Aztex Fans Express Their Pain

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 | View Comments

What was rumor is now fact; the Austin Aztex are no more, having been uprooted from Texas and moved to Florida to continue life as Orlando City Soccer Club. Phil Rawlins is the man responsible, and while he's saying all the right things about bringing professional soccer to Orlando, it's impossible to ignore the broken hearts he left behind in Austin.

And make no mistake, these are broken, bitter hearts. In my response to the "What is a club" posts by Robert Jonas here and Tom Dunmore at Pitch Invasion, I discussed how the American sports fan has built up a cynical attitude towards franchise relocation. We don't exactly expect it, but neither can we be overly shocked when it happens. Still, in the world of lower division professional soccer in the United States, while the chances a team will go under is staggeringly high, relocation is mostly unheard of; for soccer fans in places like Austin, they give their loyalty while fully recognizing the risk of failure, but rarely imagining they could have their team stolen away.

Especially not after only two years, and not after the owner of the team made promises about building something in the city. Aztex fans, people suddenly without a team, are pissed, distraught, destroyed, and disgusted.

From the blog The Aztexan, which currently features the title image of this post as its splash page:

Like with all investments, we hoped they would pay off someday. We hoped we’d see our boys go on to bigger teams, like Eddie did. I saw him, we could say. I saw him play at House Park, 12th and Lamar, year before last. By the way, there’s another game next Saturday, you should come, you never know which player will be big, we have this amazing rookie this year, he’s on fire, check it out.

But our investment, it’s gone now. We put in, and like I said, we had a lot of fun doing it. But that part where we thought we were building something, where we’d have a return on that investment someday, something for our city, for our friends, for our kids, for the sport we love, that part is gone.

No, it’s worse than gone. It’s a debt, now. Where before we had pride in the team and talked it up, now it’s an embarrassment, a shame. We’re suckers now, chumps. All the people who heard our pitch for the team and thought, either openly or themselves, “whatever, soccer’s stupid, nobody likes soccer, that will never last,” — god I hate those people — they were right. They were right! You made those hateful, ignorant bastards right!

The collateral damage of Rawlins' betrayal is those casual or pre-soccer fans who now have little reason to buy into the sport.  The Aztex move, just as it would be with any team in any city, not only leaves its most passionate fans without their team, it reinforces doubts about professional soccer.  Austin may have another team someday, and should by all rights; but will it be less successful, or turn fewer people into fans than it should because of the scars created by the Aztex?

Chantico's Army was the supporters group for the Aztex.  In two years they built a strong group of passionate individuals who did what supporters groups are supposed to do; stand, drum, sing, and get behind their club no matter the situation.  From the group's Twitter account comes images conveying their feelings in light of the Aztex departure.

The Aztex barely had a history, but that didn't make them any less important to their fans than older clubs are to theirs.  Age had no bearing in how much they cared.  Scanning the archives of the aforementioned The Aztexan, I came across the site's first ever post from January of 2008:

Sure the main team won't start until 2009, and sure it might fall apart like previous soccer attempts in Austin (of which I know little more than what I read this weekend on the BigSoccer forum), and sure it might get stuck in a crappy stadium and be doomed by terrible attendance and totally overshadowed by the all-encompassing Longhorn Football Machine.

But I don't care! Because it could also be great! I'm excited! I want it to succeed! Where do I buy my season tickets?? Woo-hoo!!

That kind of excitement, over a team set to play on a high school field with gridiron lines and made up of players none of them had ever heard of is what gives the sport of soccer a chance in the US. The anger felt yesterday as it was confirmed the team was gone is what will slow the growth.

I'm thankful then, for our friend Dan of the Free Beer Movement. Based in Austin himself, Dan is using his heartbreak over the Aztex as a way to steel his resolve to continue spreading the word on the sport.

If there's one silver lining to this whole debacle it's that it makes what we do here at the Free Beer Movement all the more important. Do I consider the failure of the Aztex and indictment of our efforts here in Austin? Certainly not, but it re-enforces the idea that if we're not careful and out there constantly fighting for this sport that we all love and want to see grow in our backyards then other fans may suffer the same fate as we have.

This frailty of American soccer makes it certain that if you truly love soccer and are living in the United States YOU HAVE AN ABSOLUTELY OBLIGATION TO SUPPORT IT IN ANY FORM, ANYWHERE. If you're in a city that sports a professional franchise, a semi-pro team, or even a college squad what's you excuse, as a soccer fan in America for not supporting the game that is LIVE and LOCAL?

Buy some tickets. Drag a few friends. Make it an event. And why not follow the "Free Beer Movement philosophy" while you're at it?

As long as clubs, particularly in the second and third divisions of American soccer, are "frail" as Dan correctly labels them, the sport will have trouble gaining a foothold as a truly national passion on a local level. There are millions of soccer fans, with the potential for millions more, in the United States; while some of them will never deign to give the American game one second of their time, there are plenty of others ready and willing to support a club that represents them and their city. Building wide support takes time, and the way American soccer operates, very few places get even a fraction of the necessary amount.

There were business concerns involved in this move, and perhaps it's better that the team relocated rather than folded (only just, if it at all). That doesn't make it any less of a tragedy for the fans left behind.
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