FOXBORO, MA - MAY 12: Goalkeeper Joe Cannon #1 of the Vancouver Whitecaps reacts after a goal by Shalrie Joseph (not pictured) of the New England Revolution in the first half at Gillette Stadium May 12, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Gail Oskin/Getty Images)
There is nothing wrong with sitting down at sporting events. As much as we want fans at MLS games to continually stay on their feet, it can get tiring. While we would love thousands of people chanting along with the supporters in the Fort, it is not always possible. Some people would rather take the game in and pick their spots to stand and cheer.
This is true of all sports. A Celtics fan may wave his or her arms rapidly when an opposing player is shooting a free throw, but he or she will sit back down immediately after. Red Sox fans will take a break from tossing a beach ball around the stadium to put on their rally caps. There are moments when everyone is involved. However, basketball, baseball, hockey and American football have an advantage in that most casual fans know when to stand; and even if they don't, there are enough hardcore supporters interspersed amongst them that they can just follow their lead.
The dream of MLS is that every stadium fills in like Century-Link does for the Seattle Sounders. The marketing people would love for every arena to have the vibe you get at JELD-WEN with the Timber's Army. The dream for many in New England is that the supporters, as they get older, will move from the Fort and into the general populous bringing their infectious enthusiasm with them.
Standing in the Fort can be a surreal experience. Even with people sitting in the majority of Gillette, in that section, surrounded by the Rebellion, the Midnight Riders and Rev Army you feel as though the stadium is packed. The thing is that as we mature we may not want to chant and drum the whole time, but like most fans attending other Boston-based sporting events there are always going to be times that we do stand. Seventeen years in, the hardcore supporters are starting to mingle with the casuals outside of the Fort, and it has not always gone as well as one could hope.
Ben S, an At-Large Board Member of the Midnight Riders, like many other supporter's group members, does not sit in the Fort. Instead he can be found in section 110 at midfield. "There are clearly trade-offs," says Ben S. about life outside of the Fort. "I love the Fort and what it does for the otherwise-depressing atmosphere at Gillette."
With that in mind, he also notes there are advantages to being removed from the supporter's section, "I'm kind of lazy. I like to sit sometimes. I lose track of a chant because I'm watching [the game]. And sometimes I just don't feel like chanting at all, I just want to watch. I can do that at midfield. But at midfield, I don't have the option of standing or chanting, really. So right now it's pretty one-or-the-other."
Talking to other SG members outside the Fort there clearly seems to be a "one-or-the-other" nature to life outside of the Fort. Anyone who has sat in the Fort during a game knows that at the 90-minute mark everyone begins to chant "stand up!" to the fans throughout the stadium. Sometimes it works and other times it does not.
During the July 8thNew York Red Bulls game at Gillette, Ben S. got caught in an argument over said chant with another fan. "[When] the Fort did its normal "Stand Up!" chant around 90', and a bunch of people around the rest of the stadium stood up and chanted. My friend, whom I'd invited from Maine for the game, my girlfriend and I joined in. We and others then proceeded to chant ‘Rev-o-lu-tion' for a little bit, at which point people behind me started muttering and poking me."
He continues, "After a minute, my girlfriend reasonably sat down to avoid a confrontation, but my friend and I didn't. They started yelling and I had popcorn thrown at me - so did my friend. I turned to confront the people. They told me to sit down; I told them to stand up.
"I said, ‘There's only three minutes left! Stand up!' They said, ‘Exactly! Sit down!' They swore at me; I swore at them. I sat down but continued this exchange, because they were being [unpleasant] and I was unhappy with it."
While many may want to jump to the idea of it being strictly a supporter's group member versus a non-supporter's group member, that is not the case. Heather O'Neill, who has sat in section 110 for seven years and is not a supporter's group member, also witnessed this altercation. "Ben, [his girlfriend], myself and my 6-year-old niece joined in and stood up to cheer for the team [in injury time at the end of the game]. A few others in our section joined in as well and I would say a majority of the sections on our left and right were on their feet as well.
"I was completely shocked [at people shouting obscenities at Ben S.] because I've never experienced this type of incident before in my section. I mean, I was standing right next to him and nobody told me to sit down. TeamOPs didn't intervene until after the game was over, which I think was an error in their judgment. If they had come down when the issue first started, then the crotchety man would have been told to calm down. Our cheering was friendly and positive. The only thing that was disturbed was the man's view which he could have solved by standing up for the last minute of play himself or moving over a few empty seats."
