It's a wild fan experience at FC Cincy games

It's a wild fan experience at FC Cincy games
It's a wild fan experience at FC Cincy games
Posted at 7:00 AM, Apr 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-30 07:00:18-04

The Bengals have monkeys riding dogs or sheep-herding at halftime.

The Reds hold an on-field race between their four mascots, play the Skyline Chili Shuffle on the Jumbotron and even have a playground on the main concourse.

And what does FC Cincinnati do for entertainment?

They play soccer in front of rabid fans.

Spectators at FC Cincinnati games need not look any further than the game itself — or the blue-and-orange crazed fans next to them — for their entertainment. That’s just the way it goes with soccer, a sport with its own culture, a constant running clock and just a break for halftime.

“Having been to Reds and Bengals games, the fans there get excited as things happen,” said Miami University alumnus Joel Valentine, a 33-year-old Arsenal fan who drove down from Wilmington to check out his first FC Cincinnati game two weeks ago. “At the FC Cincinnati game, they were excited the entire time. It was a little like watching Premier League games in England.

“Fans were always up chanting, everyone went crazy after goals, there was that (colored) smoke stuff (from The Bailey section) — it’s unreal. It’s just not something you see in traditional American sports. The way the fans interact with soccer is different than traditional American sports.”

FC Cincinnati (3-2-0) returns home this weekend, following its come-from-behind win Sunday in Toronto, to host the Wilmington Hammerheads FC (2-2-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Nippert Stadium.

After watching the team’s first home game on Star 64 and away games on the United Soccer League’s YouTube channel, Valentine attended the second home game with some friends from work. They were part of the USL regular-season record crowd of 20,497 fans.

He said being among the community of fans, high-fiving strangers and “essentially going nuts when the goals were scored” made the game well worth the hour drive — even despite long lines at merchandise and concession stands, which the club continues to address, according to president and general manager Jeff Berding.

Next time, Valentine plans to return with his wife, and the two already are talking about season tickets for next year.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “I really enjoyed the atmosphere.”

Valentine was there for the 90-plus minutes of soccer, but even young kids and non-soccer enthusiasts can be entertained by FC Cincinnati games, according to Nick Hoppenjans, a founding member of The Den supporters group for families. The group has 12 members who sit together in club seating but more than 630 likes on Facebook.

Hoppenjans, a 35-year-old from Northern Kentucky, attends games with his wife, Megan, and two children, ages 3 and 5. They spend time before the game on Sheakley Lawn, where the UDF Kids Zone is set up with an inflatable soccer field and other games designed to help kids burn off some energy before entering the stadium.

Once in their seats, the quiet is filled by music playing on the sound system until the teams are announced and the national anthem sung, or by the sounds of “The Pride” and “Die Innenstadt” supporters groups marching into the stadium to their spots in The Bailey section, which is designated for the most passionate fans.

Fans at FC Cincinnati games are entertained by fellow fans throughout the match. The chants, drums, flags and smoke flares keep the atmosphere charged and the fans revved up.

There, the rowdy groups garner attention with drums, blue and orange smoke flares, chants and tifos that stretch over several rows of seats mocking the visiting team in clever fashion. That enthusiasm quickly spreads throughout the stadium, all the way across to “The Legion” student section behind the opposite endline.

The Hoppenjans rely on that atmosphere to help keep the kids in their seats until halftime and the end of the game. And so far, that has been enough. There are no Jumbotron trivia games to fill time, and FC Cincinnati doesn’t have any official mascots trolling the stands like at Reds and Cyclones games — though Champions Soccer brought a Lion mascot dressed in an FCC uniform to the last game to help advertise its camps, and a Dunkin’ Donut mascot also was on site.

FC Cincinnati does have a penalty kick contest called the Dunkin’ Donuts Shootout Challenge at halftime, a free pizza is delivered to fans in the crowd, and a “Fan of the Match” and “Family of the Match” are recognized as well.

Nonetheless, Hoppenjans and Valentine both said most people spend halftime getting food, stretching their legs or using the restroom. They don’t feel a need for entertainment at halftime because they get plenty of that during the game.

“The team has made it a lot of fun, scoring early goals, late goals and coming back, and the fact 20,000 people are showing up creates a great atmosphere at Nippert Stadium,” Hoppenjans said. “The kids enjoy The Bailey, with all the banging on drums, smoke flares and chants. I admit I even spend more time than I like watching what they’re doing.”

“If you don’t understand the game or follow it, I still say come enjoy the atmosphere. They put on a great experience, and it’s definitely easier than watching on TV. One of the greatest things about soccer is the culture around it. You don’t get that feeling with baseball or football consistently, I don’t think.”