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Press-ganged - 8/15/07

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In which we parse some Metro media...

Pitchinvasion recognizes the fillip of media attention being lavished on MLS supporters over the last day or so. Not the first time the unique atmosphere of MLS support has been plumbed, nor the last if Steven Wells has anything to do with it. For Metro supporters in particular, I would refer you to the pieces done by actual, long-suffering Metro fan (aren't those adjectives all redundant?) Bob Ferguson in the late, lamented NY Sports Express for their You-Are-There quality, if only I could.

This New York Observer piece on elements of the diehard Metro support is already the subject of some discussion in Metroland. I say "elements" advisedly. Though the conceit is that it depicts the Empire Supporters Club and Section 101, which last time I checked were somewhat synonymous (most people in 101 are ESC, but not all of the ESC hangs out in Section 101), there's a bit of randomness and catch-as-catch-can about it. There's a lot that anyone who's spent time around Metro support - or any MLS team's organized support, I bet - would recognize. But there's also much generalizing and generalized, much evidence that the author is unaware of the real nature of his subject, and a little bit of smug mean-spiritedness. Then again, it is the NY Observer we're talking about. When Saturday Comes it ain't, much less the International Journal of Cultural Studies.

Is it an accurate picture? Is it condescending?

The article is what it is, which is a little of both.

I can only speak as someone who was in the ESC for a good long time, but hasn't been for a couple years, due both to distance and a overwhelming disaffection for the current identity, which I just can't get over to the point that I'd give money to that miserable company and show up in the stands.

Nevertheless, I believe there is precisely one thing that has been, by and large, great about the Metro soccer experience over the past 12 years, and that is the caliber of support brought by the ESC. It is the sole reason why many in the NY and NJ area have stuck with this team (or close, for that matter) through thin and thin. It's particularly interesting to get an outsider's view of it.

So let's get the sticky stuff outta the way first. There is some pretentiousness - occasionally cringe-worthy amounts of it. Yes, there's the occasional casting of sham-accents - when it's blatantly played-at is when it's most grating and out of place. For every fantastic adaptation of a foreign chant (something done by supporters around the world, ) there's one that isn't particularly well understood, sung awfully, or way out of context. There is a fair amount of trying too hard, and a poster on Metrofanatic - English, by the way - nails the problem with that succinctly.

But you know, that's in line with a phase that most of us have gone through at some point or another - the slightly strained attempts to show off, among other things, one's international savoir faire. It's devilishly hard to resist, like being that guy who meets the cute foreign chick and throws what little you learned during your study-abroad semester at her, because you can. Maybe it's having something to prove, maybe it's just to be a little different. Perhaps there's too much of that high-concept hyper-cosmopolitanism in a group like this - you may have a soccer reservoir a mile wide and an inch deep. There's no harm in that, you tend to grow out of the excesses of it, eventually. In the meantime, trying too hard is far preferable to not trying at all.

As for "patently nerdy enthusiasms" and all that connotes, that's primarily a matter of how the dedicated, hardcore American soccer fan - the sort of guy or gal that goes out to see an early round Open Cup match, then comes home and writes about it on Bigsoccer, or on a blog - is framed. Now, honestly, there have been times when you could look around the 101 crowd and swear you'd been dropped into a Fellini film (the unkind image not mine, but I'll take it). But would you like to meet the fellas who go out to watch Rotherham vs. Walsall reserves on a rainy night in February? I'll wager that those people are no less nerdish about their soccer (or anything else), but they're the heart and soul of the sport in its traditional environs, and I'd sure as hell rather stand in their section, as opposed to sitting alongside Johnny Loudmouth Frontrunner, in his fresh new Chelsea or Barca top. The diehards here - call them the geekcore if you must - is where virtually all the interesting stuff comes from.

Above all, I suppose I have an issue with this running dialectic of "authentic" versus "simulated" or "play" supporters. Who decides that? That difference, that aspect of inauthenticity and pretend is implicit in phrases like "slipping in and out of English accents" and "many of them present themselves as passionate, rowdy and, like their foreign counterparts, a little dangerous." That may in fact be a legitimate point, but let's warily attempt to talk a little performance theory here: it's not just MLS fans playing the part of traditional fans; all supporters - American, European, whoever - play-act some variation of the Traditional Supporter part, when you get right down to it.

And with that broached, I'm not going to wade any further into the deep waters of theory tonight. But I will leave a question out there, if you're not ready to accept what I just said, then we have to figure out, just what do role-playing American supporter have to do to become "real"? Or is there, in fact, no way possible? Some question.

And on a sidenote, who the fuck cares what Joe Benigno knows or doesn't know about anything? That's just bizarre. Did the author take the "Famous ESC" song that literally? God help he hears the one that half the English-speaking fans in the world sing, about being the finest football team the world has ever seen.

It is a little gratifying to read that "the vast majority of E.S.C. chants and banners have not adopted the new name." That makes up (a little) for the retch-worthy sight of those all-red jerseys in 101.

Meanwhile, local North Jersey weekly - coincidentally enough, The Observer - also pitches in with this story on the stadium woes, which doesn't say much different from the Star-Ledger story I mentioned a few days ago (and absentmindedly, forgot to link). Bottom line: the cleanup is going slower than expected, the opening of the stadium has officially been shoved back at least till 2009, but otherwise, things are just peachy!

Nothing much different from stuff we've already heard, except for this; there are so many little insinuations, so many little messages left between the lines, that one can't help but wonder what the underlying message is. Does it not feel like the stadium still hangs on a knife edge?

The more you look at this article, the harder it is to tell. It could, after all, just be bad writing:

"The multi-million dollar soccer stadium that is under preliminary construction in Harrison has hit a major snag, causing postponement of the development of the stadium for a full year until the start of the 2009 season."

Take that last sentence. "Postponement of the development of the stadium" is so unclear, you could take it to mean that construction won't begin till '09. That's ridiculous....isn't it?

What stands out are the repeated

"What makes the project sticky is the amount of public money tied into it."


"Harrison had expected to repay its debt on the stadium by collecting property taxes on the rest of the project. But you can’t collect property taxes on projected sales, just legitimate sales"

to the precarious, politically-significant nature

"The county of Hudson has also a vested interest in the project, having floated nearly $40 million in bonds to build a parking garage near the stadium. The county figured that the parking deck would pay for itself in the coming years, but not if there aren’t any cars parking there."

of the stadium's funding

..."the plans for the permanent home of the team remains in a state of limbo — once again."

which is being messed with by this extended cleanup (or AEG-RB wrangling, depending on who you believe.)

"We’re sticking to the goal of having a professional soccer stadium.”

Boy Bruce, you sure know how drive home the idea this is all just minor hassles.

When I read all that, I see those phrases sinking down the page like little depth charges, not detonating....yet. Or maybe they're hinting at nothing. Are you ever reassured by seeing the words plans, permanent home, and limbo in the same sentence?

"But the project that was delayed and then delayed some more has been given yet another delay of game. You have to begin to wonder whether this might be some sort of negative sign — or whether Harrison, Hudson County and Red Bull can somehow make this thing finally work."

All baseless speculation on the part of a journalist, or veiled hints at which way the wind is blowing on Harrison? I honestly couldn't tell you now.

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