Originally published in The Reader 10.27.2010
For Matt Roberts it was Munich. An American in Bavaria, Roberts found the sport of soccer in the stands of German football superpower Bayern Munich.
It wasn’t just the sport he fell in love with but also how people supported it. The chants and songs, the flags and scarves, the connoisseur’s level of expertise needed to appreciate good passing and tackling as much as scoring.
He learned that in the Bundesliga, then he brought it to Omaha and the Creighton University soccer program. Last spring, the Creighton Kommandos Supporters Club was born.
Am Anfang (In the Beginning)
For others it was Amsterdam or Kaiserslautern or Blackburn. The one common characteristic among most of the 20 or so people who have joined the Kommandos is that almost all of them have spent some time in Europe’s soccer cathedrals. Like Roberts, the exotic enthusiasm proved infectious.
“I think it’s just a cultural experience over there,” Roberts says. “It’s kind of like going to a Nebraska game, but there’s so much more to it. They don’t just sit there and wear their red t-shirts, everyone knows the words to the team songs and chants, and not just a single chant, there might be 20 of them. It’s kind of a cross between a sporting event and rock concert in the states.”
Roberts kept seeing those same people at Creighton games and as the Jays struggled through their worst season in a decade last year, there was no better time to organize.
With then coach Bob Warming’s blessing, the Kommandos debuted at Creighton’s spring games last April, setting up a table and signing up members. Roberts got to work on a website and found a German supplier of real soccer scarves. When Jamie Clark arrived from Harvard to replace Warming after he surprisingly left for Penn State, the new head coach quickly pledged his support to the Kommandos.
In Europe and beyond, supporter’s club have been mythologized for everything from amped up hooliganism to having managers hired and fired. In America it’s slightly more genteel, a sort of cool kids club open to anyone who’s willing to live and breathe soccer and they’re getting results.
The Sons of Ben, a club with more than 4,500 members, was instrumental in bringing Major League Soccer to Philadelphia. The American Outlaws, a club founded by a couple of college buddies in Lincoln, Neb., now has 40 chapters in every major city pledging support to the U.S. national teams.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but in their first year of full Kommandos support the Bluejays are 11-2-0, ranked 10th in the country and off to their best start in the Missouri Valley Conference since 1999.
Immer Weiss Und Blau (Always White and Blue)
For now it was Des Moines. The Kommandos, together with the Creighton booster group the HillStoppers, had filled a bus with more than 40 people on Oct. 20 for a trip to Drake, the site of the Jays season ending loss in the MVC tournament last year. It was the Kommandos first road trip and one of Clark’s first requests.
In the 12th minute a 35-yard, once in a lifetime goal from Drake’s Michael Thaden put Creighton behind but energized the Kommandos. They spend most of every game chanting and waving a giant white and blue flag, but now there was urgency. The Bluejays were thoroughly outplaying Drake but trailed 1-0 on the road.
Feet stomped the metal bleachers, cries to the offside-happy lineman got louder and in the 20th minute Kris Clark equalized behind some brilliant passing from his teammates. Sixteen minutes later, Clark scored again providing the final margin in a tough 2-1 win.
After the game a familiar scene unfolded. Above their C.K.S.C. flag, the Commandos stood with their arms overhead in a V, stretching skull-emblazoned scarves that read “Always White and Blue” in German. The players, some veterans of international competition others just out of high school, came across the field to applaud the group.
It was Des Moines, but, on a smaller scale, it could’ve been Munich or Amsterdam or Blackburn.