least it's different enough to feel that way. I'd imagine it is similar for many far-flung supporters with no cultural of familial basis for their club of choice. When so much about a team's history and support is tied to their region and their tradition, where do the rest of us fit in? How do we go about making the clubs our own, at least on some level? I don't really have an answer to either of those questions, but I'd wager that I will have a better understanding within my lifetime. The internet has changed the culture of sports fandom just as it has changed pretty much every other aspect of our lives. I'd say that this blog you're reading right now is about all the proof you'd need of that.

It will be interesting to see develop. We have something of an idea here in North America, based on the reality that allegiances tend to travel with people and the fact that fans of teams are generally similar in how they express themselves no matter how far from that team they may be. But those allegiances and behaviors were most often developed well before that distance came into being. What happens when you pick your own club or, ( perhaps more accurately,) when your club picks you? I love questions like this. Because no one really has any way of knowing for sure, but it's fairly reasonable to assume that we'll find out soon enough.