Rowdies fans are part of the soccer experience

by Gary Shelton on July 25, 2016 · 0 comments

in Rowdies

To Rowdies fans, Joe Cole is  Joe Cool./ERIC TILLOTSOM

To Rowdies fans, Joe Cole is Joe Cool./ERIC TILLOTSOM

Monday, 6 a.m.

I have a confession to make. Deep inside, in a part of me that I don't talk about much, I want to be a mobster.

I want to chant, and I want to sing, and I want to pound the big bass drum. I want to dress in green and gold and fracture song lyrics and set off smoke bombs. I want to be a Rowdies' fan, because from the looks of it, they're having a lot of the fun.

Rays fans? They're dying from loneliness and from the apprehension that, pretty soon, someone else is going to notice there aren't many of them. Rays' fans

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One gets past Tampa Bay goalie Matt Pickens./ERIC TILLOTSON

One gets past Tampa Bay goalie Matt Pickens./ERIC TILLOTSON

hate that. Bucs fans? They're melting in the sun as they await renewed relevance. Lightning fans are having a blast, dancing and the like as Steve Yzerman protects their future, but they're aware they're spending a lot of coin.

Then there are the Rowdies fans.

They're having a party, and a soccer game just happens to have broken out.  A lot of other fans go to a sporting event to watch; Rowdies fans act as if they're part of the experience. And they are. The entire game is a participatory experience. You turn around here, you chant this here, you sing that that there. Ralph's Mob, they call themselves. Well, yay Ralph.

Oh, I've never been a guy who hated soccer. All four of my kids have played to varying skill levels. They all had fun. It was a healthy way to spend our Saturday afternoons. I once lived for a summer in England, and I learned to like the rhythm of the game. I've covered the sport in the Olympics and in a World Cup. No, they don't score much. It isn't Arena soccer, after all. But there is a flow to the game that is appreciable.

I mention this today because the Rowdies snatched a draw out of their shorts the other night against the New York Cosmos, the most famed side on our shores. Think of it like trailing 14-0 with six minutes to play and pulling it out overtime. That's what it was like.

Oh, I admit to making jokes from time to time.  They were so easy, and the more zealous soccer fans were so easy to wind up. I once started a column by saying “This column is about soccer. Be careful not to cut your finger as you turn the page.” I wrote in another that if you wanted me to care about the World Cup, all you had to do was put my kid in it. Jokes. Soccer fans didn't laugh.

Here's the deal, though. When a nation is reluctant to care about a sport, it's fans don't want to hear jokes. They want to be taken seriously.

Gradually, America has done that. We loved the last World Cup. We love the American women, even Hope Solo. By now, much of America has played soccer. No, not everyone forgets it at age 15. My kid, always a Man U fan, has fallen in love with the Sounders to the point where he made fun of Vancouver at dinner the other night. And isn't that essentially why we like sports. Our side. Their side.

Look, this isn't the old days anymore, back when someone always had a comment about soccer You know how it went. Someone would mention it's the most popular sport in the world, and someone else would wonder why we have to love a sport that is popular in Borneo. In those days, you could love track and field, even shot put, and no one would say a word. You could love swimming or tennis or cricket, and no one would blink . But a non-soccer lover always had something to say to a soccer fan

We've gotten past that, haven't we? Soccer is a cool game. Always has been.

The thing is, I've been around these Rowdies. They're a likeable bunch of lads, as they say. Joe Cole. Darnell King. Tommy Heinemann. Matt Pickens. Georgi Hristov. I still have a weak spot for Stefan Antonijevic.

Look, it isn't my job to sell tickets. But I'll admit this. I've gone home and told my family they should go. It's a fun time. You get to sing.

And if you want to make a joke, that's okay, too.

The fans will even act like they haven't heard it a thousand times before.

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