I have to admit it, when the Houston Dynamo rolled into LIVESTRONG Sporting Park and ended our post season run it stung. Looking back on the game however one of my enduring images however was the almost non-stop frenetic support from the Texian Army who managed to make themselves heard and seen more and more as the home support moved from loud, to nervous and quiet and finally despondent.
They were magnificent I thought.
They have had their wings clipped for behavior we have seen in other places around MLS. MLS have sighted a series of incidents, all of which we can honestly say have occurred at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, and frankly probably all within the first game of last season.
I grew up in England in the 80s, I attended football from the time I was 6-7 years old regularly right through the decade. I saw Heysel live on TV, watched riots live from the stands, have found myself running from (and after) opposing fans and non of this is new to me at all. I find the similarities between 80s English football and 2012′s MLS to be hauntingly similar. The fan bases are made up of prominently young men. Access to alcohol is not only easy, it is encouraged as parking lots open up early to allow tailgating and cheap beer is sold to fans.
Fans are now also really beginning to pick up the tribal identities of the supporters groups they follow. Texian Army, Timbers Army, KC Cauldron, Section 8, Sons of Ben trip of the tongue of the average MLS observer and these groups are magnificent at supporting their teams and providing an atmosphere that engulfs a stadium in hostility and passion but when things go wrong it can get ugly. Take a large group of drunk young men, forge them into a group and it really only takes one jackass doing some kind of ill and you have a brawl, a fight, a riot, things being hurled from stands. All the kindling is in place we just need the spark and the referees are good at providing it, so are stewards who are often forced to eject fans based on policies that are not articulated to fans well or completely ignored by front offices.
What is different is that in the UK people that commit actions that are illegal or contravene club policies are kicked out and often prosecuted. It seems that MLS’s ideas about nipping this in the bud revolve around ignoring what has been proven to work, and instead are moving towards sanctioning entire fan bases. This seems a strange move, but then the message fans get from MLS and Clubs is often inconsistent.
Example: Wizard’s fans at Community America Ballpark, fans were given streamers at one game to throw by the front office. They were then ejected from the stadium for throwing them.
Example: Teams, MLS, marketing people, TV spots of MLS frequently show prolific use of smoke bombs. “Look how great MLS is .. look at the amazing energy of the fans and the atmosphere they generate” seems to be the message. Even during game broadcasts the cameras frequently cut to supporters sections to show them singing and dancing behind a wall of smoke and yet when fans decide “Hey I am going to get some smoke bombs” things unravel.
While I have no argument with banning fans for throwing bottles, for fighting for anything else banning them for living up to image of MLS projects of what it is to be a fan seems unfair and petty. So does complaining that drunken fans behave like irrational drunkards when MLS is making so much money out of selling them beer to begin with. So is banning capos (um … chant leaders) for failing to police a section in which they know 5% of the people.
I have no problem with MLS banning offending individuals if they wish to, but sanctioning entire fan bases? That has no track record of working at all and all it leads to is a punishment for the guys and girls who put their time and hard earned cash into creating atmospheres and imagery in stadiums that benefits the entire game in the US, including the MLS PR people.
Does anybody really think that any of the guys painting banners at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park last weekend are going to do anything illegal at a game? Never. Punishing the Houston Dynamo core for whatever idiot fringe element they might have is idiocy and is entirely directed at the wrong people. It is also concerning for almost everybody involved in the constructive side of Supporters Groups anywhere — MLS have set a standard, and they either need to soften it or apply it evenly. The latter option is unpalatable to say the least, and the whole thing is inconsistent and awkward when you look at it.
MLS need a consistent, evenly enforced set of rules that target individuals and until that happens nothing will change. As it is they seem to have setup a system where a rouge individual can spoil the efforts put in by hundreds of well behaved fans, with the net result that our stadiums will be a little more quiet and less colorful as a result. Does anybody want that?
Somebody paint them a picture.