“We’re not done yet!” Clap, clap, clap-clap, clap. “We’re not done yet!” Clap, clap, clap-clap, clap.
The chant rang loud and clear through Mapfre Stadium. It was punctuated by a number of banners reading ‘#SaveTheCrew’ and ‘For Columbus.’
The first of two games in the Eastern Conference semifinal leg between Columbus Crew SC and NYCFC saw the Crew squad deliver a resounding (albeit, at times, sloppily executed) statement from their home pitch to both their fans and the league, while their fans made clear their unwavering support, on the last day of what had been a tumultuous month.
Owner, Operator, Enemy
When Grant Wahl of SI.com broke the news on October 16 that Columbus Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt was set to announce his intentions to move the club to Austin if he could not secure a downtown stadium location in Columbus, all hell broke loose in MLS fandom. And that was just the beginning.
Of course the move to Austin was always the endgame. The owner’s statement cited the club’s “ambition to be a standard bearer in MLS” as motivation for the move. However, it was then discovered that Precourt’s ownership agreement included an ‘escape clause’ that would allow him to move the club to Austin in the event that it didn’t work out in the Columbus market. And, in Precourt’s twisted little reality, Columbus just isn’t working out for him. He is losing money. Why? The city won’t replace MLS’ first soccer specific stadium (Mapfre Stadium, previously known as Columbus Crew Stadium) to build him the stadium of his dreams.
It appears that Anthony Precourt is blind to everything else Columbus built and to the fixture which made the club, a founding club of MLS and a product of Lamar Hunt’s passion, worthy of his investment in the first place. If you have read even a single edition of Scarves Up, you know what that fixture is.
The Twelfth Man. The Supporters.
First Fans, Best Fans
Columbus Crew fans were loud and proud from the first Major League whistle. Though USA Today named the supporters of the League’s inaugural team the ‘best fans in the league’ at the end of the inaugural MLS season, official ‘supporters groups’ didn’t really come into their own, either in Columbus or around the league, until the Millennium. It wasn’t until 2006 that the club’s supporters organized a handful of official supporters groups due to differing styles of support.
The fans who remained in the original supporters section behind the north goal, Section 103, rebranded themselves as Crew Supporters Union (also referred to as Local 614, the area code for Columbus, OH). Another group called themselves the Hudson Street Hooligans (HSH), named for the street they marched from pre-game bar to the match. Murderers’ Row was formed in 2011, after Mapfre hosted a CONCACAF Champions League match that winter. In 2016, the Greater Columbus Golden Boys and Girls (GCGBAG) became the latest addition to the Supporters Section.
After a permanent stage was added behind the touchline, the supporters were relegated from 103 to the northeast corner. They call the section the Nordecke (pronounced Nor-Deck-Uh) from the German for ‘northern corner,’ a nod to the city’s predominantly German history. The Nordecke hosts a number of smaller SGs as well, like the Turbina Amarillo (Yellow Turbine) organized by Hispanic and Latino fans and Yellow Nation Army, formed in 2010.
Though “the growth has ebbed and flowed with the team,” HSH President Katie Mitchell told me, “[the support] has always and will always be present.”
Precourt’s announcement was a low blow for these supporters. Because the Crew’s supporters aren’t just fans; they’re family.
When I asked Mitchell to describe the Hudson St. Hooligans, she echoed the sentiments of many a diehard SG member: “We are just a bunch of people who love Columbus, love the Crew and have found a family. We are from all walks of life and want to hang out, drink a beer and watch some soccer.”
What happens when a businessman threatens to take that away?
Mitchell warned, “You don’t mess with family.”
Playoffs and Beyond
When Columbus Crew SC trounced NYCFC, 4-1, they did so at the center of a stadium intent on proving their love for the club and for the game’s place in Columbus. Despite attendance falling about four thousand fans shy of capacity, you wouldn’t have known it. It looked and sounded like a full arena.
I asked HSH President Katie Mitchell to describe her experience at that match:
“The atmosphere Tuesday was electric. I remember taking one second during the game and just looking around and listening. Echoes of ‘Save the Crew’ wasn’t just coming from those around me but the entire stadium and not just that, everyone was on their feet.”
One fan told Sam Stejskal, contributor to MLSSoccer.com, “This isn’t a game. This is a rally.”
The players and staff agreed. Coach Gregg Berhalter told Stejskal, “We repurposed our mission right now, and it’s solely to play for the fans and give them as many home games as we can and let them enjoy something.”
Social media is rallying behind the club and its fans too. #SaveTheCrew has permeated soccer Twitter, with sentiments coming from current and former soccer players, coaches and staff, as well as fans of other clubs, with many supporters groups releasing statements in solidarity with their Crew counterparts. And, of course, Anthony Precourt is taking a lot of shots (that’s @APrecourt if you want to @ him yourself).
What the battle for the Crew means for you
Now you’re wondering, ‘Hashtags are great and all, but what else can I do?’ Katie Mitchell said, “We are a grassroots effort. If people want to support us, go to www.SaveTheCrew.com, write your team owner, make a banner to display, even just talk about it!”
Or maybe you’re thinking, ‘Well, that sucks for them, but my team is doing just fine.’ Mitchell has some words for you, too.
“If it can happen to the first club in MLS, then it can happen to you. This is about more than just Columbus.”
Columbus advances to Conference Finals
The fans made clear last Tuesday night that ‘they’re not done yet.’ They were right. Though Columbus Crew SC lost game two to NYCFC, 2-0, they advanced on aggregate (4-3) to face Toronto FC for the Eastern Conference Championship. Only time will tell if the Columbus squad can best the top club in the league. But one thing is certain. The Crew supporters will only get louder.
Scarves Up! – For the Crew. For your club. For the American game.