The Vital Role Supporters Groups Play In The Orlando Soccer Culture
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
I wanted to take a slightly different tact for this post, as I feel this is a subject that isn't highlighted enough. This is an ode to what makes Orlando City SC as a whole (men and women) so great. The supporters. Groups like the Black Swans Drinking Club, the Iron Lion Firm and the Ruckus, generate an incredible atmosphere at Exploria Stadium. Be it for City or the Pride, our supporters clubs are second to none. They've become a very important piece of the woven tapestry that is Orlando City Soccer Club. As an Englishman, it's something that never fails to impress me. And it is something that needs to be cherished in Orlando, and allowed to grow. In many ways it makes us unique. Not every club in the world has the same level of fanatical support we enjoy in Orlando. In fact a great many don't. As many of you will undoubtedly know from watching games in the EPL and EFL that the vast majority of stadiums in the UK are required to be all seater. This is something that I believe has been massively detrimental to the atmosphere at a lot of Premier League and Football League stadiums. We used to have the best and most intimidating atmosphere's in this country. And it all changed following the events of the 15th April of 1989, the date of the single biggest football stadium diaster in this countries' history. My Nottingham Forest took on Liverpool in an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough in Sheffield. 96 Liverpool fans never returned home that day. Following that disaster, the Taylor Report in 1990 required that all British football stadiums become all seater. The classic English terrace was gone (at least for the top two tiers of the league). English stadiums have become much quieter, and sadly English football has lost some of its identity. Clubs are currently lobbying for safe standing, and are making concerted effort to improve the atmosphere in stadiums.
This is why it is important to celebrate what we do in Orlando. Whilst I don't believe we would ever take it for granted, though sometimes I believe the club do, we all need to continue to celebrate what makes this club such a special one. Supporters groups like the Black Swans Drinking Club, the Iron Lion Firm and the Ruckus don't get enough credit for what they do. I also want to include Orlando City UK in that group. The work Taylor has done to promote the club's international fan base is incredible, and support for the club in my home country continues to grow.
It's no secret that good fortunes for both City and the Pride haven't been plentiful. Home form has been a particularly big issue for both teams, and in spite of that the Wall continues to do its job. It would be so easy to lose interest, but they stick by the club through thick and thin. Every club in MLS and the NWSL has its core groups of supporters, but there is something innate and intuitive about the culture that has developed on the Wall. The supporters section is a very part of the lifeblood of this club, and will ensure enthusiasm and love for Orlando City SC and the Pride continues to grow in central Florida. Without the continued work and creativity of the supporters groups, not only would long term support for the team suffer, but the players would feel that absence of support as well.
The display unfolded on Saturday at the RSL game, sent a clear message to the club's ownership. They're not f****** leaving. The supporters are Orlando City. Players, managers and owners will come and go, but we are the one constant. The supporters groups are the face of that, and this is something that should be celebrated. Supporting a team is a rite of passage, it's a cultural phenomenon like no other. It's also an integral part of growing the beautiful game in a country where soccer is not the national sport. Major League Soccer is still a comparatively new competition, when you think of some of the big European leagues having been around for 100+ years. The same can be said for the NWSL, although that league does face it's own unique challenges, the principles in terms of supporter growth are the same. In the UK, traditionally fathers and mothers take their sons and daughters to watch their teams play, and that's how a club embeds itself into the very fabric of its community. My great grandfather took my grandfather to watch Forest, who in turn took my father, who then took me. When my son is old enough he will go as well. It's a family tradition. Now, Orlando is still a new club, and has only been around for a decade. Whereas clubs in England like Forest have existed since the 1860s. There simply hasn't been enough time to establish this sort of generational trickle down effect. We are starting to see it begin to take shape, and that is so crucial to the growth of not only Orlando City SC but to the sport of soccer in the US as a whole.
Ultimately, I believe the level of fanticism and support for soccer in MLS will lead to it becoming a top tier league. That could be in 10 years, or it could be in 50. The NWSL is already the pinnacle of the women's game, but has still had issues with attendances. It takes time to grow. And we as fans are central to that. Without the fans football is nothing, supporter bases cannot be built overnight. This is why I don't pay much heed to the supporter groups in Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale. They might bang on about huge crowds, blah, blah, blah. But it's not authentic. It hasn't been allowed to grow over time, through all the trials and tribulations. I've seen relegations, promotions and play off heartbreak following both of my teams. It becomes a part of you, the very fibre of your being. To a certain extent it shapes who you are as a person. You can't just buy a team, chuck a load of money at it, rent a nice NFL stadium (or a shack in Fort Lauderdale's case) and say 'we are a huge club, our attendance was more than Real Madrid's this week'. It's fake, it's plastic. And it will start to crack once the success eventually dies out. Incidentally, this is why I think the Thorns have been so successful in maintaining high attendances in the NWSL. A huge majority of that particular supporter base, follow the Portland Timbers as well. They have a love of soccer, and have seen the highs and lows following that team since their inception. It's become a part of day to day life for them. You have to go through the s*** to make the good times so much more rewarding and so much more tangible. Otherwise it means nothing. Nottingham Forest spent years in the doldrums before becoming back to back European Cup (Champions League) winners. Manchester United were a lower league team for years.
I believe what we have been through in Orlando, will benefit us so much as a supporters base, when we do achieve success. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we should be happy with failure. Of course we shouldn't, I'm just saying it will make the success taste so much sweeter. Look at the Astros in 2017, finally taking the world series. The outpouring of emotions after that series was incredible to see, even for someone who hasn't got a scooby clue about baseball aside from thinking Moneyball was a great movie. The longer you go without success, the sweeter it will taste when it arrives.
The Wall plays a huge role on the field for Orlando City SC.
*Photo credit myself☺️
Whilst the work of the Orlando City supporters groups undoubtedly has a huge role to play off the field of play, it also has an equally important one on it. In this new era under Oscar Pareja's leadership, our home form is going to be key. And whilst Oscar and Luiz Muzzi will continue to work to ensure the team has the right components on the field to make Exploria Stadium a fortress there is also a battle to be had in the stands. The supporters are a 12th Man for the team, and you could see that on Saturday. Particularly during the second 45. The Lions were desperately searching for a goal to break the deadlock, and the Wall did not let up. They were trying to suck the ball in, and whilst it wasn't to be on Saturday there will be plenty of occasions this season when that fanatical level of support makes the difference. And success on the field will only aid the continued growth of the game off it.