Philly Sports Live

From the PSL Soccer Desk: Soccer Without Supporters Is Nothing

B4P

All so often, the supporters of the game are overlooked because they don’t have anything to do with what is happening on the field. In reality, the supporters are what makes a team and a game. Never are these words more true than when you start to talk about women’s soccer. The beautiful game is growing rapidly across the United States, most prominently in the women’s game. With the signing of Title IX in 1972 that brought about change in the landscape of sports and education across this country. If it was not for Title IX, would we have ever been able to see players like Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Hope Solo or Alex Morgan on the field? If it wasn’t for these great players bringing the attention to women’s soccer, there would be no reason to think that the upward trend of women’s soccer in America would be gaining in popularity. With that being said, the US lays claim to the number one ranked women’s soccer team in the world, so why do people not know about them? Is it because it they are a soccer team; a women’s team? There is no real easy answer to that question, but the more important question is, who supports them?

The Back 4 Patrioteer is a group of adult supporters that have two things in common; they love the game of soccer and they love the United States Women’s National Team. I recently spoke to Lisa Zinza, Gabby Rosas and Dana Crane about the Back 4 Patrioteer supporters and learned a little more about what they stand for and their goals as a supporters group. Lisa is the ‘Captain’ and ‘Chief Imagination Officer’, Gaby is ‘Co-Captain’ and ‘Chief Magic Maker Officer’ and ‘Beervangelist’, while Dana is ‘Fun Officer and Digital Dynamo’ for Back 4 Pats supporters group. While they have fun and creative titles, their love and passion for the game is not something that can be questioned.

When asked what exactly Back 4 Partrioteer was, Lisa Zinza stated that “Back 4 Patrioteer is a grass roots supporters group. Back4Pats are first and foremost, dedicated, passionate, sports-fans and supporters of the US Women’s National Team, and Women’s Soccer in the United States and abroad. Back4Pats love the game of Women’s Soccer.” Gabby Rosas added, “We travel to the different games (when possible) and organize meet-ups to draw in other adult fans who may feel like there is a gap in the perceived fan base. We want to create a fun and exciting game day environment for the team as well as the fans, ultimately to grow women’s soccer.”

 The roots of the Back4Pats started out very modestly, as US Women’s Soccer fans from around the country used the power of social media and faith in each other to come together to support the team that they love. “The Back 4 Patrioteer really got started as a result of connections made on twitter and by a leap of faith of fans who had never met before, outside of social media taking a chance to get group tickets for the Nov 19th, 2011 USWNT game in Glendale, AZ vs. Sweden. It was at that game, after experiencing such an apathetic crowd environment that some of us that were present, discussed how dissatisfied we were with the overall lack of support the USWNT gets at home. We wanted to change that. As more of us connected via twitter and then in person at other games, at Olympic Qualifiers, a more established core of supporters came together to get B4P off the ground to help fill the void, bring the energy, support, and fan camaraderie to games, home and abroad.” states Lisa Zinza.

Rosas added, “Many of us are paid members of the US Soccer Supporters Club, which is a great way to get discounts on official team gear and stay up to date about future events. But there wasn’t a lot of networking power behind that organization. The 2012 CONCACAF Tournament in Vancouver (Olympic Qualifying) served as the first major event where fans were coming together for an extended period of time and we were able to mingle and meet each other. After, many of us stayed in contact. A small group of us went to the February USWNT v New Zealand match in Dallas and realized there was a network here, small as it was.  The group grew for the match against China in Philadelphia in May.  We coordinated a tailgate and had a lot of fun. I feel as though that game was what solidified, to me anyway, that there was a market and a need for a USWNT specific supporters group. We had our first official event as the Back 4 Patrioteer during the Olympic Send-off match against Canada in Salt Lake City. We organized lodging, a pub crawl meet-up the night before the game and a tailgate before the game. We accepted cash donations to help offset the cost of the tailgate. We were able to coordinate a block of group tickets through US Soccer in the third and fourth rows behind the USWNT bench. It was a great environment to watch the USWNT. That was probably one of my favorite games to date because of the action on the field (what a game!) and the fun we had in the stands.”

