I often get asked why I care so much about the Revolution. People wonder how I became such a big fan of New England’s Major League Soccer team. It’s a fair and even expected question, as my passion is usually outwardly apparent. It’s rare that you’ll find me not wearing a hoodie, scarf, T-shirt or some other garment proudly displaying my allegiance to the Revs.
The question may not surprise me, but I think my answer is not necessarily the one that people are expecting.
Soccer was totally new to me when MLS opened shop in Foxborough. Growing up in a Boston family that loved sports, I was more than familiar with the “Big 4” teams: The Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics and Patriots. Outings to Fenway Park and the Garden were fairly common events. But I never would have considered myself a “hardcore” fan in the making when I first started attending Revolution games in 2001.
As I recall, most of the tickets I came across in the early 2000s were given to me by friends and family who had somehow acquired them without having any idea what a “New England Revolution” was. Apparently, they did not share my curiosity. Looking back, it’s fun to say I was attending games when Jay Heaps and Taylor Twellman were breaking into the league. But I honestly don’t remember much from those introductory games, and definitely didn’t realize that either of those players would go on to become important figures in franchise history.
Still, my curiosity deepened. Appreciation followed.
Having grown up playing baseball, I always had a special place in my heart for the double play that infielders had down to a science or a flash of individual skill like a diving catch or assist from the outfield. Eventually, I began recognizing not just the obvious flashes of individual soccer brilliance like Twellman with his diving headers and bicycle kick goals, but also the science and strategy of team play. Someone didn’t have to score goals to hold my attention anymore. It was becoming fun to watch Shalrie Joseph command the midfield and Matt Reis make save after save. I was starting to understand why this game, unknown to me for most of my life, had always been referred to as “the beautiful game.”
As I found myself watching more and more games I also found myself connecting with others who shared my new passion. I was hardly the first Revs fan in New England, and I was starting to recognize that there was a whole community of supporters. I was first invited to a tailgate hosted by a supporters group known as the Midnight Riders by a new friend, Brad, who had been talking up soccer at party in Fort Hill. I went to that Riders’ tailgate right out in front of the main gate at Gillette. There I saw Brad among hundreds of others who were all there for exactly the same reason that I was: We love this team. I watched that game from section 143 in the Fort with Brad and the rest of the Riders.
That was it. That was all it took. I knew I had found a new home.
The seasons came and went, but this new passion endured. So the did the relationships it fostered. Supporting the Revs stopped being just a thing that I did on weekends. It became a part of my life. These fellow fans became a second family. Along the way, I realized that I wanted to give back to this group. First, I volunteered the skills as a graphic designer and web developer that I had picked up in my “other” life. Not long after that, I was elected to the executive board of the Midnight Riders as the merchandise coordinator. A few short years after my initial involvement with the organization, I was elected president. I still hold that position to this day.
Over the years, I’ve been to Brad’s wedding… in addition to the weddings of six others friends I made through the Midnight Riders (with two more coming up in 2016). I have traveled the country to watch soccer with these friends. We’ve celebrated the successes and endured many, many heartbreaking losses that come with being a Revs supporter. We’ve done all these things together.
This is our sport. This is our team. Join us if you feel the same because we aren’t going anywhere.
Fran Harrington is the president of the Midnight Riders, a New England Revolution supporters group. Follow him @franharrington.