I often think it’s odd when spectators and fans say they are ‘part of the team’ in relation to sports. Fans don’t train, they don’t play, and they don’t coach or provide medical or managerial assistance. Fans show up once a week to watch the team and provide support. The most exercise fans get is a jaw workout from the terrible and occasionally amusing side line commentary and chat (with the exception of Auckland City fans who spend 90 minutes jumping about, that’s gotta be a decent work-out).
This Stirling Sports Premiership season, it clicked for me. I finally understood how fans can be seen as part of the team. I’m not sure I can describe exactly what it is that supports that feeling, but I get it.
I found myself more heavily invested in following Team Wellington (TeeDubs) this season than I have been previously. Don’t get me wrong, I have rarely missed a home game in the past few seasons but this year I also actively ensured I was home if they were on tv and paid more attention to the results of other matches and how they affected TeeDubs position on the table.
I’m not sure if my investment had to do with the lack of good results for the Phoenix, the disengagement I felt with regard to the Phoenix, or if it was just having exciting football to watch on a Sunday afternoon.
I guess it all started just before the season proper started, when Team Wellington held an open training session with the opportunity to stick around afterwards to have dinner and a question session with the players. The weather was terrible and the uptake wasn’t huge but it was a great opportunity to meet the team. I was on crutches at the time and more than one player stopped to ask what had happened. Although telling the story was embarrassing (I came off my bike in a spectacularly stupid way), I instantly felt a rapport with the players.
Often I think of football players as being on a higher rung of the ladder than the supporters. This is hard to explain at this level, but makes sense if you think about the pedestal we put football superstars on. We show up week after week to support them but don’t expect a high level of interaction from them, certainly not one-on-one conversations, because they’re the players and we’re the fans.
Player interaction didn’t really occur so much throughout the season but there was a high level of engagement from the support staff, both in person and via social media. This year there was an increase in the use of social media by TeeDubs. There were season tickets and replica shirts available for the first time (that I’m aware of). I think the combination of these things added to the feeling of being a part of the set-up.
By the time the Grand Final rolled round, fans had endured a roller-coaster of emotion and a small group of us decided to travel to Auckland for the game (let me suggest that you don’t drive to Auckland and get the overnight bus back in the same day – it’s not that fun). The final whistle blew – signalling a second championship title for TeeDubs in a row. After celebrating with each other, almost every single one of the players and coaching staff, came over to the handful of us in the stands and they acknowledged our attendance. There were hugs all round and words of thanks streaming from both sides. This was where the true feeling of being part of the team came in. We were invited to join the team for a drink afterwards. We didn’t want to intrude on the players celebrations entirely, but we did go to the pub they were at and José and Stu came over for a chat. As we left, the players all thanked us for coming.
Even after the disappointment of the loss in the Oceania Champions League, the players made the effort to acknowledge the fans with applause. In some ways, this is better demonstrates how fans can be part of the team than celebrating a victory. Despite the hurt the players were feeling they still took a moment to thank us for supporting them throughout the campaign and recognise that we felt what they were feeling.
There are highs and lows in any football season. This year, following TeeDubs, I felt the joy and I felt the pain, I felt a part of the team.
(I’m not sure if any of this makes sense – I write how I think – but I hope you get where I’m coming from)
Categories: NZ Men's National League