It might be the American vs. English cultural barrier, but I can’t help feeling the Red Zone crowd is lacking something. I can’t claim that my home soccer team has the most vocal and passionate fans, but I’m used to an edgier and more involved atmosphere in stadiums. Thankfully, violence at soccer grounds in the U.K. is mostly a thing of the past, but the fans can still be pretty intimidating and emotions run high.
To me, the standard cheer on the Farm of “Go, Stanford” just doesn’t sound right. Go where? The British equivalent would be “Come on Stanford,” but while on first inspection that seems almost the same, it really isn’t. It usually comes with a heavy dose of pain and even anger, and is never chanted en masse. It is a personal cry of frustration in a desperate attempt to inject some kind of stimulation into your team. “Beat Cal” is just as bad; what else would the team be trying to do against Berkeley? Fans back home would instead direct their energy at insulting the opposition.
Really good insults are definitely something I miss. There is nothing like a few tens of thousands of fans simultaneously letting an opposing player know that they think he is, in fact, shit. It’s even funnier when that swearword is so loud and so clear that TV crews can do nothing about broadcasting it live across the airwaves.
But this is not about simply being offensive; opposing teams should feel intimidated just by walking into the stadium and hearing the crowd noise, and I just don’t think that happens here. Maybe it’s just a Stanford thing; friends who did their undergraduate degrees elsewhere seem to have a much more colorful cheering vocabulary. The Cardinal fans, in comparison, seem pretty tame, and I have to criticize myself for this too. Our array of chants seems pretty limited and very bland, and there is a lot of silence coming from The Red Zone. Perhaps this is because, even though we might have the longest winning streak in the nation, we have not been at the top long enough to really be considered a football school—I doubt many of you came here because of the football program—and developing a suitably passionate following is not an overnight thing.
It might seem like the least of our athletic worries—USC, Oregon and Andrew Luck’s eventual departure will probably be bigger stories—but college football is a game where you need every edge you can get. A single loss can wreck a season, and with teams only playing each other once a year, home-field advantage has the potential to make a big impact. Partly this is the simple logistics of a team being able to walk to the game rather than travel hundreds of miles, but the mental aspect shouldn’t be underestimated. Fans of Turkish soccer team Galatasaray greet their opposition with the banner “Welcome to Hell.” I couldn’t put it any better.
I suspect this is why the Department of Athletics has opened up all home games to the student body for free, and why there are football incentives to show up for some other sports. But creating a better atmosphere is more than just a numbers game. Red Zone points were offered at Cagan Stadium on Sunday for students coming to watch the Stanford vs. Cal men’s soccer game; the result was a pretty big turnout, and the stands started off packed. However, filling the seats with the uninitiated didn’t seem to work very well. Few people seemed really caught up in the game, and a recording of the Band playing “All Right Now” and a brief appearance from the Axe Committee failed to light the fires. When Cal scored in the first half, quite a few people seemed to head for the exits, and by extra time—the game was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation and so 20 extra minutes were played in the hope of a result—there were a lot of empty seats. I don’t wish to cast doubt on my fellow students’ motives, but it also looked suspiciously like quite a few were simply scanning their ID cards before heading home.
At the end of the day, any amount of incentives or pushing from above won’t work. We need to do this ourselves. Looking at all the various groups that work to get us pumped up at games, I think our best bet lies with the Axe Committee. This is no criticism of the Band, the Tree or the Dollies, because they do a great job and are idiosyncratically Stanford, but they already do about as much as they can. The Axe Committee instead confuses me. Sure, they give out free t-shirts and honk the big train whistle, but it seems to me more an excuse just to get on the field.
So I want to offer a challenge to the Axe Committee. Come sit among us, spread yourselves out across The Red Zone and lead not from the front but by example. Invent some new, more intimidating cheers and teach them to everyone around you so the whole crowd can sing and chant as one. And most of all, be loud.
Tom Taylor has been away from England for a few months and he’s already insulting Stanford fandom. Prove your true Cardinal spirit to him at tom.taylor “at” stanford.edu.