Otto Greule Jr - Getty Images
What is support worth, and does it entitle the supporters to anything?
Sunday night's 3-0 Seattle win was the final "s" in the sentence "This season sucks" for the Portland Timbers and their 2012 campaign. By nearly every measure, the season has been a complete disaster, and even an unlikely victory in Vancouver will only work to mitigate the pure agony that such a year can bring. I feel for them. How can I not? My first love was baseball, and the Mariners have now been terrible for ten years running and 31 of their 35 seasons. Losing is a crap sandwich, and Portland has been eating it with a side of (insert name of preferred Presidential candidate) fries for the better part of seven months now.
Gavin Wilkinson tried to put all of that pain into a few words in his post-game press conference, words that were neatly summed up in the headline of this article at MLSsoccer.
"Our fans deserve a lot, lot more, to be honest. That’s what I’m most disappointed about, to be honest. We have such tremendous support and such great fans – we saw a lot of them here tonight – but they deserve a little bit more. I’m disappointed."
This is far from the first time the word "deserve" has been used in reference to the Timbers Army and other Portland die-hards. One need only take a look at our sister site Stumptown Footy, where such calls have been echoing for months.
In a year like 2012, frustration is understandable. But what does a fan "deserve"? If the great fanbases were the ones that won, the Chicago Cubs would be talking about a decade without silverware, rather than a century. If sports rewarded the best fans, the Seattle Seahawks and Vancouver Canucks would be "world" champions. If the will of the supporter were heard, nary a league commissioner would ever be heard from again (least of all David Stern).
Portland is far from the only place this phrase has been heard. As recently as two weeks ago, the commissioner of the NFL greeted the regular union referees from lockout by saying: "Our fans deserve better." Adrian Hanauer said exactly that after the infamous "refund" game, and I would be hardly surprised if Sigi and some of the players have also used the dreaded "D" word from time to time.
And so I ask: Does making a flag and a scarf entitle an individual to happiness? How about an enormous number of season tickets sold? Or spending an entire weekend making an enormous banner? Does filling an NFL stadium entitle a group of people to a winning team?
What exactly do fans deserve?
Portland has been an unmitigated success story off the field, with an excellent, passionate fanbase. They have done Cascadia proud, and furthered the advancement of soccer on our continent. But they don't "deserve" anything. They don't deserve a better coach, they don't deserve better players, they don't deserve a better manager, and they don't deserve a better owner. All the same, the fans of the Sounders don't "deserve" an MLS Cup, or an Open Cup, or a Supporter's Shield. In the world of fandom, no one "deserves" anything. We don't even deserve our teams. A cynic would say that teams are made up of performers for entertainment, but in the world of sports, fans have a job as well, and are there as much for the club's benefit as the club is for them. And with all of the attention that our numbers and our passion get, the true focal point, the reason for those numbers and that passion, can be lost in the shuffle.
I have massive respect for the Timbers fans who have not made threats on their loyalty, who have not cursed the name of their own club, who have not talked about what they DESERVE. Those are the "authentic" supporters, who have been true to themselves and their club in the face of an utter debacle. And they are in the vast majority. But the vocal minority (in Portland, Vancouver, AND Seattle) need to understand that they would not make headlines in a vacuum.
They would not be plastered on advertisements and demonstrated as examples of how the game has grown in the states without their team. Those Tifo aren't made for their own masturbation. The headlines are meant to be about the players on the pitch. And it wasn't so long ago that none of these cities had a top level club to call their own. WE, especially those of us in Cascadia, should understand why we cheer. Not for our own glory, but for that of those on the pitch. And if they aren't cheering, then we need to cheer louder. It isn't about us. It is about our club, and our city.
As fans, we pay for the right to watch our team. And no matter what we do, there's no guarantee that we will be rewarded for the emotion we put in, or the dollars we spend. Again, Mariners fan. The only thing that is owed us is the promise of this year. And, should that fail, next year will greet us with renewed hope.