The transcript of our interview with AO Hartford Chapter Treasurer Andy Leary. See the full post here.
Describe the American Outlaws in 3 sentences.
AL: The American Outlaws [is the] unofficial supporters group of the US National Team, both Men and Women. It’s the part that’s trying to bring the atmosphere to the games and to the next level. It’s similar to the Kop at Liverpool, the Yellow Wall at Dortmund, and even by American Standards I refer to it as the “College Students’ Section”, the rowdy part of the stadium.
How does it [AO] function internally?
AL: Local Chapters organise viewing parties. When the US plays domestically, it’s up to the local Chapter of where it’s being hosted to put on the “Night Before Party” and pre-game tailgate and usually in-stadium coordination, the tifo presentation, [selecting] the capo. As far the National AO’s responsibilities, as well as working with US soccer and organising ticket allocation and pricing, they are responsible for organising the travel packages for away games.
So that includes getting the Visa? Finding good flights?
AL: Erm, finding good flights, finding hotels, transportation to the stadium. Visas? Usually they provide a guide but don’t necessarily help with it.
They don’t do the paperwork themselves?
What are the goals of the American Outlaws?
AL: Building a lifelong fan base for at least the US National Team and by extension the American Soccer Fan Culture. Which has worked and has made lots of games more attractive for TV viewing in the US. I travel a lot for my job and I know I’m gonna be able to look up the closest Chapter to where I’m saying and watch it with them.
It’s Matchday. What are the American Outlaws doing before, during and after a game?
AL: How much am I allowed to mention alcohol?
[Laughs] Don’t worry about that.
AL: Okay, at the game itself, the Outlaws usually put on a pretty significant tailgate party beforehand and march into the stadium. We try to get all the members and it’s a big sea of people in red, white and blue, holding up scarves. They’re either US Soccer scarves, Chapter scarves, general American Outlaws scarves, and it’s a beautiful, incredible site. In Columbus, because it was an exceptionally long march in November when it was already dark, people brought flares which is legal in Ohio. During the game, in the stands, obviously we’re the standing, singing, bouncing part of the stadium. I can’t speak for other Chapters, but at our bar we try to match the in-stadium experience. It’s always kinda funny to see people in the bar looking at us and thinking “what the hell is with these guys?”
AL: “They’re nuts!” But doing that has actually brought us more members. They hear about us and they wanna come check us out and come to a Chapter event. And they’re like “Oh my God, this is more fun than I could have imagined”.
What have been the factors that have influenced the growth of the American Outlaws?
AL: Simply exposure of the game. For a long time the [limit of] exposure was the World Cup every 4 years in which the US wasn’t that good, and MLS at the time wasn’t very good. For me, once Champions League began being shown on regular cable TV in the US…. the exposure of Football has helped the AO grow, and also just American media taking soccer and the US team seriously. And then people started thinking, “We’re kinda good”. Everybody loves an underdog story. Well this is one of the few things in the world that the US can actually say “We’re an underdog” at.
Certain parts of the US see huge amounts of Latino migration. Do you find that that drives interest in Football in certain places?
AL: Erm, it’s a factor…. it certainly has contributed to the fan culture. Every time I’ve been to an AO event, there’s at least one guy that’s brought a trumpet. That’s where the American Soccer Culture is a reflection of America as a whole. You don’t really see tifo displays in England, you don’t really see bands in Germany. I think not just the Outlaws but the MLS and the lower level supporters groups, we wanna try and bring all of that in. We wanna try and bring the best parts of each culture.
As an outsider looking in, it seems the American Outlaws are picking and choosing favourable traditions and customs from other countries. What countries, what cultures, what supporters, what fan groups influence the American Outlaws the most?
AL: The number 1 thing is the tifo stuff, which I think is very prevalent in Italy, and some of the English teams have [it] as well, and Eastern Europe. Some of the things we want to do we can’t bring in just because of local laws. We can’t bring pyro into the stadium.
Would you if you could?
AL: [Pauses] I would not be opposed to it. I think the closest to [our model] are Dortmund and Liverpool, [they] are the ones we want to replicate. As I said, it’s a mesh of different cultures and things that we see and we think to ourselves “Why can’t we do that?”. Short of anything overtly political. That’s why a lot of the American tifo designs are never trying to be denigrating of the opponent. All of these sorts of displays are trying to be positive for the US rather than being negative against the opponent. The Chapters and national organisation are not registered as a political organisation and we have to be overtly apolitical.
Many Fanatics in Europe see crime and dissent as a big part of fanatical tradition. Whilst trying to push and development fanatical behaviour amongst Chapter members, what are the American Outlaws’ limits to what they will do as an organised fan group?
AL: Well as I said, we try to be none political. We have adopted a policy called “Act Above”, and there’s now a thing called “AO Watch”, which is certain members will volunteer and help the stewards with anyone who is intentionally causing trouble. I think part of America being “late to the party”, we’ve seen the violence associated with matches throughout Europe and the history of hooliganism in England, and we’re like “okay, how do we stop this?”. Then again, American sports culture in general isn’t one that lends itself to hooliganism.
AL: Nobody goes to a sporting event wanting to get into a fight. They wanna go, watch and cheer. They wanna have a good time.
Lots of Europeans treat the idea of Americans being fanatical about Football with derision and ridicule, and don’t really accept the fact that Americans can A) understand Football or B) enjoy it correctly. What would the AO response be?
AL: Come to an event. That’s the response. Come to an event and tell me about that after you’ve been to an event.
I would love to.
AL: I’ve come across that attitude- I’ve HAD that attitude. [pauses] We’re new to the party. Ultimately we’re new fans. The American attitude for the longest time (and it’s still the prevalent attitude) is “we only like sports that we invented”.
Why do you think Football is emerging as such a popular sport in the USA?
AL: I’m a sports fan and [I get up] at 8am on a Saturday morning and watch soccer. The top leagues are available on cable; “Here’s how good it [Football] can be”. You also have a generation that grew up playing it and learning to do it well. Part of that is also the tide shifting on American Football with concussions and brain damage and lifelong disabilities, that sort of parental fear of it. Baseball is losing popularity, Basketball isn’t as accessible as it once was. Soccer is the Upper-Middle class game of choice. It’s perceived as being safer.
So final question; do you think Football has the potential to become the most popular sport in the US?
AL: [Pauses] I would say not in my lifetime. I don’t see the NFL falling off within the next 20 years and becoming as irrelevant as boxing has become. It’s an interesting question. I don’t think it would but I think it has the potential to be.
Thanks for talking to us Andy.