Hyphens and Early Mornings
The name on the comment thread was a mixture of Timbers and Portland and gunner – just another person on one of the endless chain of Arsenal blogs. I was there too, to discuss whether or not to spend money and who or who not to buy. In that space, we were on the same side. Normally, though, the mention of Portland and the Timbers is a way to make me instantly up for a fight.
This is American fandom, so often. Unlike the century-old clubs of Europe and South America, we are new. Sure, I can stretch the Sounders, and the rivalry with the Timbers, back to before I was born, and MLS existed since I was a tween playing the game myself, but that’s not how I fell in love with the game. That’s not how most of the people I met fell in love with the game. There was something that brought us here.
Before I was a Sounders fan I was an Arsenal fan. It was my devotion, and I can’t say that’s changed. It now has to share the space in my head devoted to minutae, emotional control, and the makeup of my Saturdays, but it doesn’t just leave like that. It’s similar throughout the world of MLS fandom. The most devoted of us can give up our foreign loves and recommit myself completely to the domestic cause, but the rest of us aren’t able to give up our teams so easily.
So what do I do? I compartmentalize. I have Arsenal here, I have Hertha BSC there, I have the Sounders at home. They’re all a part of me, each with their own personal histories. And I can’t just give them up.
A lot of us feel this way. It’s not a question of who is number one and who is number two, it’s a question of balance. We have to be fans of both (or more) at the same time, and it works far better than people who aren’t in the States realize. I wouldn’t call the identity split seamless, but it’s close.
Maybe being an American makes it easier. Our identity is based on pluralities- we know our family history and can trace back where we came from. Sometimes we go back just to see. We’re American, but we’re also Polish or Irish or a thousand other things. One is immediate, but we don’t let the other ones go. There are degrees of how much we hold onto where we came from, but it’s always there.
I’m not saying it’s the same. There’s a sense of choice for football fandom that makes it markedly different from questions of national identity. But maybe we’re a bit more comfortable with divided identities. It’s to be expected here.