Going Back to the Place I Fell in Love (With Footy)
As I’m writing this first paragraph, I am absolutely buzzing. I’m going back to Cincinnati, the place I fell in love with football. I still think about hearing over 30,000+ plus roar as “Mitch Said No” against the Chicago Fire. The flairs, the sound, the love. I loved it. It’s what pushed me to want to grow the game in Alabama.
As I go to my first match since 2018, it’s going to be new. New stadium, new supporters groups, brand new squad, oh, and they’ve been winning. Admittedly, I’m anxious. Will it live up to what I remember? Does the stadium bring the same atmosphere? I don’t know, but I’m so excited to document it all.
To see my full experience, check out my vlog down below:
Look, it may have been a Wednesday in the Queen City but it was an amazing pre-match experience. There were easily over 100 people at both the Die Innenstadt and The Pride bars, EACH. On a Wednesday! The set up was awesome. The March to the Stadium took us through neighborhoods, by restaurants, all the way to Cincinnati Music Hall.
From there, there was a small little meet up with all the supporters groups as they all converged upon the stadium on the hill, TQL Stadium.
Everything you have heard about TQL Stadium? It’s better. The lights, the sounds, the views, the atmosphere, the intimacy, everything. It’s just better. I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time I was there. Even when FC Cincinnati blew a 3-0 lead, I couldn’t stop smiling.
Seeing a club grow from Day 1 to become that? It was amazing. I went to countless matches at Nippert Stadium, standing in the Bailey with over 15,000+ other fans (on a bad day). I don’t know what the total attendance was. If it was said, it was too loud to hear. The fans are just as passionate as they were Year 1 of USL, Year 1 of MLS, and even on a Wednesday night.
I cannot get over the sound, the noise, the non-stop for 90’+. It was amazing. The roar of the crowd, the booing of the refs, everything was so unified.
As fans, it all felt the same. New stadium didn’t mean that the fans changed. Funny enough, there were so many people I knew and recognized from the USL Days. People I had not seen in years, but remembered so vividly because of the USL. Talk about a community, right?
But Things Had Changed
Something was off. Something was wrong to me. The team had risen from the second tier, forced their way into Major League Soccer, forced their way into the best stadium in US Soccer, and yet I didn’t feel like I truly belonged anymore. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t because of the fans. The fans are just as real, just as caring, just as accepting as Year 1, but the atmosphere surround the club feels VERY different.
Even though the Bailey stretches all the way to the pitch, being only a yard from being able to touch the net, I never felt so far away. There were no autographs after the match, the players applauded the fans as far away as possible, some players didn’t even come around. The team has grown to become “Major League”, and they are allowed to “Big Time” people now.
They’re doing the opposite of what I fell in love with. The fans still feel like a community, but the players no longer feel a part of it. The front office feels so far away now. It’s all so hands off, and as somebody who left, I feel like I don’t matter anymore.
My Plea to Clubs
Obviously I’m a Birmingham Legion FC and FC Birmingham fan. I always have been, I always will be. My plea, my begging is this: Don’t become too big for your fans. Players, get as close to the fans as you feel safe doing. Take the time for autographs. Take the time for photos. Take the time to make a difference. It makes a difference. It makes all the difference.
I know you have lives, I know that sometimes you just want to go home, but please do not ignore the 12 year old who wants a photo. Please don’t ignore the Supporters Groups who stuck it out through rain, heat, and paid their hard money for you. Please don’t ignore the 16 year old who wants you to sign their jersey. It’s the little things that builds our community. It’s the little things that make everybody feel important. It’s the little things that make this game so, so beautiful.