My Orlando City Story
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
With the news today that we are without MLS until at least May, I decided to take a slightly different and more personal tact for this piece. I want to tell you my story. Don't worry I'm not going to babble on about my deepest darkest secrets. I want to tell you the story of how I, an Englishman, became a follower of Orlando City Soccer Club. I really have to go back to the summer of 2008, to give the story real context. A few years before even the USL days. I made my first solo trip abroad. I had landed myself a place on the famed Disney College Program. Fresh faced and wide eyed, I stepped off the plane at Orlando International Airport. The log immigration line, and the grilling I received from CBP did not deter me. I was ready to start my American adventure. And I fell in love with the place, the city of Orlando took a place in my heart that no other city I have lived in has. I was born and raised in Nottingham, and I will always love my home city. But Orlando truly is my home away from home. And it always has been since I walked out of that airport into the sweltering humidity just as 3 huge bolts of lightning cracked across the afternoon sky. It was beautiful. I loved it so much, I returned for a second program the following year and for a stint with Disney Cruise Line the year after that. It's at this point my Orlando City story begins to take shape.
The most amazing thing about this club is undoubtedly it's fanatical supporter base.
July 2011, I was about to begin my third stint with the Walt Disney Company. I was sat in my room at Disney's All-Star Movies Resort when a friend of mine asks me if I want to go to the Orlando City game. I thought 'sure, why not? Could be fun'. I had a bit of a strained relationship with football at that time. My hometown team, Nottingham Forest, had just lost out in the play-offs to Brendan Rodger's Swansea City. I wasn't exactly in love with the sport at that moment, but we went down anyway. I figured, if nothing else there will be beer there. I witnessed an entertaining 0-0 draw. I was surprised to see a few names I recognised on the team sheet like Lewis Neal who I knew from his days at Stoke City, and Luke Boden who I had seen play for Sheffield Wednesday before. The likes of Kevin Molino and Miguel Gallardo also featured in that game. I was impressed, and had a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
My first game was in July of 2011, a 0-0 draw with the Dayton Dutch Lions. There were 4 red cards in that game.
Now, MLS isn't hard to follow in the UK these days. It gets generous coverage across a few different networks. USL does not. It's almost unheard of over here. As a result my fandom wained somewhat following on from my first live game experience. That being said I kept a watchful eye on results. I wasn't hooked yet. That moment came in September of 2016. After a 4-1 loss. Yep. I fell in love with a club that had just been spanked 4-1 on its own patch. It was everything that drew me in that day. I had been following the team enough to know who was who, and what was what. Obviously Kaka needed no introduction, I had been a fan of the Brazilian since his days at AC Milan. I had a shirt with his name on, which I bought after watching him completely destroy Celtic in a Champions League game. The guy is a legend, and I was so happy I got to see him play live. It wasn't anything in particular on the pitch that captured my soul, I mean if anything events on the pitch were more likely to put me off...
My second game was a more sobering experience than my first, a 4-1 reversal at home to Columbus Crew.
As I say the thing that struck me the most wasn't Kaka, or the football itself. It was the supporters, who were so amazingly welcoming and who created such an incredible atmosphere. They made me feel a part of something. Dennis Bergkamp once said 'When you start supporting a football club, you don't support it because of the trophies, or a player, or history, you support it because you found yourself somewhere there; found a place where you belong'. And I genuinely believe that's what happened to me that day. I felt a sense of kinship with the club and its supporters. Like I could become a part of something much bigger. I returned home from that trip, and came across the Orlando City UK supporters club. Possibly one of the best decisions I've ever made. There are now a group of us, a sort of brotherhood that stays awake until 3 or 4 in the morning to see Orlando City play. Our team. We might not be natives of the area, but this club has made all of us feel as though we are. And you can't put a price on that.
My son pre-game, before the match at home to LAFC last season. He was only 7 months old but I still couldn't wait to take him.
I've since been fortunate enough to make several trips to Exploria Stadium to see both the Pride and City. It's become a yearly rite of passage, a place that feels like home just as much as the City Ground does. A place I've been pilgrimaging to since I was a young boy. It's even become something of a family affair for me now, my son was able to experience his first game last season. Sure he fell asleep, before half time and absolutely will not remember it. But I will, already that day has become a treasured memory. This is the sort of thing that makes a team more than a team to you. It becomes a part of the very fibre of your being. And I for one cannot wait to have it back in my life.
Let me know your story, and how you came to fall in love with this amazing club!