I come from footballers… “But that’s European football, dear” as Mrs. Doubtfire once said. This whole mess with the Crew has had me a little worked up.
As I drove down 71 south on my way into work Monday morning, at the inevitable slowdown of the curve passing Mapfre stadium, I saw a giant rear-window sticker on a hatchback in front of me. It said #SAVETHECREW and it reminded me of the seriously passionate fans this city has played home to for some 20 years. I am a lightweight comparatively, but a soccer lover nonetheless. And since I moved here I’ve had many a summer and fall evening dressing in black and covertly sipping booze on the walk down North 4th. Hopping the train tracks and crossing the parking lot towards the big lights of the stadium.
Having the pioneering MLS team and stadium in this city is important to me. My husband and I ranked it strangely high on our list of reasons to stay in Columbus (neither of us is from here). And since moving to Columbus I’ve never lived in a neighborhood where I couldn’t hear the announcers from my yard.
This has been a rough couple weeks to be a Hooligan.
Even with a vibrant rally on the steps of City Hall, the fate of the Columbus Crew MLS team doesn’t look bright. While I’m misty-eyed about the news, I can’t imagine what the real, die-hard fans are feeling. So I decided to ask.
Jon Winland is the VP of the Hudson Street Hooligans since their founding in 2006 and GM of Hendoc’s pub the official home pub of the Hooligans. I caught him as he prepped the bar before a recent game to ask him some questions.
Jon and his fellow founders started the club because they “would see other teams come to town with large support.” And the Crew’s cheering section just didn’t feel up to snuff at that time. So they started the Hudson Street Hooligans “to try to get more people out and to make it more interesting.”
The club grew quickly, starting with 10-15 members in their first year and then growing to 1400 paying members at the club’s peak. Mostly Jon says the growth was because they “had a lot of fun and knew how to have a good time.”
What Was it Like at the Beginning?
The short answer seems to be: rowdy. Jon said that it wasn’t what you see now, “everyone is in the Nordecke now, there’s not as much division between the club and the general supporters.” But he also notes that the increased general support is better than just having a small group of rabid fans. The Hooligans didn’t just support their Crew at home either, “we were the ones that started traveling to away games.”
The club popped up around the same time that Chicago and DC were forming their own clubs and before that, Jon says, “there wasn’t that European style of support” but “that style of support was a matter of time.”
The initial Hooligans were definitely less tame than their current Nordecke representation would have you believe. Games were different back then, “You throw things on the field, you could do a lot, they were not as conscious about what we did in the earlier days.”
I said that Columbus seemed like an unlikely place for soccer to succeed, just as a casual intro to another question, but Jon stopped me in my tracks. He was surprised by this. It was as though it had never occurred to him that Columbus was anything but the perfect home for MLS. “Didn’t surprise me at all” he said. “Central and Northern Ohio have turned out lots of MLS talent and club soccer in Ohio has always been huge.” Plus, “Columbus didn’t have the Jackets at that time, no major league teams.”
What about cities with larger populations from soccer-loving nations, I ask, like the Latino population in Miami… Jon thinks that it is mostly a “misconception from owners that cities with more cultural diversity are better” for soccer teams. His Hooligans are living proof that Columbus is as good a place as any.
What’s Next for the Hooligans?
I opened my call with an apology, noting that it was a hard time to be a fan at Jon’s level. Precourt’s announcement blindsided everyone (including players). By the time we’ve talked through all the kickass memories of starting the club and Jon’s paused at least once to yell to eager patrons that the bar isn’t open yet, we have to get around to the hard topic.
Jon doesn’t beat around the bush: “There is a large soccer population. To take the Crew would be a travesty… displace all those youth programs… it wouldn’t be good.”
I say that the rally was a good sign of large scale support from community members and wonder what is the next best move. He says “Bringing awareness to the public and bringing awareness to the league. Columbus is a staple in the league.” He stresses the historic aspect of the Crew and the “importance Columbus plays in US soccer history” closing with an analogy that hits hard:
“Would NHL move the Detroit Redwings? I don’t think so.Any club that was a founding 4 or 6 of league shouldnt’ be able to move.”
Overall, Jon was very humble about his role in the Hooligans and about the club in general. But when I ask about what the Hooligans have meant to the Crew and to MLS in general, he’s clear about one thing for sure “Creating the soccer movement, we certainly did that. Anybody who watched the MLS the last 20 years… there’s a direct relation to Hooligans as a club. We were out there being boisterous, being loud, doing things.”
All photos courtesy Hudson Street Hooligan's Facebook Page