The ISC: North American Supporter Activism

Tom Dunmore
Feb 10th 2012

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This weekend in Portland, supporters from around North America will be gathering for one of the first Independent Supporters Council meetings. As part of our mission to be one of the leagues leading supporters groups, the BSG will be sending people to represent.

We are grateful to Tom Dunmore of Pitch Invasion for the following article:

The ISC provides a place for organized supporters groups for American and Canadian soccer teams to share information and work together to solve common problems. Supporters of soccer teams at any level, amateur, pro, college or national, are welcome to participate

Theres a longer explanation of the ISCs role on its Charter page. Its early days for the organization - this is really the first major independent meeting held - but the Bill of Rights is something that well explains the kind of work it aims to do nation(s)wide:

The Supporters Council will work to ensure the rights of all home and away supporters at any stadium in the United States and Canada to:

[Ensure the existence of] A place in each stadium for home and away supporters to stand, sing, and cheer;

The use of all safe, legal methods of showing support, including flags, banners, drums, instruments, and legal pyrotechnics;

Clear and consistent written guidelines for home and away supporters;

Minimum league standards for the accommodation of away supporters;

Security personnel with an understanding of and training in supporter culture; and

Consistent, fair, race-neutral, evenhanded and evidence-based enforcement of stadium rules and regulations.

All those rights sound straightforward. But for those who have been in the trenches of American supporter culture since 1996 (and before, and aside from MLS), those rights have been far from a given in almost every American soccer stadium. In Chicago, for example, I can think of more than one occasion when each of the above have been denied fans for often obscure and unexplained reasons.

Even in the past year, Ive been with an organized group who - despite having planned with security and home and away front offices well ahead of time with agreed guidelines in place - have had serious trouble just bringing a drum into a stadium. These obstructive approaches hardly fit well with MLS continued promotion and marketing of supporter groups atmosphere as the leagues defining cultural marker.

As well as working on solving problems, the ISC can work to positively engage the league and clubs in ensuring there is a fans voice at the table. We see that MLS owners are engaging more directly with fans; why not take that same focus on the benefits of transparency and building trust with the fanbase and apply it at a leadership level as well, by working with a representative group of fans nationwide?

We have seen in Europe the benefits of such an approach for fans and clubs alike. The work of the Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct in England (and similar, albeit different groups in places like Germany) has been crucial to fan safety (groups working against hooliganism, racism and for safe away travel) and fan engagement (with supporters becoming invested in clubs beyond a mere transaction, and the benefits this has for clubs as communities - often saving them).

At the ISC meeting, a former head of Supporters Direct, Dave Boyle, will be present to share his experience on how this kind of engagement can benefit clubs and fans alike. Daves thoughts on this were shared on the recent Pitch Invasion podcast. Dave makes the point here that North America has a chance to be very much ahead of the game in supporter organization relative to the length of its premier professional league:

After just 15 years of soccer, theyre making fantastic progress, comparatively speaking, given most European Leagues only really saw such groups develop relatively recently.

Theres an interesting policy issue for the sport too, in terms of how much does it use dialogue with its core fans as a key differential in the crowded US sport space, both as testament to different values, and as a way of co-producing the spectacle that lies at the heart of the marketing of the sport.

These and other issues will be fascinating to discuss at the ISC meeting this weekend, and PI will have a full report after. Much credit to all those who have helped further the ISC and to the Timbers Army for hosting the meeting.

- Tom Dunmore (