It was supposed to be our night. The night we, the passionate and faithful soccer fans of Columbus, had waited for. The night where the hours spent in the cold, in the heat, supporting a team that often caused more heartache and pain than joy would be made worth it. Where we could celebrate after all the years of standing and singing in a nearly empty stadium, fighting for recognition in a "football town". The night where the biggest stage in American soccer comes to our city, our stadium. The night where we get to show the soccer world that Columbus, Ohio is relevant in 2015, and show Columbus, Ohio, that soccer is relevant here, in 2015.
But it was ruined.
Not by bad officiating, though there was an obvious blown call before the second goal by Portland, it was not the sole deciding factor of the game. Not by cheating opponents, complaining coaches, or even the opposing team's fans. No, we ruined our own big night. In embarrassing fashion.
I want to preface this with saying over the course of this season I've befriended, mostly through writing for this website and occasional appearances on our Podcast, literally DOZENS of people, almost all of whom sit in the Nordecke. I know for a fact that most of the fans of the corner are good-natured, if raucous, bunch. I sincerely hope that none of my friends were among the responsible parties Sunday night. I know that this article will probably piss off some of my friends. It might even lose some of them. And while the thought of that bums me out, this needs to be said.
Sunday evening, the Nordecke not only let down the Columbus Crew SC, but it embarrassed themselves, their fellow fans, the club, and our city. On the biggest stage, they pelted the opposition with beer cans and debris. This is completely unacceptable. Yes, it was after a blown call led to Rodney Wallace scoring a second goal in the opening 8 minutes. And yes, he sprinted towards the Nordecke to celebrate. Fans were frustrated, angry. I was frustrated and angry as well, from my seat in 135, but neither of those things make it acceptable. Frustration is understandable. Throwing cans of beer at a human, any human, is not. It was classless, inexcusable, and wrong.
It's currently being debated on social media who exactly is to blame, how many offenders there were, and how exactly they were dealt with, if they were dealt with at all. I've heard there were as many as 15-20 offenders, as few as 5-10. I've heard they were regulars, I've heard they were "people in the back", shorthand for fans who buy tickets in the Supporters Section but aren't actually a part of any of the groups, who are just there "to drink and party". As of this writing, it's all unknown. What is known is that cans were thrown from the Nordecke.
There are plenty of people on social media trying to excuse these actions, as you would expect. Twitter and Reddit have already turned in to black holes of angst and conspiracy theories, wailing, gnashing of teeth and ridiculous attempts to excuse the inexcusable, and this coming from a fan base irate about laser pointers in New Jersey. But it should be noted both Crew Supporters Union and Hudson Street Hooligans tweeted condemning the actions in the Nordecke, and the Nordecke's performance in general.
Sadly, the throwing incident, while most volatile and visible manifestation of the Nordecke's awful night, there were other problems. The biggest being their lack of volume. I was with my family, in 135, next to the stage on the non-Nordecke side, and more often than not the traveling Portland contingent was louder than our own fans. For long stretches of the match the Corner was almost completely silent.
It's hard to be loud and dynamic when your team has gone down two goals early, but the Nordecke is supposed to be the heartbeat of the stadium, and times like that are when you expect the "hard core" fans to try to raise the level, get the rest of the stadium rocking, and hopefully help lift the team. But that didn't happen. There were small bursts, yes, especially after the goal, but the corner never hit the heights we expect of it, and they expect of themselves.
So what happens now? How do these acknowledged problems get fixed? There are no easy answers, but knowing what I know of the supporters groups, the change will have to come from within. And that may well be the problem.
The idea that there is a "right" way, or even a "best" way to support a club is the most ridiculous thing to me. I touched on this in one of my early articles, talking to Morgan Hughes. "It takes all sections to fill the stadium" was his quote, and I think that can be focused in on the Nordecke too. It takes all sorts to fill the corner. Everyone has a different way to support the Crew, just as they have different reasons for being there. This makes coming up with any answers on how to fix problems difficult, as they will invariably rub someone the wrong way. How to deal with disruptive, often drunken fans is the perfect example.
After one of the dollar beer night promotions there was quite a bit of ire on social media due to the behavior of some of the "people in the back" of the Nordecke. Reports of physical confrontations and inappropriate statements towards other Crew fans, to be precise. Some blamed the promotion, some blamed the selling of Nordecke tickets to "casual" or "non-fans", some just shrugged and asked what's the big deal. A small but vocal group thought the banning of alcohol would fix things. That went over about as well as you'd expect. Why punish the "good" Crew fans who just happen to like to drink and have a good time? But what about those who feel threatened? Lots of questions, few answers. There was little, if any progress made towards finding a way to deal with disruptive fans, as we saw tonight. "Report them to security" remains the only real option.
What to do about being out-sung by traveling fans? It came down, as it tends to do with Crew fans, to a lack of unity. The Nordecke is proudly Capo-Free. In the past some have floated the idea that perhaps capo's are needed, for cohesion. In the aftermath of the final that idea has begun to be floated again. Some, I'd even say a growing number of Crew fans think that Capos are needed to help organize the corner and keep things like tonight from happening. (I, personally, don't have an opinion on this issue. I think both sides have valid points).
Old hatred runs deep, and it's hard to picture the idea gaining much traction, especially when there's currently no mechanism in place for actually making it happen. The planned "Supporters Council" never got off the ground this season, and its fate remains unknown. So how then do you get such a large group of people on the same page without making people feel like they're being told how to support? It's a question I don't have the answer to. The answer will have to come from within. Within the corner. Within the Supporter's Groups. But it has to come. We need it. Because tonight we weren't good enough. This team, this city, and these fans, all of us, deserve better.
Stay Massive, Crewmas is just a few months away.