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CINCINNATI -- Joseph Hollon has never been much of a sports fan.
But he knows how to march, play drums and make noise.
Now you’ll find him and his soccer-crazed wife, Lisa, right in the center of the rowdiness that is known as The Bailey section at FC Cincinnati home games. He hasn’t missed a game.
Hollon has found his place among what some believe is the loudest cheering section among the United Soccer League’s 29 teams. The Bailey, located behind the north endline of the pitch, holds 1,700 fans and is designed for those who don’t mind a lot of standing, chanting, taunting and drum-beating, a little blue and orange smoke blowing by or temporary view obstructions from the oversized banners, tifos and flags waving in front or on top of them.
It’s a popular draw, almost always selling out with members of The Pride and Die Innenstadt supporters groups making up about a third of the section. The rest are more casual fans who just want to experience a game in the most talked-about part of the stadium.
“It’s a big party,” Hollon said. “It’s hard not to love this.”
The 34-year-old Cincinnati native joined both The Pride and Die Innenstadt mainly because Lisa is a big soccer fan and the two thought it would be a fun way to experience games together.
Once he saw others carrying around drums, he decided to put his years of high school and college marching band experience back into use and bought a used snare off Craigslist. He plays the FCC-decorated drum whenever the game dictates a need for more noise and during the supporters groups’ traditional march into the stadium. They enter from the south and sing to the beat of the handful of bass and snare drums playing as they walk along the east side of the stadium concourse.
“This is a new experience for him, and he’s taken hold of it,” Lisa said. “It’s just nuts. It’s a fun time. It’s what you want a soccer atmosphere to be. It’s loud, obnoxious. Everyone is getting to know each other, and the support for the team has been great.”
It’s really a new experience for most of the fans sitting in The Bailey.
Some might have witnessed or been a part of one of the Columbus Crew SC supporters groups that serve somewhat as models for those now backing FCC. A handful have even experienced "futbol" craziness in Europe.
But nowhere else in the Cincinnati sports scene has offered anything like The Bailey.
“I’ve been waiting for something big like this since I was a kid,” said 27-year-old Colerain Township resident Tom Grabo, who is known as the “Cincy Super Fan” because of the body paint and decorative hats he wears to Reds, Bearcats, Bengals and now FCC games. “The Bailey has made this even better because there are friends I can go with and be loud with. You don’t get this with other sports.”
England native Jamie Amis, 29, who has lived in Cincinnati for three years now, said the support from The Bailey compares to what you see in every section at games in his homeland. He’s a season-ticket holder and member of Die Innenstadt.
“I’m loving the atmosphere here,” he said. “We’ve got a great group of people here in The Bailey. They keep it going, and the atmosphere as a whole is superb.”
The fans in The Bailey are hardcore, that’s for sure.
They stay put through rain and many of the people in the supporters groups gather together midweek before home matches to practice songs and paint tifos and other banners.
Those who cannot attend those meetings can easily still join in, whether they are members of The Pride or Die Innenstadt or not. There are about five core chants and songs, which are easy to pick up, and new ones are constantly being added.
“Sometimes someone will just randomly start a new chant, and everyone goes along with it,” said 24-year-old Darin Russell, who wears a wrist band with the list of songs or chants and helps lead many of them.
The supporters groups lead the effort in The Bailey, but try to get everyone involved. The goal is just to create a supportive atmosphere for the team, according to The Pride president Payne Rankin.
“It’s very organic,” Rankin said. “Someone says, ‘I have an idea,’ and we see what we can do with it. The groups are very intertwined. We’re just a system of support grown by the people who want to be a part of it and anyone can join in. The supporters groups are just the outlet for people to get involved.”
It does all start with the supporters groups, though.
Last weekend, before FCC’s draw against Richmond, about 150 gathered for the supporters’ groups march into the stadium. They chanted “F-C-C” at the gate, one guy had a megaphone to lead the charge and about 45 minutes before kickoff, they marched their way to The Bailey signing, “Cincinnati, here we go; here we go; here we go,” mixed in with a chorus of “Ole, ole, ole, ole … ole, ole.”
FC Cincinnati players warming up right in front of The Bailey could even be seen bopping their heads to the tune as the groups filed into the bleachers. Head coach John Harkes gave a wave on his way into the locker room before the match, and the entire team recognizes them with a clap or wave while lining up on the pitch for pre-game ceremonies.
Both Harkes and players have credited “the 12th man,” specifically citing The Bailey, for the energy they bring the team.
“As supportive as we are of them, it’s even more amazing how supportive they are of us,” Joesph Hollon said. “They’re always clapping and waving at us. That’s pretty awesome. They seem to enjoy what we do.”
Die Innenstadt member Jared Handra, a 24-year-old from Clifton, said, “They up their game because of us.”
Opposing teams don’t enjoy it quite as much, especially when their goalkeepers are forced to listen to The Bailey fans for an entire half.
Fans say they have seen players wave them off after being taunted or hearing FCC chants.
“They are in shock a lot of the time,” Grabo said. “They haven’t seen anything like us, you can tell. They look at us like we’re crazy.”
FCC goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt, who was named to the USL Team of the Week for a second straight week Tuesday, said he usually tries to tune everything out, but he hasn’t wanted to in Cincinnati.
The fan support is something he feeds off and has come to look forward to every home match.
“Normally, I'll go through an entire game without hearing the crowd, but the Bailey is different,” he said. “If we were the away team, I could probably tune it out, but that's something you don't want to tune out. It's such a special atmosphere. It revs you up and gets you going. It really helps you. It's stereotypical, but they really are the 12th man.
“If I was an opposing goalkeeper and I came over here, I would be going to the bathroom in my pants. Our fans are so special and I just hope we can keep it up the rest of the season.”