Every time an Englishman like myself writes an article on an American supporter’s group, we receive both praise for recognising that some Americans actually like soccer in the same way as supporters around the world do, and disdain for only noticing now something that’s been built on for over a decade.
But can the growing attention these groups are receiving and the new technological means of collaboration available on the internet lead to a growth in these groups around the country, particularly at the grassroots level?
I stumbled upon a small new group, the Green Army of the Cleveland City Stars, who are perhaps the first Facebook-launched American soccer supporter’s group, and talked to their founder.
And no, I’d never heard of the Cleveland City Stars either. They are in the USL Second Division – the equivalent of the third division, two tiers below MLS – and were launched just this season. They are the “the newest professional team to be included among the league’s top-tier teams” according to their website. The Stars feature a curious crocodile mascot and a respectable two-fold mission to provide top-level soccer in Cleveland and bring “encouragement to the lives of underprivileged and at-risk youths living in the inner city of Cleveland through the sport.”
Despite being brand new, the Stars already have a hardcore supporter’s group, who recently decided to name themselves – after some debate – the Green Army. The group usually number around 20-30 people, many of them teenagers, make their signs out of bedsheets, chant English-style songs all game and whose enthusiasm has been embraced by the team and other supporters at the nascent club.
Alex Doll, “General” of the Green Army told me how they got started, which is perhaps where the Green Army are novel.
The group started a little before the season. There really wasn’t much planning that went into it at first. We started by creating a group on facebook, called the Green Army and began to invite anyone we knew who was a football fan. It grew pretty quickly, but the group really took off at the first match. My friends Blake Berkey, Alex and Michael Hulisz, and myself(Alex Doll) made a rough sign out of a bedsheet and spray paint. We brought it to the first game set it up and started chanting. Eventually more and more people began to come over, and before we knew it we had some British guys teaching us chants from England that we adopted. It was a success after the first game.
Their Facebook group already has 121 members (to find it, search for “Green Army Cleveland” under groups on Facebook). According to Alex, the players have embraced the Green Army: chatting with them on the pitch after games and meeting them in the pub later. They are particularly pleased, as the Green Army are a rarely enthusiastic supporter’s group for a USL-2 level team.
It’s often the case that the noise and chanting of supporter’s groups bugs fans sitting elsewhere at games. Perhaps because they are so small and new, this hasn’t been an issue for the Green Army, as Alex told me about the reaction of other fans: “They all say that we should keep going and keep getting louder. We also pass out sheets with lyrics to songs before games to get them to sing along. “
Most members of the Green Army seem to be fans of English football, and it’s a good sign that those watching the Premiership and supporting teams like Liverpool are getting out to real games with the hope of recreating a tiny portion of the Kop’s atmosphere for the sake of an obscure team with a crocodile logo. The Green Army are also pressuring the local Cleveland media to cover their team.
And they take heart that groups such as Philadelphia’s Sons of Ben – those crazy fans who support a nonexistent MLS team in their city – have recently received attention in the soccer media. As Alex told me, “Those types of groups show that even if we are small, we can still be recognised. Because we all want one thing really, and that is to see the game grow in America.”
Photo credits: via the Green Army Facebook page