Confessions of a Middle Aged Soccer Supporter

Photo by Joe Craven

My passion for sports developed in Cleveland, Ohio.

Now, before you bring out the jokes about how our sports teams are an embarrassment (especially my beloved Browns), there is one thing no one can ever say about fans like me: We don’t wear our passions for the game on our sleeve. In fact, we have a suit and it comes out anytime our teams come to the field to represent our city, our history, and the good people of Cleveland. Indians, Browns, and Cavs get the full support through good times, through bad, and even during some of the ugly days. I’m proud of that heritage and wouldn’t trade it for the world. In fact, it may be that passion that drew me to the world’s game of football.

I respect fans all over the world and the passion they show for their clubs and national teams. I love watching Copa90 and Kick TV clips of their supporters jumping up and down in unison singing songs, carrying banners, marching through the streets to the stadium, and carrying their passion for the entire match. I can relate to that kind of fandom! I can understand that kind of passion.

Back when the Cleveland Browns were good (and yes, they were good back in the day), towns as far as Mansfield, Ohio, would have banners in their town centers. People wore their gear with pride. Fans who watched in the stadium were the fortunate few, and the Dawg Pound—the end zone for the rabid fans of the bunch—was the most feared place for any visiting fans in old Municipal Stadium.

Football/Soccer fans are as intertwined with their teams as I was growing up with mine. Win and the week was a beautiful one; lose and your week felt like a never-ending funeral. The only luxury we didn’t have was the tie because there were no ties in pro-football. But how did a guy like me, an average American sports watcher catching all the pro and college games and investing my time following them, find myself a fan of world football? Two people: my daughter, Hannah… and Wayne Rooney.

Hannah played soccer from age 6- 11 before moving on to band. I don’t blame her for moving on from soccer, but the time I spent with her as she played (and the two years I coached her) was some of the best of my life. During that time, I learned about the Premier League. I didn’t know what it was, but other coaches told me to check it out. Before I turned on the TV and watched it, I read Bloody Confused by sports writer Chuck Culpepper. It told of a sports writer who tired of going through the same press troupe to all the big sporting events with the same old questions and the same old dog and pony show and decided to do something different: Learn about the Premiere League. He flew to the UK, selected a club (because they are clubs over there), and followed it. When I found out the long and rich history of the clubs and the sport, I was hooked, especially by the concept of promotion and relegation. The idea of a club having a poor year dropping to the next league down and the one who is doing well in said league moving up to the Premiere League blew my American mind away.

I watched a Manchester derby in which the town rivaled clubs City and United faced each other. City tied United in the match I watched when all of a sudden a cross in the box resulted in a Rooney bicycle kick. I haven’t seen such a kick since Pelé back in the day, and it got me off my feet. I hit the rewind button at least 10 times to my families dismay, and I loved Manchester United from that point forward.

But what made me a soccer supporter I blame solely on the Columbus Crew SC. For Christmas, I bought my daughter season tickets to the Crew. She was thrilled, and we attended almost every match. While we sat in the seating area where everyone was quiet, polite, and engaged in the action on the field there was the section in the north corner of the stadium that made the most noise—the Nordecke. They sang chants. They made noise. They made the stadium shake with the sound of the drums and horns and their feet. I WANTED TO BE PART OF THAT THRONG!  I wanted to try and create that feeling in our section. Yet no one ever sang along or made noise, so we moved our seats to the section right next door to the Nordecke.

During one match, Hannah and I walked over to the only Dippin’ Dots vendor on the mezzanine right underneath the main scoreboard. She noticed something odd, asked me, “Dad, is it normal for black smoke to come out of the scoreboard?” When I saw what happened, I knew it was nothing normal at all. The fire spread from the screen to the speakers. Thankfully the Columbus Fire Department put it out and made sure the sign was doused, but it left the match in question because there was no way to get the graphics and sound of the game out to the people.

Nordecke became the speakers for the game. We joined and for 90+ minutes we sang, chanted, made noise, and supported those players as they took the match against the Chicago Fire 3-0! Afterwards, the players thanked us for our work. I loved that connection between players and supporters. We gave our vocal encouragement to them to keep going when we knew they were gassed and tired.

Sadly, we didn’t make it a third season as season tickets became too expensive. In November 2015, I heard the former Cincinnati Saints club would move their team to Dayton and create a new version of an old indoor soccer brand: the Dayton Dynamo. I contacted them to see if there would be a supporters’ group for the club. I didn’t want to start one, but I wanted to be a part of it and see where I could lend a hand. Thankfully a college age kid started the process, and I met the kid at the first kit reveal for the club.

Ty West was so young when we first met I thought for sure he could be my son, but he had a passion for the game and wanted to make his passion real in Dayton. I had the same desire, and we hit it off. We worked to make things happen on the first match and first season for the club. Our season would be in a very large college football stadium in town that kept us pretty far from the crowd to hear us, but at least we were having a season. I wrote up most of the chants, and he had smoke bombs and flags made. We received a drum from a secret donor. More people joined, including one fan with a cranking air siren. We made mistakes along the way, and at times we found out some of our chants and actions displeased the crowd, but overall, it wasn’t a bad start for our group despite the club’s dismal season.

If I learned anything from that first year, it is how hard it was to run a supporters’ group. The work, dedication, effort, and how much you put yourself out in front of everyone to create the atmosphere and moment for each match is a daunting task, but one we do because of how much we love the game and want to grow the game in our city.

As I write, we’ve entered our second season and took our first road trip to one of the most respected soccer stories in the country: Detroit City FC. This club started from the ground up and grew the game to the point where they now have over 7,500 fans coming to a renovated high school football field improved by the supporters and fans themselves. Their passion is felt from the moment you walk through the gates until you arrive at your seats and realize your small band of supporters would face the entire Northern Guard supporters section in full voice. That match was a good one and a better result in the end than either one of the matches in our first season. The game ended in a 3-3 tie. We had so much fun chanting for our club while responding back and forth against the NGS in a R-rated chant! I knew I wanted what they had. I wanted the passion and the desire they experienced to happen in Dayton.

Right now, we’re gearing up to face the defending champions of the National Premiere Soccer League—AFC Cleveland. In an odd twist, I’m supporting the Dayton Dynamo against a club from where I grew up.

Whether we grow as a section or not remains to be seen, but we’re improving the experience in new ways. We started a YouTube page and ordered scarves and t-shirts. A brewery is even naming a beer after our club and our section. We’re reaching out to others in the community to see how we can grow who we are and the game in general.

It takes work, dedication, vision, and of course a passion to see things happen. If you told me ten years ago that I’d be some middle-aged man singing and drumming with guys half my age for a soccer club, I’d laugh at you. But the way I see it, I can see myself be a part of this until we fill our section forcing the club to add more seats. Though, it might mean we will need to experience growing pains like every supporters group in the nation. Yet, I’ve talked to reps from these same supporters’ sections, and they’ve been more than gracious to share their experiences, their thoughts, and their planning to help us grow into as strong a soccer culture as them.

Over the next few weeks and months, we’ll talk with some of these same leaders to learn what works and what fails. I also hope their stories might help other burgeoning groups. Being with these guys and sharing with their passion is worth all the bruises and frustrations we faced in our first year. Maybe in the future they’ll write about the exploits of the Gem City Squadron and how our early contributions created growth and eventually a love affair between the city of Dayton and its club, the Dayton Dynamo. One can only hope.

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