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Dirty River Derby- A Rivalry Examined

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Die Innenstadt loaded up a bus for Saturday’s match in Louisville.

Every rivalry I’ve known since birth has been filled with fear, jealousy, and hatred. Think UC vs. Xavier, Bengals vs. Steelers, Ohio State vs. That Team up North. I grew up saying I root for two teams, Xavier and the team playing UC. I wanted to see my team win and the other lose. If you were a Michigan fan don’t even bother coming to talk to me. You can stick your off-yellow somewhere where the sun don’t shine. You started to see similar animosity building before the first Louisville City FC match. Members of both supporters groups were active in their tongue lashing on social media. FCC was “plastic” with “fake” supporters while LCFC was the scorned lover of Matt Fondy. If you stuck your neck out too much it was sure to be cut down.

Finally on a cool late April night in Cincinnati the two franchises separated by a small stretch of I-71 took to the field against each other for the first time. The match was up and down with a lot of scoring. Each FCC shot was met by whoops and hollers from the excited fan base. Not to be outdone, a large contingent of traveling Louisville supporters blasted chant after chant in unison and encouraged their team in a hostile environment. To top it off Cincinnati broke the USL record for attendance, something both groups took pride in. Even though FCC lost that evening, the crowd made a statement. They put their best foot forward and said Cincinnati as a soccer town was here to stay. Even the fans in purple had admired what took place.

Leading up to Saturday’s match there was a noticeable lack off banter on social media. If you were an onlooker you had to wonder what happened.  Then a friendly soccer match “The Plastic Cup” was announced where The Pride would take on The Coopers before the match. How could two supposed rivals meet up for a friendly match? You’d never see Steelers fans play flag football with Bengals fans before a game. I headed down to Louisville early to catch a glimpse of the match and it was incredible. Two “rival” groups, coming together to play a game they love more than almost anything. Each wanting to beat the other, but more so to see the game they love so dearly grow and expand in their cities. Even though The Coopers scored the winning goal with 5 minutes to go, hard feelings never got in the way as both teams came together in the end for a picture to commemorate the first of hopefully many meetings.

Plastic Cup

As members of both groups made their way to the match you saw more fans intermingled with each other. One such place was Against the Grain Brewery where it was filled with supporters and provided a great environment leading up the the match. Member of DI and The Pride exchanged scarfs with the Louisville Heretics King while others got introduce themselves to people they only knew by their twitter handle.

For the match I had a unique vantage point from the right field seats across the stadium from the supporters. As game time neared you started to hear noise that kept building, and building, and building. LCFC fans near me said “Here come The Coopers”. Then low and behold saw the noise emanating from people in Blue and Orange shirts. The fans in purple were shocked and amazed that an opponent could bring that noise to their home turf. 

In the first match of the year where a large contingency of people ventured into another club’s territory FCC supporters made their presence felt. When Louisville supporters began to bang on their drums one would’ve assumed that they would drown out the travelers from Cincinnati. That was not the case. FCC at worst matched Louisville in LCFC’s own stadium. In fact, those drums served FCC fans as much as it helped the Louisville fans. The beat was often used to keep the rhythm of the visitors’ chants.

Cheers of “LC…FC” were countered by “Cincinnati we’re here for you” and spurred on both clubs. The teams recognized the strong support they had behind them and after the match concluded John Harkes called his squad over. As the Cincinnati supporters continued to chant and sing the team proceeded to take a conjoined bow.

Members of Die Innenstadt made their way back to the bus they were tracked down by leaders of The Coopers. High fives and hugs were shared, scarfs were exchanged as both groups recognized each other as opponents worthy of their respect.

As I sat in my car to reflect on the day I asked myself “what changed” and “where did this camaraderie come from?” I think we are starting to see two groups of supporters getting comfortable in being who they are, where they are. While both may have higher aspirations for their clubs they know it’s more important to be unique and are tasked with the responsibility of growing the sport. Louisville doesn’t have to be Cincinnati and Cincinnati doesn’t have to be Louisville. Warring fan bases, no matter how entertaining, only divide us and reflect poorly. I think both groups know they are in similar positions and the more they can partner up the better. Soccer as a whole in America is on the rise and I believe it only benefits us in the long term to cast a wider net and include as many people in the beautiful game.

So far I’m happy this hasn’t turned into a Bengals/Steelers rivalry. Others may feel differently and I’m sure what 10-20+ years will bring its share of struggles. Maybe one goes to MLS and one stays in USL. Maybe we both stay or go. One thing is for certain, a bond has been created in two cities between passionate fan bases and for the good of the sport, it needs to continue.

To LCFC and their supporters I’d like to thank you. Thanks for the hospitality and I look forward to many, many more match ups. I just hope you lose every time!

@bradleysweigel for @cincysoccertalk

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