By Trevor Klaus
Sport. The everlasting pursuit of who is best. Sport is certainly something that brings people together, and at times can tear people and families apart if allegiances are split. While sports certainly exist everywhere, there are definitely differences in sporting preferences from country to country. Any two countries could be totally separate sporting wise, while otherwise their cultures are quite similar. Scotland and the United States are a perfect example of this.
Let us begin by talking about the significantly older of the two countries, Scotland. Scotland is very much similar to the rest of Europe when it comes to its preferences in sport. Surprise, surprise, the most popular sport in Scotland is association football, followed by rugby. The sporting culture here over the years has allowed for these sports to thrive.
What exactly is this culture I speak of? Well, this is the culture of community and sporting integrity. The community aspect relates to how these clubs are run. For most professional clubs in Scotland in either sport, youth teams that are part of the club are standard, as teams from all across Scotland look to bring young talent through their ranks. In some cases, such as that of current Celtic full-back Kieran Tierney, a senior player has been with the club for more than 10 years by the time he or she is 18. This concept of local youth staying local is foreign in the United States, due to the draft system used by every major stick and ball sport in the United States. The use of homegrown players in the senior teams for these soccer and rugby clubs in Scotland create a greater bond between the community and the club.
This to me is in part why the fan culture is more intense generally throughout Scotland and the rest of Europe in comparison to the United States. This sense of our kid representing our team leads to more fan involvement in the community in and around the matches. It also means that the teams themselves are to varying levels, reflections of the communities themselves. Going back to Celtic, that club has often been a shining light for Irish Catholics in Scotland, while their eternally hated Glasgow rivals Rangers, with whom they contest the Old Firm Derby, have often been the community beacon for British protestants. Their community identity was so important to each club for so long, that neither would intentionally sign a player of the faith the other club de-facto represented. There is a similar divide, although less present, between Edinburgh football clubs Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian.
When it comes to intense loyalties and fan division between clubs, the only American sports that resemble Scotland in any way are the collegiate sports in America. Although the colleges in the United States do not necessarily develop their own players prior to them arriving at college, the loyalties and intensity of them are very similar, despite the lacking of the religious division. Take my situation for example, as a Michigan State student. Despite only being a student at the university for the last three years, I was essentially born and bred to be a Spartan from birth. Over my dead body would I ever wear gear and support the athletics from the University of Michigan or Notre Dame, despite there not really being any religious or political reason preventing me from doing so (although each’s egregiously entitled and whiny fan bases despite limited success are more than enough for me).
The rest of the United States sports landscape bears even less resemblance to Scotland for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps the most prominent one calls back to whole idea of sporting culture. Instead of the sporting culture in the United States being based on the ideas of community and integrity, it focuses, for better or worse, on enfranchisement and parity. Staying just within soccer, compare the MLS to the Scottish Premiership. The Scottish Premiership utilizes a promotion and relegation system, something I have talked about previously. What this system does is allow for teams to rise and fall from the big leagues. The prime example of this in Scotland would be when Rangers went bankrupt in 2012 and were relegated to the 4th tier of Scottish football as a result, and their subsequent rise back up through the league system.
The way a similar situation in the MLS was handled went entirely different. While promotion and relegation does not exist, a consistently struggling (on and off the pitch) Chivas USA was folded in 2014 by the league, as the league would later come out with plans to replace the side with current MLS debutantes Los Angeles FC. This was done to ensure the profit margins of the other owners who bought into the league would remain.
Moving away from soccer, there are some more obvious differences in the sporting culture of America from Scotland. The most blatant of which has to do with the fact that soccer is not remotely close to being the most popular sport in the United States, trailing American football, basketball, and baseball by quite some distance. It is also telling that sponsor advertisements on the kits are just now becoming a thing in sports over here (the NBA most notably started allowing this in the 2016-17 season), with some leagues still holding out on this. This is likely due to the nature of the franchise being more profitable and a more secure investment than that of the club setup.
Another prominent item of professional American sports is a distinct lack of fan culture throughout the major sports. While there are certainly some exceptions to this (the Green Bay Packers come to mind), the atmosphere at a sporting event in the United States severely lacks in comparison to Scotland. The one sport where I could say it is at least similar to that of Scotland would in fact be soccer, the sport Scotland loves most. Clubs in the United States, regardless of whether or not they are MLS, such as Portland Timbers, FC Cincinnati, and Detroit City have been known to create their own unique atmosphere in the soccer universe.
While there are certainly differences in the Scottish and American sporting landscapes, there are still many similarities as well. It is the cultures of each country that have led to the differences in the sporting culture. The differences are for better or for worse, and it will be interesting to see the paths each country takes in the coming years.