THE BLOG
12/28/2012 08:00 pm ET Updated Feb 27, 2013

Fans, Families and Banning the 'F-Bomb'

In my previous article, I looked at the possibility that supporter culture may be the next marketing tool for the men charged with growing soccer.

The banners and the singing present something not only organic but relatively rare in North American sport, audience inspired demonstrations of support.

That however brings a problem for administrators still rooted to the core mission of attracting a family audience -- we're vulgar and we're potty-mouthed.

Admittedly so are those who attend other sports but they are generally disbarred from any access to the television microphones placed at pitchside. They chant what they are told to.

2012-12-27-HPostfan.jpgOur sport's culture is different.

Support comes from the fans and has really done so anecdotally since Liverpool fans started singing Beatles' songs on the Kop for no apparent reason.

There have of course been many problems in Europe over the years with far right groups infiltrating Ultras in several countries, sectarian chanting in Scotland and tasteless references to the Munich and Hillsborough tragedies in England.

Compared to some of the stuff I have heard in my lifetime at matches in Glasgow and London, what happens in MLS is miniscule and harmless.

Despite that, there is one chant that really irks the league.

When a visiting goalkeeper takes a goalkick, the fans chant something naughty as he takes his run up. It's known as the YSA chant. I don't know if I can write it out on The Huffington Post so you'll have to use your imaginations or wait until somebody writes it out in full in the comments section.

In truth, the YSA chant is pretty moronic and organized supporters groups have recognized that.

Before joining MLS, the Portland front office asked the Timbers Army for their help in eradicating it. The TA agreed and succeeded.

In a skillfully calibrated statement, a Portland club spokesman described their general attitude to profanity thus:

The Portland Timbers do not condone witless profanity for profanity's sake chants, such as YSA and F*ck Seattle. We have chosen to work with the supporters in a constructive manner to eliminate these types of chants. The Timbers Army does not endorse these chants either and they have been successful over the years in eliminating them.

And yes, the Timbers spokesman put the asterisk in the word 'fuck' in his email. He must think I'm more easily offended than I actually am. He may have forgotten the full range of my compatriot John Spencer's vocabulary which often seemed to be solely composed of that word on a bad day.

The club spokesman would not confirm that they actually endorse witty profanity but the insinuation is that if there's a degree of originality and wit, stewards won't be hauling bodies out of the stadium. It's a nuanced, deft and clever attitude. Dare I say mature?

Even though Portland is in a region of America not prone to taking knee jerk fake offence at profanity or an insufficient kowtowing to political correctness, he was careful not to be seen to be endorsing any position that would give the impression that swearing is permitted.

Let's just say, in language more commonly reserved for marijuana legislation, that it is 'decriminalized' inside Jeld Wen Field unless you are being an idiot about it.

Like driving slightly over the limit on a Texas freeway or being obviously drunk in public within half a mile of a Scottish university.

In Seattle, the fans themselves decide to replace the last word in YSA, with the name of the goalkeeper who was actually taking the goal kick.

Lead capo and respected veteran of the supporter scene in Seattle, Sean McConnell was barely able to suppress his laughter on one occasion when Chicago Fire visited in 2011.

The Fire had a goal kick at the Royal Brougham End where the noisiest fans congregate. Sean Johnson was the visiting goalkeeper.

Judging by the width of his grin, McConnell had clearly worked out that by encouraging fans to dumb it down to "You Suck Johnson," he was keeping to the letter of the law and having a good laugh at the ridiculousness of the whole issue.

One man who saw the joke that day was Kevin Zelko who heads Gorilla FC, a Sounders Supporters Group. His members tend to be a little older on average than many SGs, with many of their active members in the 35-45 age group and board members stretching into their mid 60s.

Even he has no doubt that making the atmosphere child friendly is not the path forward:

I think our league history has shown which model works, looking at how teams are retooling their target fan bases like in Kansas City and Houston with the turnaround there. The old model was soccer moms. The new growing, working model shows build on supporters, and let the supporters build it.

Zelko is right about Kansas City. Their new stadium heralded an opportunity to start again, eschewing previous models of stadium atmosphere.

Sean Dane holds the quirky title of 'Hype Man' of the Cauldron, the main Sporting Kansas City Supporters Group, and has observed it at first hand.

He takes an admirably balance view on these matters:

It's a fine line to walk. Obviously the league has responsibilities to its television and advertising partners. Additionally there is a responsibility to those coming to games that expect a certain level of family friendly-ness. Supporters don't buy every ticket in the stadium, and there has to be some level of respect for those that want to sit and watch the game.

That being said, you cannot pick the parts of supporter culture that you like and use to promote your league while trying to ban the parts that you don't. I personally try not to lead chants with unnecessary foul language. That is not to say I am anti foul language. We killed YSA last year. Not because it says shit or asshole but because it's unoriginal and ineffective.

You can see the full interview with Sean Dane on Prost Amerika where he develops these points and provides a very good starting point for charting the path forward that I hope all sides can embrace.

Personally, I have one last cheeky and irreverent observation on the matter.

If clubs want to eradicate swearing at matches, then why not start with their employees rather than waving a big stick at their customers?

OK, that was kind of a low blow. I'll take a yellow card for dissent and walk away.

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