The response to my first article in this series was, to be honest, quite surprising, and at times a little overwhelming. First and foremost I'd just like to say thanks for reading, and to those of you who reached out with positive comments and constructive criticism alike, it is very much appreciated.
A comment I repeatedly received, one I wasn't expecting, is that I should look in to talking to a few people more on the "inside" of Crew Fandom, as a counter-point to the more "casual" approach I originally envisioned. So this will be the first of those types of articles. The suggestion I received as to who I should pick for this first interview among supporters was near unanimous. Morgan Hughes. So, I'm happy to present what I am calling:
The TWO or THREE Things I Know About Morgan Hughes
If you're reading this, you probably listen to the Massive Report Podcast. If you don't, you should. It's the single best Columbus Crew SC themed podcast you will find. If you listen to the podcast, you're familiar with Morgan. He is without a doubt one of the funniest people I know and is also a member of every supporters group, one of the organizers of the Nor on Tour road trips, and heavily involved with TIFOSWEAT. Morgan knows his stuff, but this doesn't go to his head. In fact, one of the repeating themes that came up in the conversation was "it's not about me", but it's about the group. What is that group?
Columbus Crew Supporters.
So, what exactly is a Columbus Crew "Supporter?" Is there a difference between "casual fans" and "die hard ones?" Is there room in between? Do these terms do more to hurt than help? To be honest, I don't know. I have resorted to using terms like "casual fans" and "hardcore fans" out of ease of use. They're pretty clear, broad generalizations. But after my first article came out, several of the responses I received made it quite clear they weren't descriptive enough. To Morgan, however, the point is moot. "Anyone who comes to Crew Stadium to cheer on the Columbus Crew, to me, that person is a Supporter." He then dropped (only once, not twice) one of my favorite quotes I've heard lately, "It takes all sections to fill the fortress."
That is a great way to put what I feel is, in essence, the center of Morgan's philosophy.
There's someplace for everyone, both within Columbus Crew Stadium, and within Crew Fandom. It came up repeatedly.
"Some people like to drink beer and yell and scream. Some people like to sit and watch the match. And that's okay." This led in to my next question, about the reputation the Nordecke has, rightly or wrongly, for being less than welcoming. Morgan responded that while Crew Stadium does have room for everyone, not everyone belongs in the Nordecke. He pointed out the "different rules" that apply there, such as standing being the norm, rowdiness, flag waving, and all the tomfoolery we've come to expect from the supporters section.
Not that the supporters' groups are an unwelcoming sort, he took great pains to point out, just that not everyone wants "the culture of the section".
I myself am one of those who isn't. I like to sit and watch the matches.
"And that's totally okay," Was Morgan's reply. "People who want to sit and watch the match, or what have you, are just as important and valuable as the people who stand and yell the whole match." He then launched in to a fairly long and entirely awesome explanation of why. Here's my best attempt at the highlights.
"Here's the most important part of understanding sports fandom. You are talking about emotional variables here. When you are talking about sports fandom you are talking about something that is 100 percent emotional. There is no right or wrong. You're neither right nor wrong when you're feeling something. We, as supporters of the Columbus Crew, need not involve ourselves in such stupid conversations, in my opinion."
I then proceeded to asked if the idea that the supporters groups/section are viewed as a kind of trendsetter for the more casual fans ever comes up, and if it ever plays in to how people tend to conduct themselves.
"Yes," he began. "There is general discourse. That is brought up sometimes. But the fortunate and unfortunate part about supporters sections is that there isn't always that meeting where 'we' talk about 'that one thing.'"
After touching again on the emotional nature and wide array of views held within the supporters section, he offered his take.
"My opinion, and this is only my opinion, is that we should always be more welcoming of people who want to be a part of it," he said. "I always say we have a responsibility to maximize the platform from which we preach. And I specifically mean that as Crew fans."
This brings up a topic that, from our brief conversations, I've gathered is pretty near and dear to his heart.
"I consider us, and this is obviously a biased opinion, I know that, not only AN important market but THE important market," he said. "I tend to think of us as the last bastion of freedom in MLS. There's a lot of dictating of passion in Major League Soccer, and you don't get that in Columbus. And in order to keep it that way we have to work harder than other teams. Because there's not a capo in front of every section we need to work harder, be more communicative, be more welcoming. Putting a capo in front of every section would make it louder, sure. But that's the easy way out. And when you talk about long term, sustainable efforts, the easy thing is so rarely the right thing."
