Sunday, July 26, 2009

7/26/09: Best Damn Fans in the Land.

By Johnathan "Smitty" Smith

I know some of you may not be used to me, nor to the style of writing I employ. Some will call it "nonsensical, brash, or embarrassing" (Thanks, Mom!) So I warn you that what I'm about to say may catch some of you off guard. But I'll just go ahead and say it.

The record for most games in front of a home crowd without losing is securely with the team who has the best fans in the country.

I'm hopeful that many fans from other teams will have a problem with that last statement. After all, everyone would like to think they're the best, and good for you for trying. Others will pretend to be objective about the subject, admitting that their team may not have the best supporters, but it's got to be someone else other than Columbus, the team that is 9th in the league with regards to attendance. You can't separate facts from...well...the facts.

Do the Crew have the most fans in the country? No. Do we have the most fans in our stadium every week? No. Do we have the most fans that play musical instruments? Maybe, if you assume the Seattle Sounders F.C. Band is just a bunch of paid band geeks in dress-up.

But regardless of what measure you use to determine what team has the "best" fans, one thing is clear: it is damn-near impossible to win a game at Crew Stadium right now.

And while the players and coaches (Sigi Schmid included, since he started the whole thing) deserve nearly all the credit, many of these players and coaches were in and around the Crew during the 2005-2007 seasons, which weren't exactly banner years. Many of these fans were here during those years, too, but were not organized in the way many of us are now. Sure, we had a few supporter's groups; now we have The Nordecke, a sub-culture unique to Columbus. Tailgaters? We had those too. But nothing previously held at the fairgrounds lots rivals La Turbina's street fair they share with us every weekend. And that's just the beginning. Whether it's Alejandro Moreno's Seven Nation Army overture, singing happy birthday to Gino Padula, or the ever-present hero worship for Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Crew fans constantly find new ways to show their love for the Black and Gold. Last year it was the start of MASSIVE road trips to away foes stadia; this year, it is an art gallery of smack, held up by poles and duct tape, and curated by a guys who would rather chug a Natty Light than drink a Pinot Noir. No one's art gallery likes us, we don't care.

Winning a championship will do a lot to grow that atmosphere for you. But it had to start somewhere. While it occasionally sputtered and flickered, the fight never left Crew fans, even through the darkest hours. And now that we've seen our team through our first playoff berth in 4 years, our first Eastern Conference Championship and MLS Cup, and a record unbeaten streak, Crew fans should be defiant and proud to claim the title of Best Supporters in the League. We didn't win a single game for the Crew, because we didn't have to. The players know to a man that the fans in the stadium will have the team's back through thick or thin, which is more valuable to this club than every ticket sold in the last 5 years. While the numbers are growing in Crew Stadium, remember that to get the best home field in the land, you have to develop quality first. For so many of us, the cliched marketing theme rings true: Work Hard. Play Harder.


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