There is a common misconception amongst many in the UK, especially in the media, that there isn’t a passion for the game of football in North America. Proper football that is of course and not the throwball variety.
From what I’ve seen first hand in Canada and the US, this is far from being the case and in a lot of places, some of the passion, enthusiasm, commitment and noise shown by the fans would put many supports in the UK to shame.
Vancouver’s Southsiders, Portland’s Timbers Army and Chicago’s Section 8 are some of the most impressive ones around. If anyone questions the passion for the game on the continent, then they need to speak to some of these guys and that’s just what’s happening.
Sure, football is still very much a minority sport there, that struggles to get the media attention and respect that it deserves. There are some big names in sporting media in the States in particular that will put the boot in on every given opportunity.
Jim Rome springs to mind instantly. For those unfamiliar with him, he hosts America’s “premiere sports radio talk show”. He is a man that bizarrely, to me at least, commands respect but I find him almost impossible to listen to. I’ve never listened to a man that takes such long pauses in the air between sentences. He also hates football with a passion and clearly doesn’t get it. He’s a knob basically. Your atypical loudmouth American broadcaster.
Elsewhere in the media though, amongst those that do “get it”, interest in football and fans is certainly growing and the World Cup this year has peaked interest.
Bars that were usually gridiron, hockey or baseball havens, became fully fledged football pubs. Lots of businesses had their stores bedecked in team flags and were catering towards the football loving public. Restaurants offered special football menus for fans wanting to watch the games.
Add to this thousands of people gathering in special viewing areas to watch games across the continent and it was great to see.
The media were keen to speak to football fans. I found myself doing interviews with two major radio stations to talk about the World Cup, the Whitecaps and just chew the fat about football in general. Other fans were on other radio stations, television and newspapers from east to west.
The interest has been maintained after the World Cup as well.
In Vancouver last week, one of the main newspapers, The Province, had their monthly footballing Goal section devoted entirely to a fans issue. 12 pages devoted to covering Vancouver Whitecaps Southsiders supporters group, of which I’m proud to be a part of.
It showcased the diversity of the group in terms of ages, backgrounds, ethnicity and more. It also let the Vancouver public know that football fans are just like them, just not afraid to show their passion, sing, chant and swear and not the hooligans and trouble makers they expect.
Maybe it’s just that football fans are considered something unique, strange or different in North America. Can’t see any of the big Scottish papers running something similar.
With Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers joining Major League Soccer next year and taking their fans with them, these football mad cities are going to have a huge snowball in interest in both the Clubs and the fans. The Southside and the TA sections will clearly be the place to be in their respective cities.
This will then have a knock on effect elsewhere in the League, just as when Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders and their fans had when they joined. Seattle in particular has seen the Sounders become a major player in the town, pushing aside the struggling Seahawks NFL and Mariners baseball teams in the process. Football has brought a sporting buzz back to the city.
When you add in players like Thierry Henry now plying his trade in the MLS with New York and interest seemingly at an all time high, this might just be the breakthrough the game needs to finally lift it up that level, respect and popularity that football fans throughout North America have been long waiting for.