So, I have something to get off my chest. Despite coming to Columbus Crew SC matches regularly since 2007, I had never been to a tailgate thrown by the Supporters Section. Until this past weekend, that is.
This was mostly due to my natural awkwardness at meeting new people. Writing for Massive Report has helped me to get to know the assorted people involved with it and I really had no excuse anymore last weekend. So, despite still having more than a little anxiety, I went.
Shockingly enough, it was awesome. So I got to thinking, how many others were in my same boat? Wanting to attend the tailgate, but slightly intimidated by the size of the gathering, the noisy nature of our Supporters Groups, or just general social anxiety?
This is column is for them.
Perhaps not for the hardcore fans who are already members, who know the score, and maybe not for the "casual fans" that are showing up for their yearly match, but the increasingly large section of fans who attend matches most weeks, but aren't a part of an established Supporters Group, who don't sit in the Nordecke, but want to dip their toes in to the water of "supporters culture."
First question first, what exactly makes the MEGATAILGATE "mega"? Basically, instead of having separate tailgates, all the Supporters Groups throw one giant one. Everyone has their own setup in one big group, and fans mill about between them.
It's quite a sight. And, to be honest, I was still a little intimidated while approaching. Then I remembered the sage-like words of Massive Report's own Morgan Hughes, shared with me via twitter in the preceding weeks:
@krislandis shut up your face, it's laid back as hell - you'll be fine.— Morgan Hughes (@Morgan_Hughes) March 5, 2015
I took a deep breath, and approached.
Most of the people I know are members of the Hudson Street Hooligans, so I migrated towards their tent. I carried with me a box of assorted beers from my fridge. Due to some ongoing diabetes related issues, drinking is a no-go for me, so I thought the beer would be a perfect icebreaker. Who doesn't like community beer? Seeing several friendly faces, I made my way over. After saying my hellos and finding someplace to stash my beer, I began to circulate.
My first stop was the Yellow Nation Army tailgate. Their area is usually (if not always) themed. This week's theme was St. Patrick's Day, which meant booze and brisket. I walked up to the YNA stand, slightly nervous since I was only acquainted with those folks through social media, and introduced myself.
I was greeted with a warm welcome and hot brisket sandwich. Someone I'd never met even recognized my name from Massive Report, a first for me. As I munched on my delicious sandwich I got to talk shop with some of the YNA folk and they were all excellent. Friendly, welcoming, and slightly tipsy, there was no talk of "Are you a member?" They were blasting some Irish punk style tunes, which set the mood for the evening perfectly. I am informed their annual hip-hop themed tailgate is a highlight of the season.
I then saw Crew legend, and party fixture, Frankie Hejduk hanging around the Crew Union tailgate, talking with fans, taking pictures, and generally getting the party started. Anyone who has ever met Frankie in person knows he is perhaps the single most approachable man on Earth. If you somehow haven't had the pleasure, you really should approach him when given the chance. Regardless of if he has a jam-packed schedule and can only spare a high five, or plenty of time to chat and party, I have never seen Frankie turn away a fans request. As he was walking by I noticed his libation was empty. I offered him a beer from my box of random booze. He graciously accepted and relived me of my suds.
This was, as I said, my first MEGATAILGATE, and therefor my first "proper" celebration of my favorite Holiday, Crewmas. I am told that every year the Crew Supporters Union (henceforth CSU) have their annual Chilli Cook-Off. This year was no exception. By the time I arrived there were seven or eight different types on offer, but I was too full from my excellent brisket sandwich to partake. I don't really know anyone from CSU, but everyone I spoke to was cool, easy to approach, and generally excited for the night.
That was really the thing, across the whole tailgate, which stood out to me. There was a real sense of togetherness, even amongst the different groups. It's obvious we were all there for the same reason, and there was a palpable feeling of excitement in the air. For some reason I expected a lot of factionalism, people sticking to "their places", but by and large most people were mingling about, which, I suppose, is the point. I didn't spend too much time at Murderers Row or La Turbina, again owing mostly to not knowing anyone there, but I got no sense of a "What are you doing here?" vibe when I walked by.
Also, on the periphery of the MEGATAILGATE were several subsets of people just hanging out. On a mission to finally meet Twitter friend Chris LaMacchia in person, I scoured many of these smaller hangouts until I found him. So, if jumping straight in to the fray (FRE?) of the MEGATAILGATE isn't quite your speed, there is always this option. Set up just outside the main show and feel your way in, so to speak. I saw plenty of grills, plenty of beer, and more than a few kick-abouts going on in the parking lot. There's plenty of room.
Now, what about supporters with children? I didn't see many there, to be honest, but the few I did see seemed to be enjoying themselves. Obviously, this was an adult environment. Drinking and swearing was abundant. I can't speak to any "rules" for this sort of behavior, but I saw nothing indicating a "no kids allowed" policy at any of the tents. This one, I'm afraid, is up to the parents.
So all in all, the MEGATAILGATE was emblematic of everything I consider good about Crew SC supporters culture. Everyone was invited and everyone was welcome. Not once did I feel that I didn't belong. I did hear a pitch or two about joining, but it was all friendly and in good fun. Even the most "notorious" of Crew supporters (not naming any names) were friendly and approachable. I can't think of any better way to kick off a matchday at MAPFRE Stadium.
Afraid of coming to a party where you don't know anyone? Come talk to me. I will most likely still be the most sober person there, and not nearly as wordy as these articles make me seem. Or just bring some beer to share and come hang out. Strike up a conversation with someone. It's really not anything to worry about. However you want to approach it, you should come. You're doing yourself a disservice if you don't.
Stay Massive folks.