When asked what the goals for Back 4 Patrioteer were moving forward, Dana Crane stated that, “short term, we want to bring together people hungry to support the USWNT wherever they play.  We’d ultimately like to bring some of what Sam’s Army and American Outlaws do to the men’s games as the women’s game is still thought of as more ‘family friendly’.  We envision having a large group of people standing/chanting/drumming to push the USWNT to new levels of success on the field.  Right now we’ve been focusing on getting group rates for tickets and sharing hotel room costs.   We’ve got a group of people planning to travel to [the] Algarve Cup this year which to the best of my knowledge, is the first time a group of fans from the US has done so.  We’ll use our experience organizing these trips to help prepare for Canada 2015 and major tourneys beyond that.”

The group is preparing to leave for Portugal for the 2013 Algarve Cup.They have rented out two villas in a resort where 16 fans from all over will be staying together.  The group has even rented a bus to take them to all of the US games at the Algarve Cup.  This is the first time that a supporters group for the Women’s National Team will be traveling outside the US to show their support. Gabby went on to say that, “Ultimately, we want to be able to network USWNT fans together and create a stronger presence at games. Our goal is to target like minded individuals who are looking to support the USWNT across the country and internationally. We want to create a game day atmosphere where USWNT games are not just a game to go and watch, but an event to be experienced. We would love to grow to a large group of people who are standing for the full 90 minutes, chanting and cheering for every play in the game. In Los Angles this summer, we had a section of 100 Back4Pats. It was great. We are striving to create this environment at most games we can, ultimately carrying it to international tournaments like the Algarve Cup or the 2015 World Cup. In the long term, I am aiming for a strong and active presence supporting the USWNT in Canada in 2015. We are a growing group and our networks are expanding.  We’re generating interest at every game we attend and it will help us really elevate the level of excitement and enthusiasm surrounding the 2015 WC.  Considering it is just a little to our north, many of us in the Back4 have set our sights on making it to as many matches as we can. Hopefully, through our experience with the Algarve Cup in 2013 and 2014, we will be a fine tuned machine for coordinating the trip for a large group of supporters.  We want to be organized so we can support the USWNT all the way to the Championship. We want this team to know that they have adult supporters who are committed.”

The group plans to have a presence in the upcoming season of the NWSL but states that they are not here to be the only supporters group in for the NWSL, but they want to be able to help other supporters groups to grow and promote the women’s game. Zinza stated that, “There are a bunch of fans and supporters interested in traveling to NWSL games, so we (B4P) will evaluate how we can support and encourage that. And how to continue to build on that, by providing tailgate opportunities to meet, online presence via social media, contests for best NWSL supporters group cheers, or chants, etc.” Crane went on to add that, “On a personal level, I’m happy to see teams actively seeking people to see about getting supporters groups reinvigorated (Boston) or started (I’ve seen Washington, KC and Portland). This shows at least a bit of acceptance of wanting to be more than an event for little girls as WUSA and WPS often felt like.  I’m happy to see that.  Obviously, I’d be more personally involved if I lived in a city that had a team, but I will lend a hand to any groups that might ask it.”While each NWSL team seems to be looking to get supporters involved in the inaugural season of play, look for the Back 4 Patrioteer to have some kind of impact on the supporters groups and games.

As Gaby Rosas pointed out, “Just looking at our current, active members, many of whom are as passionate about local women’s soccer as they are about the USWNT, we will be networked with fans of each team. I think we could provide an opportunity for networking teams Supporter Groups (SG) as well as a way for SGs to talk about best practices or things that didn’t work out. Drawing on past experiences may also prove beneficial for some people who have never been involved in a SG before. Continuing to outreach to adult fans and let them know that  the culture of women’s soccer doesn’t have to revolve around youth teams or screaming teenage fans will be a huge goal. We want to have an impact in changing the environment surrounding women’s soccer. I think it will be up to each SG to define what that culture will be for them, though.”

Rosas, like many others, is looking for the NWSL teams to really take a supporting role with supporters groups in the first year. By reaching out to your supporters, you are recognizing that they are as much a part of the game as the players on the field are. You can not be sustainable as a team or a league without supporters.One question that certainly comes to mind is why is Back 4 Patrioteer different than any other supporters group? Well the answer is very simple according to Zinza, “Honestly, our people. True sport lovers, dedicated, fun, energetic and committed to the sport of Women’s Soccer. Also, our efforts. We are being proactive, attempting to connect fans and supporters, being a presence at games, on social media, putting our money where our mouths are.”

