Sean Reid is the man behind Love Thy Soccer, a new book about American soccer, written from the fan’s perspective. After years of research and writing – including over 300 interviews – the book is nearly ready for launch. Sean spoke with Thine White Line’s editor, Ian Kerr.
How does writing from the fan perspective differ from other football writing?
I basically see two types of writing on soccer: encyclopaedic and personal narratives. Love Thy Soccer is a combination of both styles. In order to give personal opinions and stories from the people that I talked to, I needed to provide some context. So the book builds that; for the American soccer neophyte, we have an introduction on how things work, why they are, but for the seasoned fanatic, we have personal stories that help illuminate some of the history and dimensions of the game that many have experienced firsthand.
How do fans commit to a soccer team that is a franchise, that could in theory be moved to another city?
There is the belief that you support it to the point that it couldn’t be moved. Of course, in the real world, owners can pretty much do whatever they want, even outside the US. Just think of MK Dons’ move out of Wimbledon.
America’s most recent, well-known example of this was the move by Austin Aztex to Orlando in 2010. It actually worked out for both parties. Orlando City, obviously, benefited from popular, grassroots momentum and the promise of an imminent place in MLS. Austin and their fans were hard done the way the move went down, but it allowed them to push the re-set button, and through the existing support that remained there, they found an ally (part of the previous ownership group) who helped remount the Aztex brand and rebuild more gradually, more organically in the fourth division. Aztex actually won the national championship last year and surprisingly have found themselves back on the radar for MLS expansion.
The gigolo franchise, moving to a new city – this is happening less and less in the current US soccer age. Fans here, especially at the lower divisional levels, have more to fear from their clubs folding altogether, rather than moving to a new market.
What do American soccer supporters think about fan ownership of clubs?
They love it. Nashville FC has seen overwhelming support and has chapters from Texas to New England. Like in Austin, we’ve seen a rise in phoenix clubs like Aztex, behind what you could call true fan owners. Sounders in Seattle is a perfect example of that on a massive scale. Drew Carey and Joe Roth were both enthusiastic fans of the game before they joined up with Adrian Hanauer. And speaking of Sounders, with this fan ownership, we’ve also seen a revival of older club names, from the NASL days, much of it propelled by an active fan component and a willingness by the front office to listen and engage with them. It’s positive on so many levels and something you really don’t see in other professional American sports.
Do you think that the USA has developed its own fan culture? Or does it largely follow European/UK/South American football cultures?
Like most things American, it’s a blend between the two. We take the best parts of fan support: the tribalism, the creativity, the tifo, the loyalty. But we’ve been able to eschew the racism and much of the hooliganism and violence that has persisted in many parts of Europe and South America. I spoke to a Rowdies fan who still goes to the games – one of the original Fannies supporters from back in the old NASL days – and she’s a 90-year old woman! American fandom covers a broad spectrum and I think brings a certain egalitarianism to it – it’s very inclusive and something I think for the most part, thankfully, is not pretentious.
Why have you chosen crowd funding over a more traditional publishing model?
Publishers are too discerning. I mean, they have to be. But it’s a long, long process getting seen, approved, edited, funded. There was no guarantee I’d ever get published, and if I ever did, I’d be making far less than if I self-published. I also wanted to have more creative control. But with that control comes a lot of moving pieces and things you’re responsible for. I had to incorporate, trademark, get legal review, my own graphic design team; it’s a pretty massive undertaking and a lot of expenses I didn’t realize were connected with producing your own work. Having paid out of my own pocket for everything over the last five years in research and travel, I thought crowd sourcing would be a great way to gauge interest and help supplement some of the costs going into production. We certainly shot for the moon with the numbers we were hoping to get in the campaign, but I’d rather ask for more than have people assume a small amount would cover it.
And I also thought it was important to be fan-based not only in its content but its production as well.
That being said, we’re doing fairly well for me being an unknown writer and hopefully the more good press we generate, many more will be encouraged to pre-order the book, even after the campaign’s completed at the end of the month. Every bit helps.
How are the MLS and its fans portrayed in mainstream USA media?
In terms of how the game is marketed, Major League Soccer is its fans. Most US sports are marketed through individual athletes, big names, the Lebrons, the Mannings. With MLS, soccer being a team sport, and its general lack of exposure in relation to the others, most Americans couldn’t name five soccer players if they wanted to. But – and this is a good point – it actually works in the league’s favour. The league can’t advertise the game without pushing the unique fan atmosphere in some way. This is a great nod to the fans. It also pushes the clubs to accommodate the fans and to push for that unique gameday environment. This promotes a strong community bond with its cities, making them stronger and in theory, less likely to pick up and move. And on top of all of that, it separates soccer and MLS from the other pro sports which require more automated cheering and a rather generic crowd experience, all very good for a league which has striven to distinguish itself from the glut of entertainment options out there.
Fans have really carried the torch for soccer in the last few years and I think are principally responsible for taking the game to new levels in America. In many ways we’re writing our own history here and determining the direction for the game here. It’s incredibly exciting.
Love Thy Soccer will be published in May 2014. You can support the project and order a copy of the book at indiegogo.