Outlaws set to storm Canada
Independent supporters group American Outlaws have become synonymous with a growing level of football fandom in the United States, and after helping to push the game even further into the American mainstream during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, they’re focused on having a large presence at this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. Given the country’s special relationship with its women’s national team, it could signal another step forward not only for American soccer but also for the sport.
“We should have a real presence in the stadiums, which we’re hoping will be revolutionary for the women’s game,” Outlaws President Korey Donahoo told FIFA.com recently about the group’s plans to organise and incite US fans for the seventh feminine Mundial. “I’m not sure you see big sections of die-hard travelling fans at Women’s World Cup games very often, so I’m really excited to see how it turns out.”
The group, which was founded by Donahoo and some friends seven years ago, has been growing at an astounding rate. While it took them six years to reach the 100 chapter mark, they have added a further 66 over the last 18 months. In that time, they have been featured in some high-profile television commercials around the World Cup and profiled in national newspapers and magazines. It is all a big change from the days when the US national teams were sparsely supported even when playing at home.
And while the women have earned their star status nationally after two world titles, AO’s communications head, Dan Wiersema hopes that the group can give the side a boost as they try to win their first World Cup since 1999. “We are the largest single ticket purchaser for the Women’s World Cup so far. We’re proud of that. We want the world to know that we’re here for the men’s and women’s teams no matter where they play in the world.
“We grew the men’s side of it, and we really feel like the women are the new frontier for us. For the last year, we’ve really been trying to get our local chapters more involved in supporting the women’s games.”
The long, strange trip
Although the American Outlaw origin story follows a path familiar to most – exposure from USA 1994 and inspiration via success at Korea/Japan 2002 success – it was fertilized during a trip to Germany 2006 and reached fruition in South Africa. 23 June, 2010 will in some ways go down in history as the day football ‘broke through’ in the US. It was then that Landon Donovan’s last-second goal against Algeria galvanized the country’s attention. It was also after that match that coach Bob Bradley paid tribute to the emergence of a genuine fan culture.
“I’ll never forget it,” remembered Donahoo. “We had gathered and were marching and singing, trying to let people know that the US fans were there. And the US team bus came down the street. We were all super excited, and we could see the players and they were giving us thumbs ups. And then after this super memorable match, Bob Bradley – of all of the things he might have talked about after the game – the thing he seemed most moved by was talking about how before the match the team bus drove through this group of US fans. And he actually teared up talking about it. For us, it was in that moment we knew why we existed: to inspire the team. It was really gratifying.”
Unlike most countries, support for the women’s national team has led the curve, and the side’s success has played a massive roll in the development of the sport. “I almost gave up being a soccer fan after the poor performance of the men at the 1998 World Cup,” said Wiersema, who leads the group’s efforts on the women’s side. “But I re-found my patriotism for soccer in 1999 [when the USA won the Women’s World Cup at home against China] . That kept me a big American soccer fan, and I have developed a very deep respect for the women’s game. As much of a fan as I am of the men’s national team, I might even count myself a bigger supporter of the women.”
The group already has claimed 700 spots for the tournament’s final match in Vancouver, and if all goes to plan, it will be the culmination of a journey that hews closely to the history of football in the country. But like most supporters groups, the American Outlaws are in it for the love of the game and their songs will no doubt be heard across the great country to the north. “The women’s team is easy to get behind. We never have ‘prima donnas’ or anything. It’s a fun group to watch.”