Dana Crane added, “We’re different because we’re there to support the USWNT first and foremost.  Our women don’t have one city to call home.  They have a country so we travel all over to support them even for friendly matches.  Many of our numbers also support the men but are often disheartened by the lack of support from other USMNT fans lack of passion for the women as well.  We hope to fill that void and give USWNT fans something to get behind and be a part of.” When asked why is it so important to support the Women’s game Lisa Zinza had this to say, “Personally, for me, I feel less of a weirdo when surrounded by awesome, sports fans cheering and totally into the same game I am into. There is a sense of togetherness, camaraderie, team. Just like when actively playing a sport. I think as an adult, it’s important to continue to have that, feel that. As an org. there is a need for it. Why should women’s sport fans be marginalized and not given their due or resources to support what they love? It’s empowering for women to see other women being passionate sports fans without being labeled as wacky, lesbians, tomboys, or anything other than a sports fan and supporter.”

The growth of women’s soccer in the United States is certainly on the rise. More and more people are coming out to watch the games and support the team. When posed the question of where do you see the support for the women’s game going, Dana Crane stated, “As someone who watched many a World Cup and Olympic tournaments by myself at home, it’s fantastic to be able to go to a game and know that I’ll be able to travel with, tailgate with and celebrate my team with a group of people that love the USWNT as much as I do.  I absolutely loved the fact that the last cycle I was able to go to bars in DFW and watch games with friends.  It will be hard to change the culture in games from only cheering when goals are scored to cheering whistle to whistle.  It can be done.  Every USWNT game that the Back 4 Pats shows up to, we make a dent in making that change happen.  We believe that our grassroots approach of meeting more people every game we attend and educating them about who we are and what we want will ultimately make the atmosphere at women’s soccer matches as vibrant as it’s becoming at men’s games.”

Gabby Rosas went on to add, “We knew from the onset that this was going to be a grass roots organization. We were going to get the word out at games, not by trying to get players or US Soccer to recognize us. My goal was to keep it grass roots enough that at some point someone would say. “we’ve seen you guys all over the place!! who are you?? By growing small, we’ve been able to find people who are passionate about this team and allowed their passion to become infectious for others. When you’re passionate about something, the people around you take notice and their interest is peaked. We’re doing that, peaking people’s interests and letting them know if you want to let that passion for the USWNT burn, we’ll fan the flames with you. In the long run, I would love to see the fan support at a women’s game similar to the support seen in Europe or even at some MLS games. Make going to a soccer match an event, not just something to do. A place where people stand on their feet for 90 minutes chanting and cheering every play both on and off the ball. That would be a great environment for Canada 2015, eh? In the end, if we can help get more adult fans to be excited to be at the game, not just there watching but actually being a part of the action, that will speak loudly to owners, managers, and players. Hopefully it can help provide a catalyst for growth in our domestic women’s game.”

The pure love of the game is what drives the Back 4 Patrioteer members during the game and afterwards.  Zinza added that it’s about, “Loving the game, USWNT, brings people together. I have been amazed at the qaulity number of people I have met through my interest and support for the game and USWNT. It’s those connections, that energy that brings many of us back for more, or to travel to a game outside of our city or state. That feeling and connection of not being alone, that there are so many others that get our freak flag (which is WoSo) and support it. It’s really cool and empowering in so many ways if that’s the first time one has felt that energy or support.”

If anything can be taken from this, it is that Back 4 Patrioteer is a supporters group that is truly a cut above the rest. They are reaching out to supporters all across the US in an attempt to build a camaraderie that has never really existed in the Women’s game with supporters. Taking the time to organize events in locations that are away from their home cities, and even states for fans to come together is something that has been unheard of and it is what they are known for. Their passion for the game is unquestioned.

Traveling to Portugal to support the US Women is just the tip of the iceberg for this group. Plans are already being made for the group to travel to Toronto for the ‘Rematch’ with Canada on June 2nd. The Back 4 Pats are already looking into discounted hotel rates for fans who are going to be making the journey North to support the US. Right around the corner for every US fan is the 2015 Women’s World Cup which will be played in Canada. The group plans on having such an immense presence there, that the world will get to see what being a true Women’s National Team supporter and supporter of the game of women’s soccer is all about. We are certainly going to be witnessing the ‘Invasion of Canada’ not only in June, but again when the biggest tournament in women’s soccer happens in our backyard, just two years from now, with the Back 4 Patrioteers leading the charge.

To learn more about the Back 4 Patrioteer or to see how you can become involved, please visit their website at www.thebackfour.org or follow them on Twitter at @Back4Patrioteer. This supporters group is proving that soccer without supporters is nothing.

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