The orange and blue smoke clouds your vision. The drums throb. The chanting is relentless. The beginning is visible, but when you turn around to see the rear, it’s not there — only an endless sea of people. A drone hovers overhead. Soon the march begins again.
This scene isn’t from a horror movie. Quite the opposite, actually. This was on Short Vine in Clifton, just blocks from Nippert Stadium on Aug. 15, before FC Cincinnati’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal match against Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls. And it was fantastic.
It also wasn’t an isolated incident.
From FCC’s beginning, Cincinnati supporters have flocked to Nippert in droves. The club set the USL single-game attendance record in just its second home match, a mark it has broken several times over.
Among the attendance resume highlights:
• Largest crowd to ever watch a soccer match in Ohio (no longer stands)
• USL single-game record
• USL playoff single-game record
• USL season record
But there’s more to FCC than just attendance numbers, which represents the reach the club has across the city and indeed the Tristate. Just as important is the metaphoric heartbeat of the club — the supporters groups. These are the people you see waving the flags, pounding the drums, chanting with their scarves in the air as they march up University and down Vine and Corry before reaching Nippert, where they make their grand entrance, full of vigor.
Together, in volume and intensity, FCC’s fan base is proven, an irrefutable argument that should win the club entry into MLS.
FCC fans already have displayed MLS-level support. After the Red Bulls rallied in extra time to end the USOC run, the visitors applauded The Bailey, acknowledging its full-throated support of the home side. Cincinnati’s fan base isn’t just the best of the four expansion finalists — something even Sacramento’s Indomitable City Soccer concedes, saying the Republic have “the second biggest current fan base” of the four — it’s matched by few in the U.S. During the USOC run, the United States Soccer Federation deemed Cincinnati as the capital of American soccer.
As a brand new team, Nashville is still planting its roots. Detroit City has the Northern Guard (not affiliated with Detroit bid), and Sacramento has the Tower Bridge Battalion. FCC’s web site lists six official supporters groups among several others — Die Innenstadt, the Pride, the Legion, Queen City Firm, Bailey Bastards, the Den and the Queen City Mafia. These supporters groups are vital to the club. The most ardent members design tifos — the huge banners you see before a match — come up with chants and do anything else necessary to make sure the club feels their presence.
Baseball is a more intimate sport, passed down through generations. You tailgate in football, yes. But it’s closer to the literal phrase — you drop your tailgate or open your trunk. You probably mingle with other tailgaters parked nearby. But you’re walking to the stadium in your small groups. Soccer is different — it’s driven by fan participation. There’s a reason that before he left, Mitch Hildebrandt celebrated home victories by leading The Bailey in his traditional clap on the penalty spot.
This isn’t a phase that will fizzle out — Cincinnati has consistently proven it has one of the best fan bases in the country. And that should earn FCC a spot in MLS.