In America, a common answer to the question of, "Which Premier League team do you support?" is often met with a team from the big six. Chelsea, City, United, Arsenal, Tottenham or Liverpool and not much in between. This is why I'm typically met with weird looks or awkward silence when I let people know my allegiance lies with Southampton Football Club.
The story of how I became a Saints supporter is fairly simple, really. Here in the USA, I don't support any teams that win championships yearly or even boast a history of winning. All the teams that I support are typically underdogs. They are teams that focus on building and winning through their youth and having a strong value system. Before the 2014 World Cup, I watched soccer, but didn't have a team to support. As the World Cup was going on, so was my research into picking an English team to support. The big six were out, because those aren't the type of teams I support. I also looked into the teams that may be relegated in a year or two, so I was down to a small group of teams: Everton, Newcastle and Southampton.
Southampton had just begun their "fire sale" when I was looking into them. That didn't scare me though, all my teams have sold some of their best players due to the player gaining a boost in their ego or the player simply costing too much. For me, Southampton truly brought me in when reading about their youth academy that had produced the likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. In my opinion, a strong set of young players is a great foundation for any franchise.
Southampton has everything that I love. A strong front office, leadership, a highly respected youth academy and that underdog feel.
When I first pledged my allegiance to Southampton, I was warmly welcomed by Southampton's official Twitter account along with close to 100 new followers, all from the city of Southampton. Any doubt that I picked the wrong team was now gone.
So what exactly about Southampton appeals to other Americans? I wanted to find out.
In what I thought would be a tough find, I sent out a tweet looking for other Southampton fans in America. I received over ten different emails in a day from Saints fans in America answering the questions I needed answered. The answers were from all over. From Seattle to Miami and Wisconsin to Oklahoma, I was surprised that Southampton fans are actually all over the country.
Some fans that I talked to were like me and had just become fans shortly after the World Cup. Others have been fans since birth. Adam Varn from Tampa had the same idea as me when picking Southampton. Adam likes underdogs and Southampton can be considered just that. He understands that sometimes, building for the future means giving up some top players.
For some, it was a generational thing. One of the people I talked to was Rachel Sparks from Seattle. Rachel's family was from Eastleigh and she grew up hearing stories of great Southampton matches from her father. Rachel's choice to become a Southampton fan was the only option, and she didn't want it any other way.
Others, like Emmy Droege, were drawn in with the "Southampton Way" documentary on NBC. The documentary highlighted Southampton's recent success and rise to the Premier League through their youth system and strong front office. Emmy also mentioned that Gareth Bale being a Southampton product was a big positive in her choice to support Saints.
Some just fell in love with Southampton's free-flowing playstyle and talented players, whether that was my case of watching YouTube videos with current and incoming players like Graziano Pelle or Jay Rodriguez, or in the case of older supporters who got to watch Matt Le Tissier, James Beattie and Claus Lundekvam. Whether you agree or not, watching Southampton play is far and beyond more exciting than watching a boring Louis Van Gaal side.
The rest of the fans I spoke with shared the same sentiment. Americans love the underdogs, the teams that come up from nothing to win titles and challenge the big boys in each sport, and that is exactly what Southampton has done and continues to do.
Now, being so far away from the action, how do these fans go about watching their favorite team?
From what I've heard, it is actually easier to watch the Premier League in the USA than in England. NBC Sports shows a televised game in each time slot, while USA Network shows a game a week along with NBC showing one game on their flagship station on Sundays usually. Then, NBC sets itself from the pack by streaming every single Premier League game on their website. Southampton, unless they are playing an early or late game, have to be playing a "big club" to find themselves on TV, which is why most fans, like myself, spend their Saturday mornings in front of a computer screen.
America is a massive country with multiple time zones. Here on the east coast, we are 5 hours behind Southampton and England as a whole. All the way on the west coast, they are 8 hours behind, which makes for a tough viewing experience.
A typical 3pm start in the Premier League is an easy watch for me, it's 10am, which is a perfect way to start a morning. So NBC certainly makes watching games easy, whether it's on TV or on your computer screens.
So it is easy to watch, now how many fans here are actually able to watch?
As I go through college, I work retail at a sporting goods store which makes it hard for me to watch every week because I usually open the store. Luckily, there are other soccer fans at my work, so we usually turn on the game on TV and watch. However, with Southampton not usually being on TV, I'm usually following on my phone, but definitely am able to keep up with every game.
Others that I talked to expressed the same. NBC has made it incredibly easy to follow Southampton and the Premier League through streaming and other coverage. Guys like Chris Sedenka and Adam Varn that I talked to both watch every week and during FA Cup and Capital One Cup fixtures, they usually will try and find a stream of some sorts.
The FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League are a tough find on TV. We have BeIN Sports and FOX Sports that are the leaders for that coverage, but usually only have one to two games a week, which leaves everyone else to find a stream.
Being in America, Southampton isn't mine or any others "hometown" teams or the teams that they can go support on a weekly basis. Those teams are in MLS or NASL, which is America's second division. Teams like Orlando City, Seattle Sounders, Philadelphia Union and the Tampa Bay Rowdies all came up when I asked other fans who they supported in America.
I asked folks because I wanted to know if anything from their American team resembles Southampton. I know with Orlando City, they resemble Southampton because they've come up from the USL, which is America's third division, all the way to MLS through a strong youth system and front office. Orlando City also played the second most U-23 players in MLS last season, which correlates with Southampton's belief of giving their youth a chance.
Others, like Seattle Sounders, resemble Southampton just by their green kits.
One big difference some said, was how fans supported their teams. Most English fans, like Southampton, use a choir-like singing style to support. Here in America, fans use drums, smoke, flags, vuvuzelas and anything else they can get their hands on to enhance the support. They sing songs, too, but with a couple of extra props..
I'll hand it to English fans, most chants and songs seem to just be memorized. They don't need cue cards or song sheets, but after years of singing, most songs are memorized. A lot of songs use the same tunes and melodies as everyone else, but the words within the songs and chants are where the originality comes to fruition.
Southampton is far more popular than I ever imagined when I first chose to join on. They've grown a lot over the past two years, even. I got to experience a few Europa League matches and even enjoyed the heartbreak it caused when we went out of the competition. Southampton is a family, and all of the Americans I've talked to throughout this experience have all felt welcomed. I wouldn't ever redo my decision to become a Saint and neither would they.
In my opinion, Southampton is the most attractive club for any prospective American looking for a club to support in England. They've got everything a person could want. The drama, the underdog mindset and a great play style. If you're looking for a club that is expected to win titles and trophies each year, maybe Southampton isn't for you. But if you're looking for a club that can defy all odds, keep supporters on their feet and slay a few bullies every now and then, Southampton is a match made in heaven for any American.
*A quick thank you to all who helped me write this: Jay Sorgi, Nick, Emmy Droege, Adam Varn, Daniel Bailey, Rachel Sparks, Leonardo Garcia and Chris Sedenka.*