The Disappearing Football Club & The Supporter For Hire
What does it mean to be a man without a club? This is a question I have found myself asking a lot in the time since I learned that my club hasn’t registered for what should have been its coming league season. Does this mean that I’m free of the responsibility and the weight of supporting my club, to entertain dalliances with any club I desire? Or does it free me from the self-imposed pathos of casually acknowledging the other local club, and giving them more of an active investment of my time and money? I’m not sure, but this is something I’m going to have to explore and understand more fully this season.
I was the head of a supporters group for Derby City Rovers, a club from Louisville, Kentucky playing in the USL League Two, which was formerly known as the Professional Development League (PDL), which is something approaching the joint-highest level of non-league football in the USA. Much like lower division soccer virtually everywhere else in the world, there’s limited money in it, and there is practically none whatsoever passed down from its higher levels. This isn’t, therefore, a level with a lot of glamour associated with it. It’s a level at which those who are involved have to be deeply passionate about both the game and the development of players.
Yet this level of soccer can walk a very precarious line between the grassroots below it and the corporate game above it. In the five years that I spent supporting my little club, I think that I may have missed no more than maybe one or two home matches, although away trips were trickier because of the distances concerned. But I was also given the opportunity to travel with the club, on one occasion, and made multiple trips to away matches with my family or with friends. Especially, over the course of the last two seasons, when I could travel, I did. Now, however, I am looking at my first season without a purpose, and I’m not sure what to do with myself.
Admittedly, last season was a disaster for Rovers, who finished at the bottom of USL2 with just one tie and a single point to show for fourteen league matches, with sixty-five goals conceded. However, come the end of the season the club’s Twitter account (with 2,179 followers) and Facebook page (with 2,323 likes) fell silent, whilst the team’s official website remains active but hasn’t been updated since January of last year. There hasn’t even been any particular mention of any of it on the USL2 website (which mentions in passing only that next season’s Great Lakes Division, in which we competed, will only consist of five teams rather than six.)
All we know – and there has been plenty of conjecture but very little fact over what may or may not have happened – is that there has been radio silence since last season ended, and that the team has not re-registered for the coming season. This may sound unusual in England, where even a semi-pro team having difficulties can make national news headlines, but here it is sadly more common for smaller clubs to simply disappear overnight. One of my friends, a fellow supporter of our former club, has suggested that we adopt the full pirate motif of the Rovers and become Supporters For Hire. Follow any club local to wherever we are and support them with the whole of ourselves, until we move on to somewhere else. Mercenary supporters, gunslingers for hire, albeit with our tongues firmly planted in cheeks.
One of the things about the Professional Development League season was that it only lasted for three months a years, running from May to July. It was rarely a very time-consuming season, so there was a lot of free time to be had to support or follow other clubs. And with the amazing ability to find just about any type of football you can imagine online, it hasn’t been too difficult an ask to make time to devote to other clubs. I can watch football from the Caribbean on YouTube, or Malta on a site like Skorlive. Or I could lump in for one of the subscription services and watch South American or European football outside of the big five leagues. Access isn’t a problem. It’s just a matter of choice.
There’s also the option of investment in the other club in town, Louisville City, who play in the Eastern Conference of the United Soccer League, which is currently the second tier of the American soccer pyramid. I have been involved with their support, from the fringe, since their beginnings and I have a large number of friends who support the club and would love to see me amongst their ranks. However, the concept of that feels a little awkward just, and unfaithful to my club, even if it doesn’t exist any more. It simply isn’t anything I’m comfortable entertaining, just yet. So, I guess I’ll see where this journey takes me. See what other clubs pop up, in the offing. And see what I may be able to offer them, based upon the years of experience I have in the local soccer culture.
In the meantime, I’m open to reasonable offers. Perhaps I should put my supporter services up for auction on Ebay…