The Accidental Fan: GOOAALLL!!!

by Sabena Allen | 1/14/19 2:20am

In this column over the summer, I explored how I became an “Accidental Fan” and the many different ways that all types of fans can engage with sports. Too often, the world of sports is overshadowed by the idea that to be a fan, one must know everything about a sport or multiple sports and watch them religiously. Well, as I discussed last summer, that has never been my experience with sports. And during my off term this past fall, I had the opportunity to add more sports and teams to my list of Accidental Interests.

Soccer is one of the most popular sports in the world, but that can be easy to forget in America. I can name all of two soccer teams in the U.S., and that is only because I went to a Seattle Sounders game this past fall and I happen to remember that they were playing the Colorado Rapids. That being said, I am pretty sure that I can name more U.S. soccer teams than a lot of Americans because, despite what soccer fans will tell you, soccer is not especially popular in the U.S. From what I have heard, foreign teams might even be more popular here than American teams. One time, my friend and I even got into a debate about whether hockey or soccer was more popular. (Apparently it varies by region … but the answer is hockey. Always hockey!)

As for the Sounders game, I have been to two professional sports games in Seattle, and it is a very different experience than going to games in Boston, the locus of most of my sports experiences. The Seattle Mariners game I went to had a very different feel and flavor compared to the rowdy old stands at Fenway. Since I have never been to another professional soccer game, I don’t really have a point of comparison. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the giveaways and activities on the street outside of the stadium leading up to the game. Seattleites are more trusting than New England fans, it seems to me. I remember commenting, “In Boston, people giving stuff away like this would be sketchy!” I guess I will have to add “Skeptical Fan” to my list of fan categories. Regardless, I received a free Sounders Scarf which was super fun and useful to have at the game.

As for the actual game, I don’t usually watch soccer, but I actually really enjoy it. When I was an exchange student in Germany, my host parents were major soccer fans, so I watched games with them a lot on TV. At the time, I had truly no interest in sports, but soccer on TV was honestly what launched me into my interest for other sports. I realized that watching a game could be fun and that fan culture and fan paraphernalia can be great.

Because of my prior experience with soccer, I sort of knew what was going on. But, as usual, I did a lot of people watching, chatting and snacking. The energy at soccer games is truly amazing. Naturally, that is true of many professional sports games, but soccer games seem somehow more organized in the cheering and chanting. There are flags and scarves and clapping, not to mention the Emerald City Supporters section where all the total die-hard fans sit. The excitement feels much more synchronized, starting with the parade before the game.

The only downside to the choreography and consistency is that for a newcomer, it can be rather overwhelming. A few times I felt very out of place, as my companions at the game had been to several Sounders games and are big fans. They know what to do after every prompt, as did many of the attendees. As an entry point for new fans, this is a small challenge, but I suppose you just have to roll with it. Although I may never be one of the fans chanting with the huge flags, I am totally willing to wave my scarf and have a good time. Though I must admit I completely forgot the way commentators say “goal” until my game companion reminded me. I think I have a little ways to go when it comes to soccer, and I am excited to learn more!

My friend, whose family I was with, insists that the Seahawks play at the Sounders’ stadium. However, given the heavily featured Seahawks logo and considering that I come from a family of huge Seahawks fans, I’m pretty sure it’s the other way around. The irony there is that my friend also falls into the category of “Accidental Fan.” To use his own words, he is “enthusiastic and extremely un-knowledgeable.” I would say that sums it up very well. He was the soccer manager at his high school, had to do announcements for games and had to fill in as goalie once for about two minutes. Because of this and the other Sounders games he has attended, he could answer a few of my questions and knew more terminology than I did, but overall, he is just there for the fun of it. That’s what I am there for too, so it worked out.

Incidentally, the Sounders won and scored four points, so my friend was able to get a free haircut at Great Clips hair salon, which, I guess, is always the deal if the Sounders score three or more points. Let’s just say I am glad that the Sounders won, and the game was awesome, but it was good that the haircut was free.