So, then, how do people who aren't in supporters groups, who don't sit in the Nordecke, become a part of this effort? What's the best way?
"I don't know what the best way is. I don't know if there is a best way. But I do know that we have to do better. We have to be better."
Our talk happened just days before the annual Supporters Summit. Morgan had just revealed to the Podcast crew that there would be a "Supporters Council" announced at that summit, a group of Columbus Crew SC supporters, elected by their peers, who would be leading the charge to improve things within the Nordecke. I asked if this would be a way for non-Nordecke fans to become more involved.
"I know there are Crew fans outside of Columbus that feel a detachment, bordering on abandonment," Morgan said. "We need to find some way to get them involved, to give them an avenue. It doesn't matter if you're in the 419, the 740, section 129, whatever, if you are willing to make this thing better you need an avenue to follow, and as currently exists there is no avenue. I feel like this ‘Supporters Committee' is the first step in that direction. It's certainly not going to be the final form, but it's a start."
He then again came back to one of the repeating themes of the conversation.
"If there are people who want to be involved, want to make this thing better, they should be able to do that," he said. "The more people who care get involved, the better the thing will be."
This seems to be one of his unifying philosophies, and one that I think is really in tune with who the Columbus Crew SC are as a club. We are not and have not ever been about superstars, individuals. There have been, and hopefully there will continue to be, incredibly talented individuals pass through Crew Stadium, but it has never been about them. There are no capos here, and while the supporters groups all have leadership, it is still communal. Anyone can start a chant. Anyone can cheer. It is not about any one person. There are no superstars.
This is not to say that there aren't some parts of Crew fandom that shine a little brighter. The group known as #TIFOSWEAT burst to national prominence with their HOME banner made for the U.S. Men's National Team's September 2013 match against Mexico at Crew Stadium. They then went on to make several impressive displays over the course of the 2014 Season. They are, in this writer's humble opinion, a treasure. And Morgan was one of the founding members of the group. I asked who all could "join" #TIFOSWEAT?
"#TIFOSWEAT is open to anyone and everyone," he told me. "When the two or three of us started #TIFOSWEAT there is a very specific reason we kept it a hashtag, and it never became an ‘official' supporters group. I don't think that it would have served the greater purpose well enough, as a group, no matter how inclusive you make it. The beauty of a hashtag is that anyone can use it. Nobody needs to pay a membership fee. Literally anyone and everyone can help paint banners. If you want to get involved just come out, hang out, paint banners, see if you like it. If you do, there are plenty of places you can go from there."
#TIFOSWEAT is a project that is obviously near and dear to his heart. You can hear it in his voice when he describes it. But none of his stories about #TIFOSWEAT are "Look what I facilitated". Most of them aren't even about the projects themselves. It's about the people involved. He repeatedly refers to his comrades as, "some of my best friends." The hours spent working, the stories from the road, are what seem to matter most to Morgan.
But what does all this have to do with the point of this series?
"You're supposed to be writing about casual fans." You could point out, not unfairly. I want to use this column to start conversations, different, but possibly linked. Morgan is quite obviously passionate about "filling the fortress," and part of this is reaching out and engaging with "casual" fans. But, is it reasonable to expect all fans to do this? SHOULD all fans do this?
The simple answer is "not if you don't want to."
Like I said, well, like Morgan said, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to support. Not everyone is interested in "reaching out" to casual fans, trying to "engage" them, or "get them hooked". No one should be taken to task for not really feeling like doing that. At the end of the day it's not their job. I, personally, agree with Morgan, and that's why he is the first voice from "within the community" that I interviewed. Later this season, assuming there IS a season, I'll be talking with other Crew fans, including one who, "Is just there to drink beer with my friends and watch the game". But to those of you, of us, who ARE interested in helping put butts in seats, what can we do? Now, with a work stoppage possibly looming, is the time to be talking about this.
So my last question, to you, Massive Nation, is this: Who else should I be talking to? Whose perspective would YOU be interested in hearing from? Do you, yourself, have something interesting to share? If you do, don't hesitate to reach out. My email is email@example.com or you can find me on twitter @krislandis. I'd love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading, and Stay Massive.