Growing Pains

It hasn't happened overnight but after the first nine home games, the Bailey has started to take shape and develop it's own culture. The combined supporters' groups (SGs) now number over 800 people, pretty impressive when you consider that none of them had official memberships six months ago. The section is mentioned and praised nearly every time John Harkes or a player is put in front of the microphone and is prominent in all the club's advertising. It has chants that everyone knows, impressive tifos, and, in my opinion, is the best place to watch the game. Overall it's gone better than anyone could have imagined on opening day.

All the positives haven't come without their own challenges. In my opinion the SGs have two, opposing problems. One, how do we get everyone in the Bailey involved? Two, how do they show passion without crossing the line into unsavory behavior? 

The Bailey is a big place, roughly 1,700 seats, but the majority of the chanting comes from the central section where both Die Innenstadt and The Pride sit. A couple of different strategies have been tried to spread the chanting to other areas of the Bailey including dispersing the main SG members throughout the center section and using "capos" with megaphones on the edges to encourage everyone to sing. Slowly but surely more are joining in but if I had to make a guess, it's currently less than a quarter of the whole supporters' section participating.

Part of the problem could be education. An FCC ticket rep has assured me that season ticket purchasers are well informed about the Bailey, when the individual tickets to it are sold, they don't come with any kind of disclaimer of what might be expected of sitting in a supporters section. If you search through the FCC website you can find phrases like, "The Bailey will serve as the raucous home for our most passionate fans and Supporters Groups," and mentions of smoke but that doesn't do much to explain what is expected of the Bailey's denizens or discourage people from sitting there if they might not want to be exposed to smoke or cursing. I've heard multiple people complain about these things but while it seems obvious to me that the middle of the Bailey might not be the best place for your four year old, some people aren't getting the message.

Even if people understand what going to happen, there seems to be a lack of appreciation for what it means to be a soccer supporter as an individual and the responsibility it entails. A lot of people want to enjoy the atmosphere created by the drumming and chanting by standing in the Bailey (the tickets are also the cheapest that are publicly available) but they don't recognize that by standing in that section and not participating, they are weakening the overall experience. The supporters' power is diminished when only one about a quarter of the people in the section are actively engaged and it's doubly a problem now that the section sells out. 

The SGs also want to be as open and inviting as possible, not being too assertive in encouraging people to sing. In fact they're so non-pushy that to even join the SGs, you have to go to them. There seems to be little in the way of proselytizing outside of the pre-match spots, no flyers at the stadium or booths selling memberships or merchandise. This lack of expansion to the adjoining sections in the Bailey is one of the reasons the two new SGs (Queen City Firm and Queen City Mafia) are a positive. They both sit to the left and right of the main section and will help to spread singing (although I am concerned that both have started as direct responses to issues with the original two SGs, but we'll see what develops). While everyone would rather just watch the game and have fun, more work is needed during matches to engage new people.

The second problem goes along with it. How do SGs stop chants that are sexist and prevent people from lighting off flares that are unapproved, dangerous, and the wrong color? Both of these issues have cropped up lately and are at least positive problems in the sense that they point to people wanting to be involved. 

The short answer is that it's the club's responsibility.

This is now the second game where rogue smoke flares have been seen, staining clothes and burning people next to them. A call for the banning on all smoke on Reddit ended up with an discouragingly high number of upvotes. The club has cameras on the supporters' section but I haven't heard of anyone being punished or banned from the video. A person was removed by a sheriff after the smoke first appeared (during the Richmond Kickers) but he was back in the Bailey later that game. More needs to be done.

Offensive chanting is another problem altogether. The club has a policy against it but I am a bit apprehensive at the club actively policing the chants and drawing the line on what is acceptable. For example, the "Bullshit" chant is one of my favorite and is banned. I like it not because it's clever (it's not), but its short, direct, and, most importantly, we aren't allowed to use it. Policing often leads people to want to push back. Chants that are racist/sexist/antigay etc should have no place in the section but the other only fan response should be not joining and outsinging them. 

The club needs to go one step further to be clear about what is acceptable in the Bailey. Clear signage and disclaimers about smoke and language. Otherwise the supporters will feel the need to self-police, with the potentially negative results, aka arguing among themselves, that we've already seen.

On the whole things are very positive and these issues are ones that every large group(s) runs into. A lot of work is going to need to be done to assure that all the SGs get along well and present a united front in support of FCC. It is very easy for these things to boil over when you add a lot of people, passion, and beer together. And while the club has been very responsive to the issues that have cropped up, more work is needed to ensure that it stays that way. 

Juncta Juvant