What’s the Story?

The recent Supporters’ Group town hall with Gerard Nijkamp and Jaap Stam was certainly … interesting. It’s rare that fans get a direct line to management, and fans didn’t waste the opportunity. (Well, some fans wasted the opportunity. Let us never ask anyone about “total football” ever again.) No matter how you felt about Stam’s and Nijkamp’s (non-)answers, you can’t deny that fans weren’t shy about asking the Question: What the fuck is going on?

Bigger picture, this question seems to drive a lot of the discord among the fanbase. Some fairly heated discussions have been had (mostly online) recently about what to do about Nijkamp, Stam, Berding, and anyone else associated with what has, thus far, been the worst rollout of a new team since Ted Cruz announced Carly Fiorina as his running mate. These arguments reflect fundamental disagreements not only about the direction of the team, but also about basic facts.

For example, there is a sustained belief among portions of the fanbase that all of our woes can be traced back to the fact that Jeff Berding personally selected every player on the 2019 team. Implicitly, this means presumably that Berding paying too much for Nick Hagglund forced Nijkamp to throw $600,000 at Maikel van der Werff and more than $1 million at Kamohelo Mokotjo. This belief cannot be shaken among those who hold it, and anyone who suggests that Berding more likely relied on the soccer people then-employed by the team (Koch, Sassano, etc.), or that we’ve reached the point where Nijkamp is responsible for his own mistakes, is accused of being Jeff’s mouthpiece.

Let me be perfectly clear: I am not a Jeff Berding mouthpiece. I have never met Jeff Berding, and I have never spoken to Jeff Berding. (But then, you tell yourself, that’s what a mouthpiece would say, isn’t it?)

Recently, BBC documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis released his six-part series “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” The series covers a number of wide-ranging topics in an attempt to tell a story about, among other things, how we develop conspiracy theories. In interviews, Curtis has explained that he believes that the elites in Western countries stopped telling stories that unite people, to help them make sense of the world and buy into a collective direction. Instead, elites turned to technocratic management, and relied on a kind of hypernormalcy (explored more directly in Curtis’s prior film, “HyperNormalisation”). The grand shared stories were then replaced by individualism – if you make the world, all you need to do to change the world is to change yourself.

But then, catastrophes happen. In Curtis’s words, after catastrophes:

“[P]eople feel very much on their own, and they start to search for an explanation for why they are feeling like that. Because those in power 60 or 70 years before had given up on telling big stories about what this was all for, the people found themselves without any stories, without any explanations. So in the vacuum, conspiracies rush in.” 

QAnon, Pizzagate, Russiagate, etc., etc. Each of these contains enough truth to grab a handhold – yes, much of the world is run by a closed network of elites; yes, Jeffrey Epstein existed; yes, Donald Trump’s team did meet with Russians and solicit their help with the election – and too many people have used that handhold to drop themselves into a pit of derangement. No, Hillary Clinton does not sacrifice children (probably, I guess I can’t prove it). No, Russia did not hack the 2016 election results (which means you actually have to confront what factors led to Trump’s victory – much scarier than any conspiracy). And when these stories lead to results that the elites find unacceptable – Brexit, Trump, January 6 – the elites don’t respond by telling a more compelling story. They respond with dismissal and disdain.

So, what story has FC given its fanbase? Not much of one. One transparently fluffy documentary that pretends history ended after the 3-0 win over Portland in 2019. One coach responding to criticism in 2020 – amidst an objectively horrible run of results and form – that it was driven by people who “haven’t seen the game, that don’t know a lot about soccer.” And a lot of repetition of the word “progress” following games where the team was outshot 26-13. 

So what are fans to do? I see only three options:

  1. Try to figure out what is wrong.
  2. Continue supporting, attending matches, and spending money without asking any questions.
  3. Stop following the team.

Anyone who cares is going to choose that first option. And in the absence of any compelling narrative from the team, fans will supply their own.

In fairness, Nijkamp did make an attempt to spin a narrative after the 2019 season. He provided selections from a PowerPoint presentation to Jeff Rueter of The Athletic, in which he detailed his long-term plan for the team. For whatever reason, after a dismal season and six games into another, we don’t seem to hear much about that plan anymore. Did they scrap it?

I’m not saying that Nijkamp and Stam need to give me a call or jump into The Pride’s discord and explain themselves. I do think that they could be less secretive about information around the team and be more forthcoming to our local media, who I am sure would be happy to share with the rest of us. But coming from that town hall, my big takeaway was Nijkamp and Stam were simply unwilling to answer basic questions like whether the players on the roster are any good and when will it finally not be “too early” to make any judgments on management’s performance.

Of course, FC would surely prefer that its wins tell the story, and maybe that changes tonight. If not, then I think FC needs to give fans a story to believe in before they decide there’s nothing to believe in at all.