US Open Cup 6/1/16
by Alan Chapman
So that was the derby match then? 120 minutes of a hard fought game surrounded by 120 hours (and counting) of internet trolling. The game itself was a great testament to the state of soccer in Oklahoma right now. The desperate attempts to provoke online outrage, not so much.
Let’s look at this for a minute. The Energy have been in OKC for two years, slowly building a following, reaching out to the community, playing the long game. Whether we like it or not, from a soccer perspective they are a third tier team, in a regional city, in an easily ignored state. However, they have a passionate fan base and have nurtured that support carefully. They have a ‘culture’ blossoming around their club.
RayoOKC have been here for 4 months. I have food in my freezer right now older than this club. The team hasn’t had time to gel and they certainly haven’t had time to adjust to their new home city. Count up the minutes of competitive soccer they have played and they are still metaphorically at workplace orientation, learning where the bathrooms are and not to eat other people’s food from the fridge. As of writing, they remain winless at home. Their affiliation with a (former) La Liga team and the fact that they play in the second tier of national soccer is obviously a source of some frustration/amusement depending on who you ask. Without saying a word or kicking a ball the narrative of “rich, foreign playboys thinking they can come here and take over” sears itself into the minds of some Energy fans, local hacks and the world of freshly minted experts on the internet. RayoOKC are working hard to build a culture and spirit around the team, while the players are searching for that run of success to give a moral boost and a push to the momentum.
OKC isn’t Manchester or London or Madrid or Milan or Glasgow or any of the countless other cities worldwide that have historic soccer rivalries. We have one new small club and another newer small club. That’s not to belittle either organization, I’m glad we have both of them here. But let’s be sensible, do either of them really have the history to back up some fans venomous hatred for the other? No, they don’t.
If people want to jump ahead a century and hate the other team, by all means go right ahead, but please think how that makes us all look to the outside world, or worse to our local friends, neighbors and communities. I’ll be the first to laugh when someone suggests ‘we should all sit in a circle and sing Kumbayah’, ‘we are all Oklahomans first’, ‘why can’t we all just get along’, ‘if you support both teams, Oklahoma is the real winner’, etc. I’ll roll my eyes when the posts start blaming 3 point beer for the Decline of Western Civilization. That being said, I have had several conversations with non-soccer people today about the language, the red cards, and the ‘handbags at 10 paces’ shoving match on the field and they have all said the same thing: “Yeah, but soccer is violent, what do you expect?” The reputation was earned years ago when the fans were locked in cages, separated by baton wielding riot police. But for anyone with any sense those days are long gone. My formative years watching soccer were great. I could rattle off a classic list of players, games, teams and tournaments that I watched as a child. But three words from those years stand out in my memory above all others. Bradford. Heysel. Hillsborough. I remember those events and I will never, ever, forget the rush from all corners of society to blame the victims for their own predicament because “soccer fans are violent”. All seater stadia, rising ticket prices, the gentrification of the game, etc, all helped to stamp out the violence in action and words, but the biggest factor for change was the fans themselves. We are not going to let a few lunatics ruin our beautiful game. We may like this team or that team, but always remember that most people here don’t understand us or care who we support.
The universal truth is that soccer is a working class game but it is not base, savage or ignorant. Worldwide we are the groundlings of sport. You can go to a RayoOKC match and have a couple of hours of entertainment for the price of a semi-decent lunch. You can go to a Thunder game for the price of a semi-decent condo. The language may be a little salty for some tastes, but it’s nothing you wouldn’t hear on the factory floor, the oil rig, the truck stop, and whether you like it or not: the schoolyard. The songs and chants, well the best ones anyway, may contain words not suitable for romantic poetry but they are often used poetically. Google “most offensive soccer chants” and “funniest soccer chants” and you’ll be amazed how many songs appear on both lists. The racist, homophobic, sectarian chants of old have fallen out of favor as the people who thought they were funny have become ostracized. It’s banter, a laugh, a release from the daily grind; no one is really questioning the genetic parentage of the referee. Sure, there are kids around and the families maybe shouldn’t sit in the same area as the hard core supporters. The supporters should maybe tone it down if there are children about. But meet in the middle. If your child is going to be exposed to this sort of language, and trust me: at some point sooner rather than later in life they are, at least a soccer song might expose them in the form of a witty and urbane rhyme, not a crass playground insult.
The rush to hate the other team also, in my opinion, has one glaringly obvious yet often overlooked downside. What about the team? RayoOKC have managed to get 5 red cards in the last 2 games. Those are Vinnie Jones numbers. But why? I don’t for a moment believe that the team is composed of shaven apes just passing the ball around waiting for a riot to break out. They are professionals and they want to win. Bad refereeing decisions aside, the over exuberance that can lead to a red card is usually a more positive sign than the lack of effort that leads to mediocrity. They want the first home win as badly as we do if not more so. They are getting tighter every game, more comfortable, the shots are getting closer to the net, and it’s all slowly coming together.
As a non native Oklahoman I can attest to the culture shock of moving here. What exactly is Chicken Fried Steak? Why is the weather determined to kill me? Is there anyone on local television not called Ogle? To get to Will Rogers Airport you head down Terminal Drive and cross Amelia Earhart Lane, yet people don’t just immediately turn around and drive to the bus station? How is “Do you want a Coke? Yeah. What kind? Dr Pepper” an actual sentence??? The team has just encountered all this and so much more. I would bet they don’t feel local yet. If the RayoOKC fans cheer for them, sing for them, sing about them, define them through their passion for them not their dislike of their opposition, make them aware that they are our team and we are their fans that might go a little way to help address that. Sure we can throw a little banter at “our hated rivals” but let’s not forget our beloved team. We want them here, we have faith, we are proud to follow them, win lose or draw. That should go for whatever team you support.