New England Revolution Game – Foxboro, MA
Soccer is widely known as the world’s most popular sport. Played on some level by every country in the world, soccer is so popular that the 2010 World Cup television and Internet audience was estimated at 28 billion total viewers worldwide. To put that into perspective, there are about 7 billion people in this world, so each and every human being on this planet watched an average of 4 games of the 2010 World Cup.
In the US it’s a different story though. While the United States has more official soccer players than any country in the world at nearly 18 million people (14 million players being under the age of 18), the sport currently sits entrenched in fifth place on America’s sports popularity scale. Behind football, basketball, baseball, and hockey, professional soccer just hasn’t caught America’s hearts like other sports have. Throw in NASCAR, and soccer is pushed even further back. For whatever the reason (low scoring, not as “exciting” as other sports, lower quality of play in the US to name just a few reasons), it just hasn’t gained much popularity over the years.
Although games like soccer have been played for thousands of years, the game as we know it today was formally adopted in England in 1863 and termed “association football”. By this time in America baseball was already established as a growing sport, American football was taking its early first steps, and basketball was only a few years away from being invented. With so many sporting opportunities happening at once, it’s easy to see how soccer could get lost in the mix. It’s easy to love soccer and be a fanatic when it’s the biggest and sometimes only sport in your country. It’s a little bit more difficult to do so when nearly all of your country’s greatest athletes are playing different sports.
So who’s out there watching Major League Soccer games and buying tickets, allowing the sport to even be relevant at all in the US? It’s a small group of passionate die hard fans from each city and for each team. They’re out there, constantly telling everyone that soccer is the “next biggest thing in America”, or that it’s just about to take over the 4th spot from hockey. These fans have often been with the team since its beginning, play soccer themselves, and are as big if not bigger international soccer fans. These avid supporters formed groups and clubs, and can often be seen at games behind on of the goals waving flags, beating drums, blowing horns, and singing songs during the entire game. Every team has them, and without these groups of fans, the MLS would have a tough time staying relevant, and an even tougher time staying financially viable.
For the New England Revolution, it’s the Midnight Riders, Rebellion, and Revs Army. All of the groups sit in the north end of the stadium behind the goal in an area they call “The Fort”, and generally lose their mind throughout the entire game. With all of the drum banging, singing, and cheering, your ears will leave thinking that you’ve just been to a rock concert. The supporters groups are made up of men and women from all walks of life; we met teachers, bankers, businessmen, scientists, college students and even a statistical guru who writes for mlssoccer.net. But they all share a common love of both soccer and their team, the Revs.
After finding out that there was no public transportation out to Foxboro (45 minutes outside of Boston), and having the RV already parked for the week, we hitched a ride with the Midnight Riders who had chartered a bus to the game. It was their first foray into running a supporters’ bus, and lucky for us it happened to be the game we were attending. As you can imagine, this was probably the best thing to happen to us, as it became a perfect way to interact with fans, and truly understand the sport and the area that supports it. And unlike some teams, it is an “area” of a fanbase rather than a city. Nearly half of everyone we talked to didn’t live in Boston, but have traveled from places like western Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and other parts of the New England area.
We got to the stadium and were greeted by even more Midnight Riders who’d set up a tailgate along the lines of a football game. Sharing great food, drinks, and camaraderie, the excitement for the game built as kickoff approached. Some Riders talked about new player signings, while others discussed goings on in MLS or the international soccer scene. It became clear that this group of people were finally allowed to unleash their passion for soccer among other like minded individuals.
As for the game itself, Revs fans were rewarded with a 2-0 win over the rival New York Red Bulls in a game where the Revs dominated nearly every aspect of the game. In the second half fans sitting in The Fort were treated to a goal right in front of them by their newest player and late-game substitute Jerry Bengston, which sent the section into a frenzy.
But the vestiges of how the MLS started and what level its on is still visible in Foxboro. I went to the first ever LA Galaxy game in the Rose Bowl back in 1996, at a time when nearly every MLS team played in a football stadium. Today most clubs have their own soccer-specific stadium, but the Revs still play at Gillette Stadium, home to the owner’s other team, the New England Patriots. When 13,000 people sit in a 75,000 seat stadium, it looks like there’s about 10 people there, and doesn’t necessarily create the best atmosphere.
Of course, that doesn’t really matter to the die hard soccer fans though. They come, they cheer, and they support. They tell everyone who’ll listen about the merits of the “beautiful game”. They charter buses when the city decides that running a train to the stadium isn’t important enough. In a society that has soccer 5th on its public consciousness, this tailgate, this game, and The Fort become the opportunity for avid fans to feel that their soccer-love is finally on top.