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by Jason Whong

Why I am a soccer fan

Jason I like watching all kinds of sports. Football has always held my interest, but I think I've been conditioned to watch it on a TV. Prior to the Redskins' construction of a new stadium, most fans became part of that optimistic contingent of fans that settled into their couches each Sunday, patiently waiting for their name to be drawn from the season ticket waiting list.

The waiting list was at least 10 years long. Because of this, most Washington fans never actually saw the Redskins play in Washington. Attending an NFL game was a privelege of the fabulously wealthy. Middle-class folks were pretty much out of the running, unless a rich, dead relative had willed the tickets to them.

Baseball was always too slow-moving for me. I even worked at the Bowie Baysox, the AA Orioles Affiliate, where I shot video for a TV show. If you ignored how poorly the show was written, you'd agree that it was better than going to a game in person; all the week's highlights were summarized in thirty minutes, without the hassle of waiting for the pitcher to stop scratching his buttocks between pitches.

Hockey never did it for me. Maybe I don't like the sport because the Washington Capitals never won a championship in my lifetime. In fact, the only time I enjoyed watching hockey was when I happened to attend a Cornell game while I was in College. The Cornellians had formed a band of approximately 40 fans, who played all manner of instruments, including some very loud drums. They also shouted cheers in unison, which echoed throughout Lynah Rink, as if to reinforce to the team visiting from Brown that the much-ballyhooed home field advantage was alive and well in Ithaca.

Nothing was quite as effective at sapping Brown's morale than a resounding cry of "You Suck!" coming from the rabid fans. Even more entertaining was the variety of ways that these Ivy Leaguers had devised specifically for taunting goalies. "You're not a goalie, you're a sieve," the excited group would chant. They'd continue, "you're not a sieve, you're a funnel. You're not a funnel, you're a vacuum. You're not a vacuum, you're a black hole!" Finally, they'd finish with "You're not a black hole, you just suck!"

Needless to say, many a goaltender left that hallowed ground feeling miserable, as Big Red stomped over their demoralized team. Much of the credit is of course due to the players of Cornell, but the fans there created a festive atmosphere that I enjoyed. And these fans weren't entirely negative; they rewarded good Cornell players with cheers and words of encouragement.

Now that I live in Rochester, there are a few teams in town: the Red Wings (AAA Orioles Affiliate, wouldn't ya know it), the Nighthawks (lacrosse), the Americans (don't feel bad, I never understood their name, either) and the Raging Rhinos, the soccer team.

The Rhinos play in the A league, which is not the most prominent league in America. The important leagues have three letters: NBA, MLB, NHL, NFL, and of course the MLS. In any case, The Rhinos regularly draw crowds larger than some MLS teams. While most big-city teams in this country are lucky to fill even their stadiums' lower decks, Rochester fans are often found standing out by the right field fence.

Soccer is as exciting as any other sport, but I think I've had my best fan experience as a member of the Stampede, an "unofficial fan club of the Rochester Rhinos". Also known as the Rhinos Army, this intrepid group of crazed fans would stop at nothing to be noticed, singing songs they'd learned from their British exchange student friends, shaking the bleachers until they bent, and having a great time. Their brand of modern-day heckling combined with worshipful singing proved to be just the right combination for me, and I quickly joined the fold.

I'd be lying if I said that the group's inherent organized hooliganism didn't appeal to me, but even more important than that is the feeling I get when I know that a player recognizes me for the fanboy that I am. It's funny, really. By day, I work at Ambrosia, where fanboys and fangirls are the salt and pepper of our workday. Folks make pilgrimages to our offices, scam their guidance counselors into letting them skip school so they can become "interns", and e-mail us constantly. If you asked me, I could probably come up with the names of 10 fanboys and fangirls off of the top of my head. I was an Ambrosia fanboy once.

During the soccer season, I become the same kind of spicy condiment for the Rhinos. Of course, they come to the playing field mostly to win, but I think our singing gives them something to look forward to. I know that they brag about us to their opponents during stoppages of play. And even if the players are focusing on the game, there are plenty of people who plan their seating arrangements based on where we stand. A local radio station even gave away tickets for our section, citing the seats' proximity to us as a bonus.

I think that fanboys become stars simply because many others are accustomed to sedentary viewing behavior. By adopting a more active mindset, and introducing the international tradition of boundless enthusiasm, minus the riots, we draw lots of attention. It's very effective - the players and fans know who we are, and our numbers grow with each season, as more people discover the joy of reactive participation. Just as a snappy comeback will win you points at a party, a well-timed cheer is fun for everyone. And when all is said and done, isn't that what it's all about?

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