I have an admission to make, Columbus Crew SC fans. Perhaps, given the fact that I attended my first tailgate only earlier this season, it might not surprise you, but I still feel I should come clean. Before the Valencia CF match, I had never sat in the Nordecke.
Well, I still haven't sat in the Nordecke, but you know what I mean. I usually attend matches with my family, my mom and my brother. The corner was just not our speed, or at least their speed. I always had the desire to get down in it, so to speak, but until this year I knew no one over there, and well, I'm just not that brave. But as the Valencia match rolled around, circumstances had conspired to arrange that I'd be sitting all by my lonesome. Some friends offered to "sneak" me in to the Nordecke, but I was wishy washy, for mostly social anxiety reasons, and decided to figure it out when I got there.
Flash-forward to the MEGATAILGATE. It was slightly less Mega than usual due to the mid-week (and friendly) nature of the match, but there was still a solid turnout, with several groups of Valencia fans milling about. I stood near the area HSH usually sets up, talking with some friends, when it came up that I'd be sitting by myself.
'Why don't you sit in the Nordecke?' I was asked. I admitted I never had. Then someone, who I will dub my Mysterious Benefactor to honor their request of anonymity, said "don't *expletive* move", and walked off, returning a moment or two later with a Nordecke ticket.
So that was settled.
What was the experience like? As it was a friendly, it was not quite the "full Nordecke" experience, as several people pointed out, but I loved it. I was right down in the center, four or five rows up, and the view was actually much better than I anticipated.
No one spilled beer on me (though this could be because no insane goals were scored near us), and everyone was welcoming. No drunk jerks yelled I didn't belong there, no one called on me to prove my love for the team, no asinine assertions of "outsider-dom". People were, as a whole, welcoming.
As with the Tailgate article from the start of this season, I thought perhaps there were others out there, like me, who were too intimidated to take their first steps into the Nordecke, and maybe writing about it would shed some light on why they should. After consulting with some Nordecke veterans, I am happy to present to you The Nordecke Survival Guide: A Beginners Handbook.
First, a couple of ground rules. While everyone is welcome in the Nordecke, the Supporters Section is not for everyone. It is a unique place within MAPFRE stadium, almost the heartbeat of the crowd. It sets the tone, for better or for worse, that the rest of the supporters around the stadium follow. First and foremost, it is a STANDING SECTION; as in, you will not be sitting down while the game is going on. Or at least you shouldn't be. Asking the people in front of you to sit down, or stop waving their flags, is definitely not something you should do. The Nordecke is a very welcoming place, but in general it has a low tolerance for people who don't understand the rules. (If you're confused by the rules, they are helpfully posted at the top of the concourse before you enter down in to the corner itself)
Also, keep in mind that the Nordecke is General Admission, meaning you stand anywhere, not what is printed on your ticket. Now, there are differing opinions, based on the conversations I've had, about people who are not "veterans" standing in the middle or down in front. The consensus seems to be that the "front and center" positions should be reserved for leaders of the Supporters Groups/veterans. This doesn't seem to be (for most) any sort of chest pounding pride thing, but a practical consideration.
"People look to the front row for chants" tweeted the Massive Report Podcast's own Alex Stanek. First timers shouldn't be offended if they're asked to move back a couple of rows to make room for the more established faces of HSH, Crew Union, or YNA. Some folks who have been coming for years still get "pushed back", I am told, so don't take it personally.
So with those two points out of the way, here are some helpful tips to maximizing (or maybe just surviving) your first Nordecke experience:
To quote the Massive Report Podcast's Morgan Hughes: "Get your a**es to the MEGATAILGATE." I wrote an article about my first MEGATAILGATE experience and they have only gotten better as the season has progressed. Marching from the tailgate to the match was a very cool experience, even though our group was not particularly large.
Along a similar line: arrive earlier than you think you need to. Traffic getting in to the stadium is always worse the closer you get to kickoff, as are the lines at the gates to get in. In the past the "late arriving Nordecke" has been a subject of some condemnation among Crew SC faithful, but this year seems to be bucking that trend. If you want to be anywhere but the back rows, show up early.
SING. This should go without saying. But I was shocked by the number of folks who simply... didn't sing. Not knowing the words is not really an acceptable excuse after the first 10 to 15 minutes, because there isn't a lot of diversity in the chants that break out. There are also plenty of resources online for the lyrics. Familiarize yourself with them. It'll be fun.
Don't wear OSU gear. Just... don't. Most of the league wears red, and we don't, and to be honest OSU gear in the Nordecke stands out like a sore thumb and just looks wrong. The gear shop has stands set up above the stage, not far from the Nordecke, but before stooping to the absurdly expensive Adidas stuff inside the stadium you should stop by the Massive City FFC/Tifosweat section of the tailgate (since you'll be there already) and check out their shirts because they're awesome and they deserve your support.
Other soccer jersey's also seem to be a bone of contention amongst some supporters. I saw a few in the section next to me, but by and large it was Crew SC only. I, personally, think they looked kind of out of place, but again, as long as they're not red. you'll probably get a pass. Probably.
Constant phone usage is a no-no. You're there to watch the match, sing, chant, and have fun, not take a million selfies or live tweet the match (but commenting on the Massive Report Open Thread is okay).
While we hate the likes of Toronto with a passion, be respectful of both national anthem's when teams from up north (or from further south should we ever make the CONCACAF Champions League again) come calling. Disrespecting a country's national anthem is just classless, never cool.
Don't be the guy (or girl) who brings one of the vuvuzela horns. Just don't. According to twitter it is "not just a mistake, but a crime punishable by death." (NOTE: No one has ever ACTUALLY been punished by death. That I know of. Allegedly.)
Footwear matters. I was shocked by the number of people who were struggling with less than ideal footwear. Basically, don't wear flip flops. They make standing on beer soaked bleacher's a little more difficult.
Perhaps most importantly, respect the culture and heritage of the corner. The tifo hanging from the tops and front of sections are not just cool looking banners, but the result of hard work by people. Don't mess with them, don't ask if you can keep them. Don't try to "go into business for yourself" and elect yourself capo (chant starter). Your idea may be hilarious and witty, but if it doesn't take, it doesn't take. While everyone goes to matches to have fun, sitting in the Nordecke means you're also committing to supporting the team, possibly even at the expense of your own personal preferences at times. It's not about YOU, it's about the collective effort, about lifting the team, and above all, about supporting the club we all love.
What did I learn from my Nordecke excursion? Most importantly I learned that despite it's reputation, it is in fact a very welcoming place. I learned that, once again, membership in a Supporters Group is not required to be in the corner. I learned that you can, in fact, see and follow the match perfectly well. I learned that the songs are pretty darn easy to pick up on, and that no one really cares how your singing voice is as long as you're singing. I learned that even if you don't know all the people you're standing near, it doesn't really matter.
The Nordecke, as I said at the beginning of this article, is not for everyone. And that's okay. It takes all sections to fill the fortress, after all. But for those of you out there in Crewville who are like me, who are perhaps a bit too intimidated by the idea of just heading in to the Nordecke without an invitation, consider this your RSVP card. It is, without a doubt, a worthwhile experience, unlike any other at MAPFRE Stadium. Go out, be respectful, get loud, and above all, have fun supporting the club we all love.