With the Olympics upon us, Americans are tuning in to watch sports with unbridled patriotism. And as the USWNT attempt to follow a Women’s World Cup with Olympic gold for this first time in their history, new and seasoned American fans are joining together in a chorus of support.
And among the ranks of this swelling crowd, it’s time to look out for some of the newer kids on the block: Sammers SC, a growing supporters’ group for the US national soccer teams. Founded about three years ago, they say their mission is to focus on the in-game stadium experience, with “Sing for 90 [Minutes]” as their go-to motto.
“We want to keep the momentum going whenever there are dead spots in the game,” says Bill Fetty, age 38, from Madison, Wis., who was part of the initial group who started Sammers SC. “Our focus is to create a true home-field advantage.”
Fetty and three other supporters discussed their vision for a new national supporters’ group the night before the 2013 US vs. Mexico World Cup qualifying game in Columbus. (That’s where the USMNT won to clinch their berth in the 2014 World Cup.) They created their first Sammers banner overnight, brought it to the game, and have since been slowly building their ranks, currently numbering a little more than 200.
So what about the name? It’s meant to draw on the group’s spiritual forebearers, Sam’s Army (created after the 1994 World Cup to unite American soccer fans), while still setting them apart.
It also makes them a smaller (for now) alternative to the American Outlaws, who were, in turn, founded in 2007 initially as an alternative to Sam’s Army. Due to their strong organization, social media savvy, and major media recognition, the group has grown to become the principal US supporters’ group, with more than 190 chapters and 30,000 official members.
But that’s ok by Sammers SC, who, while still developing their identity, think there’s room for everyone. For now, too, they’re particularly working on creating a space for parents and kids to cheer together (think, for instance, how Light Rail operates within the Third Rail for NYCFC fans).
Tanya Keith, 44, Sammers board member, opted for an inaugural family membership for her, her husband, and three soccer-loving children when they first became available. She’s found the experience to be a good fit for her family overall. “At one of the recent Sammers SC events,” she recalls, “one of my fellow members taught my son how to play darts.”
She also says she feels that the Sammers SC tailgates are more about “storytelling, hanging out, and building relationships,” adding that while they’re “not a ladies’ tea party,” her kids feel comfortable at Sammers gatherings. “We don’t necessarily want to blow it all out in the pre-game,” she adds. “We want to focus on what happens in the stadium.”
Fetty, who likens their gatherings as more family reunion than an all-night party, hopes that Sammers’ veteran members are thought of as “the uncle who still gets it.”
Because the group is small and dedicated, with some members going back 20 years, they have the potential to develop more organic, impromptu cheers that augment what AO’s made familiar. They’re already tweaking one well-known cheer: “We sing [Journey’s] ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ after ‘I Believe,’” says Keith. “And that might not get the whole stadium going, but I think it shows how [the different groups] can work together to create the best in-stadium experience.”
“I feel like Sammers is like going back to basics, back to why many of us became supporters in the first place,” says Jennifer Muller, a New York Red Bulls fan and Empire Supporters Club board member who’s also joined Sammers. “The pre-game parties and tailgates are important on the social side of things. But I go to games for the game, for those 90-plus minutes. The Sammers put emphasis on that.”
Jon Strauss, a New England Revolution fan, Midnight Rider since 1997, and a former member of both Sam’s Army and Ameircan Outlaws, concurs. “For the matches I've been to as a Sammers member,” he says, “we're made every attempt to sing our collective heads off for the full 90-plus.”
Games in the Northeast have drawn the most Sammers to date, including the US vs. Paraguay Copa America match in Philadelphia this past June 11, as well as last year’s US vs. Haiti Gold Cup match in Foxborough, Mass. They are, however, also looking to have a presence at the upcoming men’s World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago next month in Jacksonville, Fla. From there, they plan to continue on to the upcoming round of Hex matches and onto the 2018 World Cup.
“Our main goal by the time 2018 kicks off is to be able to fully support our members who might be heading to Russia,” says Fetty “For us, the experience in Sammers really is just about quality and that family vibe, and rather than grow too quickly we'd prefer to maintain as much contact with members on an individual basis.”
Like American Outlaws, they also have a direct relationship with US Soccer to secure blocks of tickets for their members. And though AO has cast a wide net to capture supporters ranging from veterans to first-timers, Sammers members feel that their presence widens the net further, giving new fans a choice that will ultimately strengthen support for the US teams.
“Having a choice isn’t a bad thing. If other groups pop up, great,” says Muller. “It gives those ‘unaffiliated’ supporters an option. If more than one club has access to supporters tickets it helps bring more voices to fill stadium, which I think in the end is what all groups want.”