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Our City: Should MLS Have Club Historians?

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Adding a club historian to preserve and interpret a club’s legacy could go a long way in building Orlando City and other MLS clubs’ local, national, and global footprint.

MLS: D.C. United at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Our City is a weekly column devoted to the culture of Orlando City and Major League Soccer

This past Thursday, MLS writer Pablo Maurer tweeted out his opinion that each club in the league should employ a staff historian in an effort to preserve the league’s history. As someone with both a deep passion for Orlando City and as a trained degree-holding, working professional historian, I, of course, retweeted these sentiments along with a tongue-in-cheek hope that should Orlando City ever go looking for a historian, I’d always be willing to take the call.

More than just an opportune time to find some more work, Mauer’s thoughts and the resulting conversation brought up a number of crucial elements of both MLS soccer culture and the job tasked to historians. Maurer is exactly right in his sentiments that MLS clubs need to work hard to preserve their legacies. I would argue more so in soccer than any other sport in the United States.

Mauer’s follow-up tweet rightly acknowledged that fans, specifically those organized under the waving banners and smoke of supporters’ groups play a significant role in preserving club histories and legacies. While I wholeheartedly agree, I also see a critical difference between the preservation of history from a supporter perspective and the job of a historian.

The role of a historian isn’t just to preserve history but to interpret it. To move beyond simply telling the story of a player, a club, or a league, but putting it into context. That could be a community, national, or general historical context. To move simply beyond the perceived facts of history to infer their greater connotation.

Orlando City, like most sports franchises, looks to play a larger role in the community beyond the events surrounding game day. Every proposal from a hopeful MLS expansion bid contains ambitious plans for community involvement. From economic benefits, community outreach, and the intangible elements of sports have on a city, there are a variety of ways in which clubs hope to incorporate themselves into the places they play.

Orlando City’s constant engagement with Central Florida is just as important as the product the team produces on the field. Add to that events like those surrounding the Pulse shooting, the addition of a National Women’s Soccer League team, and the new Parramore Farmer’s Market as the larger picture of what Orlando City’s vision for the club brings into focus.

As historians, our role is to interrogate and critically engage those links between sport and society. To understand those links, their success rate, and their effect on multiple groups of fans and community members alike in the long-term. Many of us hold our own personal Orlando City narratives close to our hearts: our first games — our best memories, and our favorite tidbits of trivia — and this is all so important. Having a club historian, someone to both collect and interpret all of these personal histories of players, staff, and supporters into an eternal archive to survive long after we’ve attended our last game, is monumentally important.

By hiring a club historian, you bring with them their professional links to academic institutions, colleagues, and relationships with area archives and museums. You hire a visionary skilled in putting together archives, oral histories, lectures, and written narratives that synthesize a vast range of experiences.

While Maurer’s call for club historians is a dream job for me, I know most will say it is cost prohibitive. I understand that the job of historians often falls to a PR intern and a handful of dedicated supporters. I’d imagine the hiring paperwork for a historian would be a challenging thing to move through a club’s financial office. That said, if anyone from Orlando City’s front office is reading this, my resume is available upon request.

What do you think of the idea of Major League Soccer clubs employing club historians?