[Houston Dynamo] Do They Know What Dynamo Means At All?

Teach the Texans. Let them know that they screwed up.

Football fans in countries with nascent Football leagues are very interesting to observe. A lack of existing customs and traditions means that fans can basically develop their Football culture from scratch. The behaviour among fans and people involved in the sport at this point therefore can be very telling about their culture and what they value. The USA’s Major League Soccer is a prime example of such a nascent league.

On the other side of the pond, European Football fans resent the very commercial nature of American sport. The franchise model of ownership and subsequent potential for immediate geographical club-relocation poses a threat to a core principle of European Football fandom; hometown representation through a club. You support your team because the team was born and grew up in the same place you did. This is the reason behind the rejection of Americanisation in European Football; elements associated with franchised American sport are associated with an abscence of focus on local relevance. Cheerleaders, music and half-time shows, the MK Dons, the ‘Hull Tigers’ name change debacle; they believe it represents a systematic lack of respect for the needs and traditions of local people.

Portland Timbers Houston Dynamo
The Portland Timbers vs Houston Dynamo

This is were it gets interesting, and a bit ironic. Yes, there are club names like “San Jose Earthquakes”, “Seattle Sounders” and “Chicago Fire”. Kind of what you’d expect. But if you look at some of the younger MLS clubs, they have names resembling European team names; “Philadelphia Union”, “Toronto FC”, “Orlando City”, “Real Salt Lake”. There actually are two clubs that have changed their names from an Americanised one to a more European one; “Dallas Burn” became “FC Dallas” and “Kansas City Wizards” became “Sporting Kansas City”. This clearly signifies a recognition of the strength of European Football culture and its values, in a country that has not historically shown objection to franchised sport.

It could’ve easily been the “Philadelphia Swizzleswozzles” or whatever, but the amount of MLS teams clearly modelling themselves on European Football clubs tells you that Americans interested in Football believe that for their sport to be as good as it can be, they must look to other countries for guidance on best practice. They know they don’t have decades of history in the sport to call upon, so they look to the countries that do have that history. Americans are choosing to be more like Europeans than was necessary to create a functioning league. They have not simply assumed that their way would be the best way; “Europeans do Football best, so we should acknowledge that and be more European”.

The irony should be clear by now. In an attempt to legitimise their domestic Football, Americans are changing elements of it to replicate the traditions and values of European Football culture; a primary one among them being tradition. Call it naive, call it self-defeating, but it speaks of openness to ideas and a lack of cynicism toward trying new things. These are two very American characteristics, and they are influencing the MLS and fans interested in Football in the USA. But among these clubs trying to get it right, you can’t help but feel that one has made a bit of a faux-par.

Houston Dynamo Colorado Rapids
Houston Dynamo vs the Colorado Rapids

It’s clear where the inspiration for “D.C. United”, “Real Salt Lake” and “Sporting Kansas City” came from. But the founders / owners of “Houston Dynamo” probably should’ve taken a longer look through the history books before choosing the suffix ‘Dynamo’. The term refers to a phenomenon seen in Communist Football leagues. In free-market economy countries, private companies sponsor teams and provide capital and resources. But obviously there were no private companies in the Communist world. Instead, teams were often linked to the public trades and unions. You couldn’t really call the system “sponsorship”, but the trades and unions did provide resources and the players did very much represent those national entities on the field. This is the origin of enduring names like “Metalist Kharkiv”, “Lokomotiv Moscow”, “Chemie Leipzig”.

Clubs from former Communist states featuring the prefix ‘Dynamo’ include Dynamo Dresden, Dinamo Zagreb, Dynamo Moscow, Dinamo Minsk, Dynamo Kyiv, BFC Dynamo Berlin, Dünamo Tallinn, Dinamo Minsk, Dinamo Riga etc. They all represented or had links to the secret police & state security, for example the Stasi or the KGB (the workers’ union effectively wielding the most amount of power). All were originally related. You can still see it on their badges. In their paranoia, the regime and the state security frequently used Football as a means to inspire and influence subject peoples. We see this a lot in history, when totalitarian regimes use sport to demonstrate ability and discipline. If Football clubs representing iron manufacturing, the rail industry, the chemical works etc frequently beat the state-security sponsored team, it could lead the population to question the power and legitimacy of the regime. Football superiority of the Dinamo / Dynamo clubs was imperative. As a consequence, Communist Football was frequently abused, with the Dinamo / Dynamo clubs forcibly given the best players and favourable refereeing, at the expensive of fans of other teams, who, inevitably, saw through the scam.

BBVA Compass Stadium
Houston Dynamo’s BBVA Compass Stadium

Even though that era is long gone and the current Football clubs in former-Communist states have kept the ‘Dinamo / Dynamo’ name, you can’t help but think it’s somewhat strange that an American Sports Franchise effectively chose to name itself in honour of a KGB / Stasi political practice. Either that, or the directors of Houston Dynamo don’t know the history of Eurasia’s ‘Dinamo / Dynamo’ clubs.


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