The Supporters: All Roads Have a Beginning [Series]

The Supporter’s Series is dedicated to finding and telling the stories of Red Bull fans. Recounting special moment in the clubs history, whether they’re bright, or dark. To encourage new fans to learn about the history of the club and current fans to reflect.

Almost everyone remembers things from their experiences with soccer. But where do we start?

When people talk about beginnings, how far back do they go?

Even though I didn’t realize at the time, for me, it was March 6th, 1996. My Grandfather and I sat somewhere around section 111 or 131 in the old Giants Stadium in Rutherford, NJ. I was six years old, and I distinctly remember the cold March air. We watched the NY/NJ MetroStars take on D.C United. We watched the match with interest, but I grew up watching Gabriel ‘El Leon’ Batistuta, Hernan ‘Valdanito’ Crespo, Ariel ‘Burrito’ Ortega, and Juan Sebastian ‘La Bruja’ Veron.

Unlike those who grew up only knowing the names of the players on the NY/NJ MetroStars.

“As I remember it, MLS in the early 2000’s was made for young kids.” Said Eric Friedlander “The experience was always tons a fun and the access to players was amazing. I remember going to the bubble after the game to get autographs from players on both teams. It was so small time but it had a charm to it that made it great. Also, growing up, the access to other soccer was limited. MLS was the big time and really all you had access to. I grew up wanting to be like Clint Mathis and Tim Howard. For the longest time, it was all I knew, and why I’m so dedicated today. They were my day one and I’ll love them to my last day.”

That was a connection I didn’t, and wouldn’t have for some time. The Atlantic Cup match eventually lost my attention. I didn’t understand then that soccer was more than just names. I heard the Empire Supporters Club chant, but it wasn’t ‘Ole, ole, ole’ or ‘Vamos vamos’ for me. Instead, I spent my time talking to another kid as the game turned in favor of D.C. United, eventually ending 2-1.

Not everyone had the same ideology I did as a kid. Mark Vivino was around my age at the time.

“I was a kid when the league started,” said Vivino. “And they were the local team. It was the first time in my life I had a pro soccer league that was American and I could follow.”

To me the “local” club wasn’t the NY/NJ MetroStars, even though I was born and raised in NY. It was a team that was located more than 5,000 miles away, it was Club Atlético River Plate. The young me didn’t learn about the history of US Soccer.

“I’ve been a lifelong soccer fan,” said Seeing Red host Mark Fishkin. “And I watched plenty of OG Cosmos matches as a kid. Then I followed the team since MLS’ first season. ”

Looking back though it’s not as if I could have learned it for myself. However, that was my first and last game seeing the NY/NJ MetroStars.

New York Red Bulls

March 22nd, 2015. It must have been fate. My first game at Red Bull Arena, and the Red Bulls faced D.C United. I picked up my ticket, and grabbed a poster that celebrated 20 seasons of the MLS. Both the ticket and poster currently hang in my room, commemorating something I fell in love with and dove in head first.

The atmosphere was special. The people were special. The team was special. I wasn’t the only to have that reaction to the atmosphere.

“I always dreamed of taking in the supporters atmosphere,” said Lenz Ong. “Because you’d hear all the chants on TV growing up. Feels like it was a maelstrom and that was from the broadcast. Coming here was an opportunity to take that in for the first time, and it’s kind of there. I realized that you didn’t need to go to Manchester or Madrid to participate in something great. The energy I felt from actually participating in the chants was kind of like, a watershed moment. Why spend thousands of dollars to go to Old Trafford when you can help build something great here?”

His words perfectly encapsulates how I felt. The atmosphere felt alive. I found a team that I respected. A team that gained my admiration through good times and bad.

During the first 4 years of my tenure as a season ticket holder, I kept to myself. Every so often, I invited friends and family out to watch a game. Even though I have no issue with meeting and speaking to new people, it took me a long time to get that point. For the longest time, I felt that that I was an outsider looking in. I felt that although I wanted to get to know the people chanting in Sections 131, 101, 102 and around the stadium, I wasn’t welcomed.

I was wrong.

The South Ward

In 2018, I decided to branch out.

I watched my first game in the supporters section, sitting with The Viking Army against C.D. Chivas de Guadalajara in the Concacaf Champions League. The atmosphere intensified ten fold. It hooked me. During the season, I met many members of both the Empire Supporters Club and the Viking Army. They are some of the friendliest people I ever met.

Like, Viking Army founding member, Ralph ‘Chupi’ Garcia He welcomes all with a smile and firm but gentle handshake. The moment he saw his first game, he also felt the pull of fate.

“Came to the first game and saw the supporters sections and it had my name written all over it,” said Garcia. “I joined, loved it and then helped start the Viking Army SC in order to get more people to support the Red Bulls at home and away , while having as much fun as possible while doing it.”

Others made friends along the way, like John Bigley

“This club has introduced me to so many amazing people from all walks of life,” said Bigley. “When I’m with my fellow Vikings, it’s like being around a second family. We look out for and support one another, we support our communities, and of course we support our Boys in Red. You can’t help but be proud to be a part of something like that.”

As the season wore on, I felt the need to be more involved in the game I’ve come to love. I got an unique opportunity to photograph matches, despite having no prior experience. It enabled me to get to know the supporters and the team much better.

My time on the field taught me a valuable lesson. It taught me that there’s more to the game than just the players and the coaches you see. That there are so many pieces we don’t get to see and experience. People that are all working diligently to bring you a game day experience that you can enjoy. It gave me a new found respect to those working behind the scenes.

It also introduced me to the sports journalism world. I got to work alongside a lot of amazing people, and I’ve grown to respect their craft and trade. It’s something I am entirely unsure if I fit in, but unlike my previous experiences it’s something I am going to take advantage of (And dive in head first into).

It’s an experience unlike no other.

Stay Tuned for the rest of the season for more stories in The Supporters series.

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