It’s usually pretty easy to spot them at Philadelphia Union home games.
The crowd will be a sea of Union blue broken up by the occasional white jersey and the cluster of opposing team supporters adjacent to the River End. But mixed in at various levels are fans sporting jerseys that have little or nothing to do with the two teams playing that day.
What makes a fan decide to show up to Subaru Park and show their support for Arsenal, Manchester United, Messi, or Christian Pulisic rather than supporting the Union? After all, you rarely see people at Philadelphia Eagles games randomly rocking a Nittany Lions jersey.
This approach to jersey selection falls more in line with people’s approach to concert tees than sports jerseys. Specifically, the universal rule that you never wear a shirt to a concert for the band you’re going to see. AKA the “don’t be that guy” rule.
Now, like all universal rules, this one is made to be broken. I was at an Ace Frehley concert last year and there was a remarkable range of KISS shirts on display. But other concert attendees felt like displaying their love for Blue Oyster Cult, Van Halen and Cheap Trick instead.
This philosophy seems to apply for certain fans on Union game days as well. Particularly the more socially minded fans.
If someone decides to wear the jersey of a big Premier League club to the match, it can let people know where their real soccer interests lie. It projects a sense of aloofness. It can establish them as, what some people might call, a “Eurosnob.”
A similar type of fan may decide to wear the jersey of a smaller European club in the hopes of finding like-minded fans or establishing some indie soccer cred. Much like how someone might wear a shirt for some obscure indie band when going to a concert at World Cafe Live.
Alternate jerseys are also an opportunity to establish some real indie cred by representing an obscure or historical team. For example, if anyone were to wear a Philadelphia Atoms jersey to a match, they would be showered with attention and questions like, “where did you get that” and “how has that not fallen apart by now?”
Sometimes these alternate jersey selections are made to help demonstrate that a person is a fan of local soccer or one of the Union’s related teams. That’s why a Philadelphia Lone Star or a Reading United jersey would seem less out of place at a Union match.
And all of these issues with jersey consistency are multiplied when attending lower level soccer matches. Even at the USL Championship level, team merch is less available for purchase. Because of that, many more fans will go with an alternate selection for their jerseys.
Going off of personal experience, there could be almost as many fans at Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Bethlehem matches wearing unrelated jerseys as there were wearing shirts or jerseys for the teams.
Of course, much of this is just idle speculation. Sometimes a jersey is just a jersey. The Philadelphia Union have only been around for a relatively short period of time, so some people would still have stronger connections to other teams that they’ve supported for longer.
No matter how successful and established the Union become, there will still be somebody who turns up to the matches wearing a Ronaldo jersey.