From cheering and singing to pyrotechnics, Orlando City’s raucous supporters are a special breed.
Back in the days before Orlando City had even played a game, Phil Rawlins believed the club would get solid support. But as the team’s owner, he had no evidence of it yet.
The club was moving from Austin, Texas, hoping to capture a market not only in Central Florida, but also the Southeast. The long-term goal was to eventually graduate from a USL Pro league to Major League Soccer, a leap from the minors to the majors that would require the requisite fan support.
“In 2011, I was to meet our new supporters for the first time, at the Orlando Brewing Company,” Rawlins recalls. “It was a cold February evening. Bitterly cold. Freezing. Raining. It was not a pleasant night. We hadn’t even played a game yet, so I didn’t know what to expect.”
To his chagrin, when Rawlins arrived at Orlando Brewing, he learned the event was being held outdoors. Surely, nobody would show up on a night like this, in freezing rain.
“There must have been 200 to 300 fans,” he says. “The reception was more than anything I could have hoped for.”
And it’s only gotten better since then.
Orlando City, nicknamed the Lions, has come to be known for two things—its top-tier play in the USL Pro, and its over-the-top supporters. In early February, as the team approached the start of its first MLS season—to be played in the revamped Citrus Bowl—it already had surpassed its goal of 10,000 season-ticket holders. To be sure, the club expects crowds bigger than that. When Orlando City played in the 2013 USL Pro Championship Game, it did so in front of 20,886 raucous fans at the old Citrus Bowl—a record for both Orlando City and for a USL Pro Championship match.
|An Orlando City game is one big celebration. Says player Luke Boden about the rabid fan support: “It’s fantastic. It does give you a lift. We feel them.”|
Lions Coach Adrian Heath recalls a game once against Charleston Battery in South Carolina. “That’s like, what, a six, seven-hour drive,” Heath says. “It rained all day and the game was postponed, put back about four hours. But there our supporters were, a couple hundred of them, singing and dancing.’’ Heath says the Charleston club’s president still mentions that turnout of Orlando fans. “He told me they’d never seen anything like that. It was incredible.”
It’s not just the matches where the fans have shown up. Rawlins notes that in the club’s quest to join the MLS, “the supporters have been there since day one—on the field and off the field. City Hall meetings, discussions with the mayor, petitions, social media—they are as much a part of building this as anything else.”
Says Orlando City defender Luke Boden, “We’ve got a lot of crazy fans. They’re always screaming, shouting, singing, standing and stomping in the stands. It’s constant, and it’s fantastic. It does give you a lift. We feel them.”
Orlando City has two main supporter groups—The Ruckus and the Iron Lion Firm. Both create quite a festive spectacle during matches. The Ruckus prides itself on its diversity and unity. “I literally don’t know how we all get along so well,” says Ruckus president Jerry Updike, a 33-year-old attorney turned public school teacher. “We’ve got professional musicians, full-time students, retired military, people from all over the world, and we all come together. I think it’s a testament to how much we all love soccer, and especially how much we love Orlando City.”
The Ruckus tries to make each game experience unique. If someone suggests that they turn the next Orlando City match into a pool party, Ruckus members will arrive in bathing suits. “We don’t like to be pigeonholed,” Updike says. “We try to be funny and random, and it can sometimes create a weird visual.”
They do have their rituals, though. They tailgate for upward of four hours before games. About 20 minutes prior to the game, everyone gathers for their chants. Then they march in with their procession of drums, flags and banners— along with smoke bombs and some other pyrotechnics (“At one of our games, my favorite pair of shorts caught on fire,” Updike says.) Throughout the game, The Ruckus, as he puts it, “sing our lungs out.”
The Iron Lion Firm is also known for its singing, coming up with original compositions to serenade Orlando City. “We have at least 15 or so songs now, and we’re always coming up with new ones,” says club president Rodrigo Guillen. Jake Beard, a local musician, is often at the forefront of composing songs. The favorite is what has come to be known as the OCSC anthem, a few lines of which go like this:
For miles around we come to town to see our team
We’ll score some goals and sing some more, you better believe
Orlando City, hey! Orlando City, hey!
Orlando City all the way!
It’s mostly in good fun, though last season four Orlando City fans were arrested and 16 ejected after an altercation with Tampa Bay Rowdies’ fans at the Rowdies’ stadium. (The charges against the four were later dropped.)
“We try to stay away from that ultra-culture that soccer fans have a reputation for,” Updike says. “We just want people to have fun while supporting our team.”
Supporter Clubs: The Ruckus (ruckustilwedie.com ) and Iron Lion Firm (iron-lion-firm.myshopify.com)
Season: 34 games, with 17 at home, including the opener against the New York City Football Club at 5 p.m. March 8 at the Orlando Citrus Bowl.
Tickets: Season tickets, which include friendlies and the U.S. Open Cup, range from $400 to $1,840. Single game tickets are $20 to $92.
Parking: Available at lots surrounding Citrus Bowl. Shuttle buses will run from downtown on days when larger than usual crowds are expected; pickup locations to be announced.
On TV: 16 nationally televised matches on FOX, ESPN and Univision. Other matches will be broadcast on WOFL-Fox 35/WRBW-MY65.
On the Web: For schedules and ticket information, along with much more about Orlando City, go to orlandocitysc.com