Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sammers SC - my perspective

A new national supporters group has been launched for the US National Soccer Teams. It is called Sammers SC and it is an interesting mix of old and new. At its core, though, is a consistent leadership group that has been involved in supporting the USA since well before 2002 - what I consider to be the tipping point of awareness of and interest in the US soccer team.

There are some things that everyone should know about this group, and their road to existence, as well as their interaction with the rest of the US supporters community, and I am going to try to share some of it here. Obviously, they have to define themselves, but to the extent that I can offer a non-involved perspective, here goes.

My Lens

So let's start with this - who am I to comment on the Sammers SC? I never held an official position with The Inferno or Sam's Army, let alone American Outlaws. On the other hand, I was a regular member and actively involved in all three organizations over the last twenty years.

In The Inferno, I was a part of the samba drummers and generally helped with in-game chant and song leadership for much of my time with the group, 1996 through 2005. In late 2005, I took a position in the front office of FC Dallas and was unable to continue in that same role.

As far as Sam's Army goes, I was late to the party. I didn't really get involved until 2001, but soon got swept into the awesome craziness that was the Korea World Cup and was included in a similar capacity as with The Inferno. I also attended the 2006 World Cup at a similar level of involvement.

As far as American Outlaws is concerned, I was working for FC Dallas by the time they really got their movement going here in Dallas, and for a variety of reasons, I supported them in any way I could, and still do.

Why do I mention all that? So that you know what my involvement has been, and who I knew and why I knew them. And let me say this - I do not know everything. Not even close. But I know enough to say that I fully support the Sammers SC's efforts to re-energize a group of US supporters that has been looking for an outlet for quite some time. At the same time, I fully support the American Outlaws. All that know me know I have always been a Big Umbrella guy - there is room for everyone, and frankly, the more voices, the better. And I very much think this is one of those situations.

And I need to add - I am not endorsing the Sammers SC over the American Outlaws - far from it. The American Outlaws are a fantastically successful organization that has done wonders for support of the US national teams, as the Sam's Army before them. But as you will see, in my opinion, Sam's Army lost their way, and while AO is very good at what they do, they are not for everyone, and they are not everywhere. But please, engage them both and find out which one is right for you. If you are already in an AO chapter, by all means stay there! But for those who aren't with AO right now, I am simply saying that the Sammers SC might be for you.

Sam's Army

Sam's Army, for those who don't know, was the original US Men's National Supporters Group. Began in the latter part of 1994 in response to the fact that many were bothered that the US didn't HAVE a supporters group, Sam's Army quickly grew to be a legitimate force. In fact, the majority of the original MLS supporters groups shared leadership and membership with Sam's Army. They both coalesced around the same time, so very chicken and the egg, but make no mistake - Sam's Army's efforts made it easier for individual supporters groups to feel energized and empowered to be all they could be - if for no other reason than they gave an example of how big a supporters group in the US could be.

But at some point prior to 2002, Sam's Army began to run into organizational limitations. I am not going to go into the reasons why, but suffice to say that it grew bigger than the infrastructure could handle.

It did not really become a huge issue, so things continued on. It helped that the USMNT met rarely - at least, relative to MLS clubs - and it had created so much positive inertia that it carried on even though the leadership was not able to take that inertia and continue its growth. Again, in some ways, it didn't need to.

But as MLS changed and grew, and its supporters groups did the same, the original, basic plan of Sam's Army really began to hold back how far and how involved people who wanted to support the USMNT (and USWNT) could go. And that is a problem.

American Outlaws

Then, about the time that these limitations were becoming very obvious to not just leadership, but membership, along came a group of leaders from Nebraska, calling themselves the American Outlaws. They were very energized, and very organized. They seemed to have a grasp on what Sam's Army was lacking, and whether it was by natural development, or by plan, they began filling the areas where Sam's Army had a void.

Soon, though, it surpassed just filling a void, and with Sam's Army continuing to lack the necessary leadership organization, they overran it to where now you hear of American Outlaws as the main US supporters group.

All of the pictures of rabid US fans, cheering in bars and outdoor watching parties for the men these past two world cups, as well as those in the stadiums for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups? All due credit needs to be given to the American Outlaws because there is no way those things happen without their leadership and involvement. They are the physical manifestation of what leadership can do when it recognizes a movement, and helps energize that movement and bring it to its culmination.

The Challenges

But there are two needs that AO is not filling, and that Sam's Army stopped filling years ago, and this is where the Sammers SC see a place to step up - with former Sam's Army members who never folded into AO, and with those who have bumped heads with AO over the years. And let's be fair - you simply can't have an organization that big, covering that much territory, as a volunteer organization, and not have issues. Seriously, this is not a negative reflection on AO. Anyone with a modicum of grasp of how complex and challenging leading a movement that strong, that large, that passionate - with volunteer efforts - should recognize that it is simply impossible to manage all of the personalities and problems that are involved and not have a few things fall short in places.

Frankly, each and every leader, past and present, in both organizations needs to be thanked and appreciated. That starts with Mark Spacone. Without him, I am sure something would have happened, but not what happened, not as big, and not as well. Frankly, the decision to model themselves after the Tartan Army - where passion is great, but it is all in good fun rather than the other end of the spectrum - was brilliant. Again, look around at your local MLS supporters groups - as well as those in the NASL and USL. So many are basic models of Sam's Army.

And without Korey Donahoo and Justin Brunken, it might very well have taken a significant step back after the 2006 World Cup, and certainly would not have attained the heights that we see so often now for the US national soccer team games.

But each organization was not a perfect fit for every geographical area. Sometimes it was chemistry between national and local leaders. Sometimes it was actions by either local or national leaders or members. And again, this isn't a judgment - soccer is insanely better for the involvement of all these leaders. But the practical reality is that sometimes, people are oil and water. And sometimes, because it is a voluntary organization, the time and effort to make sure things go right doesn't happen.

Sammers SC

Which brings us back to the Sammers SC. The majority of their leadership are either directly involved, or related to people who were leading the chants in 1998 and 2002. And if you followed their flag then, or never connected with AO for whatever reason, please seriously consider engaging them. They are people who I expect will put the support of the team first.

And if for whatever reason, your local American Outlaws organization is not your cup of tea, or if there is not a local AO chapter, again, engage them.

That being said, I say "engage them" because they may not be your cup of tea - engage them to find out. And if you find they are not, then engage the American Outlaws. Frankly, I would be shocked if one or the other is not the right fit for you. Because if you have taken the time to read this, you love the US national soccer teams, and you need to be involved with either the American Outlaws or the Sammers SC.

 My challenge to both the Sammers SC and to the American Outlaws, is to keep it simple, do what is necessary only to make sure there are as many voices, as unified as possible, to stand and support the US national soccer teams. Try not to let internal or external politics pull you offside. It is about the teams, and it is about being an avenue that helps fans support those teams. Nothing else matters.

And let me leave it here - thank you. I don't care where you fall on the spectrum of leadership to membership, whether you live and breath US soccer support 24-7 or just want a group of like-minded people to be with when you watch the US national teams, thank you. We are a part of something fantastic, that will only get better. Onwards and upwards.

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