On Beckham and soccer’s Kappellmeisters
Not that it’s a competition, but my American journey has outlasted David Beckham’s.
Around the time news first broke of Beckham’s move to the LA Galaxy, I was at a party in a pre-Philadelphia Union Philly and a man, whom I didn’t know in the slightest, cornered me to talk about this seismic event in US soccer. The amount of Yuengling he had drunk, combined with his own ignorance about the sport, led him to making ridiculous pronouncements that would make even the most optimistic of MLS executives cringe.
But five years on from that conversation, interest in MLS has increased and it has found itself a place within the US sporting landscape. More importantly there is a growing soccer culture here that is not looking enviously towards Europe or South America but is developing its own uniquely American identity.
I was able recently to attend an LA Galaxy game, and my cynicism was nullified by the enthusiasm of the supporters. It was not the sort of match atmosphere that I was used to, but then why should it be? The night wasn’t turbid with rank testosterone and ranker pies, but is the loss of that sort of “colour” much of a loss?
We mocked how the supporters had to be “conducted” in their chants. The section of the crowd was led by an uber-fan, a soccer Kappellmeister, who would choose and lead the chant the supporters would sing (see YouTube videos below). It seemed quaint, adorably pathetic, as if these “new fans” hadn’t yet evolved to the level of support of back home where those on the terrace seemingly without direction enter a collective communion with one another. But as I thought on it, I realized that they were just as passionate and enthusiastic as any other soccer crowd I had been in before, and who was I to patronize them anyway? In so much of the US, soccer is some foreign other – even among many soccer fans it primarily involves following a foreign team that they have no tangible relationship to. These supporters, and it’s replicated throughout the league, were building a fandom where none had been a generation before, and there was something admirable about that. In the stadium I was watching a sport that was not the foreign other, it was local, it was immediate – it was unapologetically American.