Eric Lander, a member of the Midnight Riders who sits with his son in section 103, has also had altercations with other Revolution fans in Gillette. Lander notes, "We have had issues with [other fans]. During the [May 12th] Vancouver game there was a pair of middle-aged couples sitting a few rows in front of us. We were already excited by seeing Lee Nguyen's success and goal, and I had noticed that they were giving us some dirty looks ... Later, though, following [Saer Sene's] goal, we were standing up and cheering. I was waving my scarf and the woman turned around and flinched as though she was about to be hit by it. She then jumped in her seat when the muskets fired.
"Later in the game the Fort began a chant of "New England 'til I die!" to which my son started in on ... he was still clearly chanting along with the SG members. At that point, the one couple stood up, gave some incredibly mean looks and left for the night.
"On their way up the stairs, though, the gentlemen leaned in and said something, but again, I missed out on what he had said to me. They were clearly irate with the fact that we were enjoying ourselves at a sporting event and were into the atmosphere."
Despite positive changes in New England, there are still problems with the way the team is viewed - even by its own fans. Currently, the Revolutions are last in MLS for average attendance, and several people allege the numbers given to create that average include ticket giveaways to local organizations and youth soccer groups - not all of whom show up. That said, this is not an unusual practice and is in fact quite common. So the question should be asked whether the way people who are attending games on one-time giveaways are expecting a sporting atmosphere or not.
In the conversations with supporters outside the Fort, it would seem that the problems generally occur with people who are seemingly strangers to the intricacies of Revolution games. O'Neill says that there are a good number of people she recognizes that attend each games, and she has a five plus year relationship with lots of them. She, Lander and Ben S. also point out that for the most part people in their sections are active participants in the game, even if not to the extent of the Fort. The other fans, they say, seem to enjoy what the Fort brings to the game. But all three also note that it is hard, if not near impossible, for chants to get started in their sections. "110 definitely is not big on the chants. They will applaud a nice play or a great save though," says O'Neill.
Ben S. says that when he chants in 110, "at the very least, we get a lot of looks. Silent people who will turn around wide-eyed, as if I'm hurling obscenities, [which] I'm not, or having a seizure in the stands. I've never personally been told to shush, but there are whispers and annoyed looks."
Chanting is something that soccer supporters sometimes only associate with soccer, but chants do happen in every sport. They may not always be as organized, but they are there. The Revolution, as of this moment, have not been made aware of any legitimate issues or concerns about fans supporting the team in a supporter-like fashion outside of the Fort. And it is not as though the Revolution are not trying to improve the atmosphere in the rest of the stadium. The FO has used the video board and other elements to try to expand the atmosphere around the stadium. Lander and Ben S. both noticed New England's Rev Girls at the July 15thToronto FC match prior to the game showing people how to do certain chants. Both say this is definitely a step in the right direction.
However, other off the record supporters wonder if it is a step that will last. When this story began as a conversation during a post game conversation in the parking lot, some people were inclined to wonder why these supporters do not just move into the Fort. Lander puts it best, "I find that the Fort is a little too rowdy for my needs, but only because I share my season tickets with my five-year-old son. We enjoy attending the games together and it provides us with an experience together that we both enjoy. That said, he's already asked about sitting in the Fort. We enjoy the energy. We enjoy participating in chants. We want to see more fans in our section commit the same level of vocal support for the team."
This is what everyone is striving for. Vocal support and a home field advantage for New England. We want it and even non-supporters outside the Fort want it. After all, it is not opposing fans we're talking about here, but it is instead fans of the same team. We want everyone to go to Revolution games and leave with a want to return. For them it could be screaming for 90 minutes or it could be solely cheering for a good save or a home team goal. Still, the frustration of these stories is that it does not appear that this is an event of casual fans having issues with irrationally hardcore supporter.
"In retrospect," says Ben S., "I really regret that I let them turn me into that person. They were wrong; if they had once expressed a valid reason why they couldn't stand or cheer - a disability or something - I would've sat promptly. But they didn't, they were just mean and lazy. But still, I regret my reaction. I got carried away in the moment, and was kind of nasty."
The supporter's groups are families, whether they be in the Fort or not, but the fans that are not in the Fort are part of that family too. They may be distant relatives who we do not always get along with, but even if they do not truly understand the setup of MLS or all the rules of soccer they are there to cheer on the Revolution in their own ways. The Fort and SG members may not like how they do it and the other fans might not like how the Fort does it, but at the end of the day it is all about tolerating each other for the two or so hours in Gillette.
Joshua Decosta, who sits in 111 and is one of the founders of the Rebellion, says, "I don't think I can [fully explain the relationship between supporters outside of the Fort and casual fans], like many other sports, just because you like the team doesn't mean you have to like everyone you come across that likes the team as well. I don't think people interact with each other enough. But this might be society's problem and not a soccer culture thing."