The Best Fans in All of Sports
Saturday night’s match at Phone Company Field in San Francisco marked the third time in five years that I’ve attended a soccer exhibition featuring Club America, which — depending on how you feel about C.D. Guadalajara — is either the most successful Mexican soccer club or at the very least in the conversation. And all three matches — in 2007 against Chelsea, in 2009 against Inter Milan, and this Saturday against Manchester City — have included the group of supporters featured in the photograph above.
Please forgive the limitations of still photography, the iPhone 3GS’s camera, and the clumsy oaf shooting the picture, but many people in that photo are carrying musical instruments of some sort — drums, trumpets, whistles, what have you. The ones that don’t have any instruments are either singing or chanting or waving flags. Occasionally, someone will toss confetti into the air and, if security is looking the other way, a road flare or two might get lit up. This pulsating buzz of activity begins shortly before kickoff and, near as I can tell, end shortly after the teams leave the field at the game’s conclusion. Any pauses, halts, or hesitations are momentary, only so the group can switch from one chant to the next.
That this constant musical demonstration happens during an exhibition game, mostly being played so overseas soccer clubs can line their pockets with disposable income from chumps like me, is impressive enough. That it happens regardless of the scoreline is positively astounding. It’s one thing to sing boisterously when you’re holding your own against Chelsea or topping Inter Milan on penalty kicks. But on Saturday, Manchester City pretty much controlled the game from Minute 1 to Minute 90. The game wound up 2-0, but you got the feeling that was because City took its foot off the gas in the second half. The Club America offense only troubled City’s goalkeeper a couple of times; otherwise, it was squandering possession early and often to an opponent that could have named the final score at will. The group of Club America fans never stopped playing or singing.
(I was last asked to conjugate a verb in Spanish nearly a quarter-century ago, so it’s quite possible that the chants and songs turned as ugly as the game itself, and mon0lingual doofus that I am, I never noticed. If the Club America fans were singing about all the horrible things they planned on doing to anyone wearing a Manchester City shirt after the game, it was at least the most jovial, up-tempo narcocorrido I’ve ever heard.)
There’s a chant in soccer — “You only sing when you’re winning” — and it’s generally directed at previously boisterous fans who’ve suddenly clammed up when things stop going their way. I’ve only been to three Club America matches in my lifetime, but I’m reasonably confident nobody ever directs that chant at them.
You hear a lot of argument about which team has the best fans in any sport. Cardinals fans like to claim the title because they’ll reportedly clap politely for an opponent who makes a spectacular play. Red Sox fans think they’re the best because — as they’ll happily tell you until you beg them to stop — they endured heartbreak and misery that no other fanbase has ever experienced (except for nearly all of them). And Yankee fans believe they’re the top fans in baseball because they conflate their team’s success with their worth as human beings.
For my money, though, the best kind of fans are the ones who stare down defeat with the same aplomb they celebrate victory. Bad break go against you? Change the tune. The other team’s lead rapidly edging from “narrow” to “comfortable” to “insurmountable?” Better to light a road flare than curse the darkness. Is a loss all but inevitable? Just keep dancing. Enjoy the moment. That’s a fanbase we should all try to embody.
Dressing your children up as pink-haired undead goblins as a show of support for the team is also quite admirable.