Life goes on and my love for Julius James still grows a little bit more each day. Stouffer carried the following quote from DCU's resolute center half after Wednesday night's disappointment:
“I want to thank the fans, the diehards, for still supporting us,” said James. “This is a really tough time for us and especially for them. We try really hard, you know. We train, we have our families, and the most important thing is that we satisfy the fans, and we haven’t been doing that this year, and I just want to sincerely thank the diehard guys for still coming and supporting us.”
I am a bit surprised by the comment, because DCU's fans have not -- as a general matter -- been transmitting a positive vibe for much of the season. Supporters have turned on players and have been quick to boo; enough so that Steve Goff's consistently sarcastic and patronizing tone seems to be a valid reflection of the fan base. At the same time, it would be unfair to paint supporters with a broad brush. Most of those at RFK on Wednesday night were fully behind the team and everything shouted at the players walking off the field at halftime was words of encouragement. It was, no question, a small group, but a group firmly behind the team.
It was, in other words, a fully different contingent of fans than those who seem to populate message boards shaking their fists with angry remonstrations and declarations that they will no longer back the team and no longer care if they stay or go. For those outside of the club, reading this drivel would leave the impression that DCU fans are generally arrogant in their ignorance of the game, with outlandish expectations to boot. But as James seems to make clear in underscoring the point to media folks after a gut-wrenching loss, this may not be the side of supporters that the players are actually exposed to.
Supporters -- die-hard, ridiculous, fantastic, and pathetic all at once -- are what makes the games matter. I am constantly amazed by how much people are willing to sacrifice and how much effort people are willing to expend on behalf of an athletics team. I love Charlton as much for its supporters -- fantastic authors, brilliant minds, great people -- as for its history and its promise. I have come to become attached to Accrington Stanley largely out of a fascination at the resolve displayed by the team's supporters that the club will not only survive, it will flourish, if for no other reason then the steel of their collective will.
I arrived home today to a package from a member of the management board of Banbury United. Inside was a shirt signed by some of last year's squad members and a wonderful note thanking us for our sponsorship of a player. It was a nice gesture and something that resonated deeply: not only are Banbury's supporters willing to take on the responsibility of running the club, but they also do not shirk their responsibility to insure that the fan base continues to grow (regardless of how ridiculous the address is on the other end of the conversation). I have been similarly impressed by the supporters of the Blyth Spartans and Scotland's Stanraer FC. Everyone I have communicated with at these clubs has been, without exception, devoted to their teams and unfailingly kind in welcoming any interest expressed in their squads.
Supporters can do amazing things. Portadown FC, for example, reports that it was able to secure the signing of ex-Glentoran player Shane McCabe, in part, because of the financial support received from the Portadown Supporters Society. And, of course, supporters groups have managed to acquire a number of clubs to shepherd them from financial ruin, including two I am marginally involved with at Ebbsfleet United and Stirling Albion.
Similar levels of passion and tangible support would be most welcome in the DC area. Both DC United and Crystal Palace Baltimore appear to be facing imminent threats to their continued existence (at least in the area). The existence of these clubs, as well as of Real Maryland, offers invaluable opportunities to American and Canadian professional soccer players to hone their craft and make their mark on the sport. Indeed, this point is driven home by the recent experience of Real Maryland's center half Mason Trafford. I think Mason played every minute for Real Maryland this season and, in the games we saw at Richard Montgomery, he consistently showed well on the back line. His profit on it was a chance in Europe (Finland):
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: David Noyes
September 2, 2010
Trafford Finding Feet in Finland Real Maryland CB Makes Move to Europe
Thursday, September 2, 2010
By NICHOLAS MURRAY
His season with USL-2’s Real Maryland over, Monarchs center back Mason Trafford knew he wanted his next move to be to take a crack at breaking in with a European team.
With IFK Mariehamn in the Finnish Premier Division, the 24-year-old Canadian is getting that opportunity.
With help from his agent, Trafford’s highlight video gave Mariehamn’s manager Pekka Lyyski a chance to see the player, and from there he was brought in for a trial. On Sunday he signed with the club.
“I’m really enjoying the new club right now,” Trafford said via e-mail. “The club is a very tight-knit group - the management, the coaching staff, and the players all have a good relationship and that has made the transition much easier for me. Everything has been very professional so far, and I think that has allowed me to settle in and feel comfortable right from the start. I feel happy here, Mariehamn is a small city but very nice, and everyone has been good to me so far.”
Trafford has arrived in the middle of a relegation fight for Mariehamn, which currently sits in 13th place of the 14-team league, two points behind Oulu and FC Haka with six games remaining. In his debut on Monday, the side lost 3-1 to league-leading HJK Helsinki, but with games against Haka and bottom club Lahti part of the remaining schedule, the opportunity is there for the side to stay up.
After the season he just went through with Real Maryland, it would appear as though Trafford has gone from one tough situation to another, but Trafford himself believes he and a number of his Monarchs teammates learnt a lot from this season.
“Although we didn’t have success as a team,” Trafford said, “I think everyone involved came away having learned something, and hopefully myself and some other players can find success after a disappointing season.”
Trafford, who was with the Vancouver Whitecaps for the 2009 USL-1 season, certainly thinks his experience with the Monarchs helped pave the way for his new opportunity.
“I think I have become a better player as a result of my time in USL-2,” Trafford said. “RMFC allowed me to develop parts of my game and parts of myself that I couldn’t develop while I was at the Whitecaps. I was able to find a regular starting place at my preferred position, and also take on more of a leadership role. I have to tip my hat to Coach Anthony Hudson for bringing me in and having confidence in me. He also provided me with a different perspective on how to play this game, which I think helped me with my confidence and has prepared me during my time so far in Finland.
“It’s tough to find a place where you feel comfortable and a place that is suited to your game. I came away from USL-2 feeling like I had added an element that wasn’t there in Vancouver. And it led me here, to IFK, which is what I wanted to get out of the USL season, so in that respect I think my time in USL-2 has to be seen as a success.”
It may not be the EPL, but it is a hell of an achievement for a guy who had to play professional soccer at a high school football field in Rockville, Maryland. And, but for fans showing up and supporting the team, even that meager opportunity would not have been available.