In NYCFC’s First Home Match, New York City is the Real StarNYCFC’s support in Yankee Stadium draws a sharp contrast to Red Bull Arena's fan culture
by Nick Chavez | Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Many who have read my column over the better part of the last 2 years can attest to my optimism surrounding the potential for New York City Football Club. But afternoon at Yankee Stadium exceeded even my highest hopes.
New York City showed up. And I'm not talking about New York City FC, who also clearly rose to the occasion and delivered, largely due to the world-class brilliance of David Villa.
I mean New York City itself, with over 43,000 fans clad in sky blue gear representing it in the Bronx, who electrified the stadium with all of the famous New York City edge and bravado that NYC historically wears like a badge of honor.
Critics often talk about a "forced" football culture that isn't organic when they talk about NYCFC. But, from my position in the press box, I watched just the opposite unfold with genuine fascination.
It should be noted that it was often difficult to hear the songs coming out of the NYCFC supporters section throughout most of the game, which was largely due to my being in the opposite end of the stadium in the press box, and the vast, open air between sections that makes for poor acoustics.
But what I did hear, from various sections of the stadium, was hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people erupting in various chants completely organically.
The first I noticed was in response to the travelling New England Revolution support who frequently chanted "REV-O-LU-TION", with hundreds of surrounding NYCFC fans (mind you, nowhere near the NYCFC supporter's section) following up with "SUCK!", with many around the stadium eventually joining them, overwhelming the Revs faithful.
In the section directly in front of the press box, I witnessed what appeared to be a teenager standing up, dancing and starting his own chant "N-Y... C-F-C.... N-Y-CFC.. OH YEAAAH!", which eventually caught on with at least dozens around him, and was repeated a couple times during the match.
Throughout the game, various sections of the stadium, especially behind the goal near first base, started belting out "N-Y-C!... N-Y-C", which must've been joined in by thousands, booming around the stadium. Roaring cries in unison of “NEW YORK!.... NEW YORK!” also echoed throughout this iconic sporting cathedral more accustomed to tamer baseball crowds.
In the 87th minute, several sections of Yankee Stadium joined in to bluntly inform the travelling Revs fans "YOU CAN'T BEAT US!", repeating it several times.
Come the 89th minute, when NYCFC started comfortably putting some passes together to see out their hard-earned 2-0 lead, resounding "OLÉs" bellowed throughout the “House that George built”, as naturally as if it were at Real Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.
In short, Yankee Stadium, a baseball park with less than ideal sight-lines, never designed with the sport of soccer in mind, became something I had serious doubts that it could ever really become: One of the most intimidating, spirited football fortresses in North American soccer. Well, at least for this particular night.
How did this happen? Why would New Yorkers so quickly and fiercely defend their newly-christened local football club (a “plastic”, “corporate invention”) which plays in a league that the City was always expected to ignore?
It’s simple. These New Yorkers are true football supporters, many from authentic, international football-supporting backgrounds, and they see the reality of what New York City FC is and the vision of what it can become. They identify with the club. They feel that it truly represents New York. They know it’s their most local club, named after their beloved City, actually playing in their proud City, and like football fans from around the globe, they prefer to support it whether it’s considered one of the best in the world or not. It’s theirs, and they are prepared to live and die with it.
This stadium was filled with real, working-class New Yorkers that are quite comfortable with being loud and impassioned, sometimes abrasively so, and making things rather uncomfortable for anyone with the nerve to come into their home with ambitions of beating their beloved home team and ruin their outing. You know, true football support.
All it took was 1 game in Yankee Stadium for the authentic spirit and brashness of New York City to be personified through this crowd, which only further inspired its expansion team who, though not without some difficulty, put last year’s MLS Cup runners up (admittedly lacking Jermaine Jones) to the sword, and without the help of the likes of the eventually-arriving Frank Lampard, George John, Ryan Meara, and that promised 3rd NYCFC Designated Player.
I’ve been to at least 6 live games at Harrison, New Jersey’s Red Bull Arena, and although it is a beautiful stadium, and the South Ward always cheered admirably, the difference in sheer energy, huevos, and an almost entitled demand that the opponent respect where they are at, is night and day.
In Red Bull Arena, there was never any random crowd chants, it was almost always a pedestrian, “family outing” vibe. There was always a bit of an inferiority complex in the stadium, with a “let’s not take this too seriously” general attitude. And this included playoff matches.
In the Bronx, you were constantly reminded about where you were. In the belly of the living, breathing beast of the big City. And from this raging fire, New York City Football Club's soul is forged.
Consistently lacking in vision and conviction, here’s what the old guard of MLS football supporters and experts never seemed to get. New York City was always ready to support soccer in the 5 Boroughs. The City was made for this sport. Just imagine what New York City FC and its support might be like with it’s own soccer-specific stadium in the City.
And unlike the famous New York Cosmos and NASL of the 70’s, New York City FC and MLS are in absolutely no danger of unceremoniously disappearing. Our top-flight soccer league and New York City Football Club are finally here, on an indissoluble foundation, and will have to be reckoned with.