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Nathan's Notations: The development of soccer culture in Utah, Part 1

One of the first things that I loved about soccer when I started watching the English Premier League over 10 years ago was the fans.

I’ve written in the past about my love for the sport, how I’ve been a fan since I was 13 and how I recently got into Real Salt Lake.

One of the first things that peaked my interest in being an RSL fan was the “Believe” video that took off on YouTube last year. Since becoming a fan, I have enjoyed seeing how fans have developed a culture that’s different from most sports in America.

When I started watching soccer, I loved hearing fans sing, chant and show their passion. It was something so refreshing to me after only having seen the bottled, prepackaged, cheer-when-the-Jumbotron-tells-you culture of American sports fans. I’ve spent countless hours on YouTube watching videos of fans, listening to their chants and songs, wishing I was there.

While in other countries the culture of fans has been established for decades, here in the USA, where soccer is just coming into the big picture, fan culture is still developing.

Jake Simons, a Utah native who has been attending RSL games since 2006, said he has seen the growth of fans in Utah and the development of the fan base.

“We’re developing chants,” Simons said. “We’re developing songs. Different things are going on in different sections. People are making flags. This Saturday we’re organizing a streamer toss and scarves up (where fans are encouraged to hold their team scarf above their head at the start of the match).”

Simons said he has seen the culture of fans develop since he first started attending matches. Back then, he said, games were held at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and a lot of gimmicky things were pushed on the fan base. He also said Rice-Eccles was too big for the amount of fans RSL was attracting at the time.

Since RSL has moved to Rio Tinto Stadium, Simons said he has seen the fan base grow and come into its own.

“Now that we have our own place and the supporter groups are starting to develop a little bit more,” Simons said, “it’s becoming more our own.”

One major step that has helped the atmosphere at Rio Tinto this year was the creation of the “Believe” chant by Branden Steineckert. Steineckert, a native of Utah and former drummer for The Used, created a short chant for fans during the offseason.

When the video debuted online, it spread fast. Simons said having a song or chant that fans could call their own was something supporter groups have wanted for a long time, but didn’t know how to go about accomplishing it themselves.

“Branden has those relationships and he made it happen,” Simons said. “It’s a fantastic little chant and it catches on. Now we can start it at whatever point and the whole stadium can get going really fast. It’s something we all hoped for, but we didn’t think it would catch on this quickly.”

While he has been a fan for years, Simons said his favorite memory came this year in an away match against Portland. A small group of fans traveled to Oregon at the start of the year to see RSL take on the Portland Timbers. The Timbers jumped out to a 2-1 lead and, toward the end of the match, looked as if they would get the win. Simons said Portland’s fans were yelling and taunting the small group of RSL fans as it looked more and more as if the Timbers would close out the match. In a matter of minutes, everything changed.

“Then Johnny (Steele) scores that goal; it was magical,” Simons said. “Then Kyle (Beckerman) comes in and scores the winner. I have never been to a sporting match where that was that big of an emotional rush. It was mayhem . . . but it was absolutely perfect.”

Talking to Simons, it’s clear to me that the culture of soccer fans in the country is well established and growing. Next week, I’ll continue my look at the growth and development of soccer fans in Utah, and how RSL fans have grown since the founding of the team seven years ago.

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