Mo Egger is one of my favorite local sports writers. He gives an honest look at the events he covers. Occasionally, I’ll notice that he mentions “staring at a blank computer screen.” He uses that phrase to paint a picture of just how hard it can be to describe a team’s loss. From the Reds’ postseason woes, to UC’s basketball struggles, to the Bengals playoff game this past January. I was there for that particular Bengals defeat and it was toxic. Not just the game, but the environment. As we walked out of a stadium that was drenched in rain and beer, fights broke out, people tore down Bengals signs, and all around there was this dismal feeling. It had been building for a while, Cincinnati is a city that deeply cares about its teams and unfortunately has seen a lot of heartbreak in recent years. However, Saturday night was a totally different feeling and environment.
I found myself similarly staring at a blank computer screen on Sunday morning, trying to find my own words. Yet, I wasn’t looking for them in the wake of another sports letdown. I was still excited, still hearing the chants in my head, still sore from the march up all of those steps. Saturday night, the inaugural home opener, was beyond my expectations. So here it is, as experienced by Die Innenstadt:
Things started with our festivities at Rhinegeist. I walked in to find a room that’s always crowded and busy, but this time everyone was decked out in orange and blue. All around, people talked excitedly about what was to come while Blake and Jared diligently managed the distribution of scarves and memberships. The club had announced earlier in the week that they had surpassed 5,000 season ticket holders and were expecting at least 11,000 for the game, but even with a bar full of fans, I wasn’t sure what things would be like. Would people show up in the cold? Were they ready to embrace FC Cincinnati? Were WE ready?
WCPO stopped by to interview some of our guys: Ryan and Timo, president and vice president respectively. Folks gathered around, clinking their glasses to say cheers to this new beginning. The crowd swelled. We'd seen the boys in the preseason, on crowded barroom TVs for away games, but the time was finally nearing: the regular season had arrived in Cincinnati. On the heels of this city’s annual and beautiful holiday of Reds’ Opening Day, we were about to have ours. Finally the call went out: assemble outside if you want to march 1.1 miles uphill to the stadium.
About 55 of us gathered and began marching up Elm. We hooked a right on W McMicken and caught the first set of steps up to W Clifton Ave. to Ohio Ave. Cincinnati is known for its collection of hillside steps, narrow passageways of concrete that dot the seven hills surrounding the urban core. We climbed another set to reach the upper part of Ohio Ave before continuing up Bellevue Hill. Timo took to the drums, everyone else took to chants, and as far down the steps as you looked: orange, blue, and Die Innenstadt.
This wasn’t a ragtag group of a few supporters, this was a community. At the top of the hill, nearly to our destination, we took a brief respite to refuel. In lieu of Gatorade, some of us chose Four Roses offered up from a member's nearby home.
The march proceeded then into Clifton. More DI members joined us, some who weren’t able to make it down to Rhinegeist. Cars honked in support as we made the turn on to Calhoun. When we approached U Square, our chants began to merge with those in front of us: The Pride. The two Supporters Groups converged on the square, joining together and popping smoke under the waving of city flags.
"Juncta Juvant," the city’s motto and ours, translates to “strength in unity.” We united with The Pride and nearly 100 supporters marched as one for the final leg down into Nippert.
The crowd was filling throughout as we all claimed spots in the stadium’s north end affectionately referred to as “The Bailey.” For many, it was a site to behold. While Nippert has always been a cherished venue for the University of Cincinnati’s football program, it was now our home too and it couldn’t have looked better.
The teams filed out, the crowd erupted and the national anthem hit. I stepped away in order to get some photographs. As I stood at the top of the stadium’s eastern stands, I noticed just how packed not only Nippert was, but The Bailey itself. I had wondered: would all of the work supporters had done so far pay off? Would we have a good showing on the north end?
It was packed.
And it was beautiful.
TIFOs were pulled out. On the left, the logo of the Pride with the word “Juncta.” On the right, our logo, with the word “Juvant.” Strength in unity. For several weeks now, members of both groups have been working together to hand paint these TIFOs thanks to the studio space and help of Jeremy Schulz. The center TIFO, designed by our own Christina Koplyay, read: “Defend the Queen City.”
As the TIFOs came down, the smoke and crowd lit up. I had the honor of designing our logo back at the beginning of all this. Seeing it go from a frustrating morning spent in Adobe software to being unfurled like that was an incredibly proud moment for me personally.
Levi captured some excellent footage of the opening ceremonies in this video, here:
I made it back in time to The Bailey just as the game began.
A lot has been said about Saturday night’s crowd. As I looked out on the stadium, I noticed that, even in the sideline seats, everyone was standing!
My lovely girlfriend, Laura, joined us a bit later. She had been delayed in what apparently was a long ticket line. She wasn’t the only one, as the game went on (and Sean Okoli scored that “No. 4 on ESPN’s Sports Center” scissor kick goal), more and more people kept pouring in. The sideline stands and student section started to fill in very tightly. For a team that was expecting 11,000 in attendance on an unseasonably cold night, they ended up seeing 14,658. That’s not only the largest crowd in the USL so far this season, but FCC also drew better than four Major League Soccer sides (Colorado, New England, Dallas, and Chicago) did the previous week.
It's also nearly double the attendance of Louisville's home opener and about 6200 more than their largest crowd ever, but who's counting?
Between the constant chanting, singing, and cheering I tried to take a moment just to breathe it all in. I barely could before another FCC goal caused blue and orange smoke to once again fill The Bailey.
FCC had arrived, the supporters had arrived, and Die Innenstadt had arrived. Looking up from The Bailey’s front row I saw so many people. Friends old and new, those I had met years ago and those I had met through DI. It was an incredible feeling being able to gaze up and see how this community had come together.
Words simply don’t do it justice. Photographs and videos give you a pretty good idea, but my best advice is to come experience it for yourself. In all of the Cincinnati sports moments I’ve watched, that inaugural home game may have been my favorite.
As the extra time wore down, the entire stadium, not just The Bailey, erupted in a simple chant: “F. C. C.” Nothing special, nothing too complex, but it got the message across. The collective voices rocked Nippert and sent chills throughout as nearly 15,000 people cheered on the end of that first home game and that first home victory.
It meant a lot afterwards, the way the team came by to thank everyone in the stands, the way Coach Harkes pointed up and said “thank you.” It was great to get a win over Charlotte, but no matter the end result of Saturday’s match, I couldn't be more proud to be a member of this community, to support our team, and to support our city: THE Queen City.
...and this weekend we get to do it all again. Stay tuned and check out the rest of the photographs in the gallery below. Thank you to everyone for all their hard work thus far.
Stand with Cincinnati. Stand with Die Innenstadt. Juncta Juvant!
EDIT: David Keim over at Sixth Day Soccer also recapped the night. Check out his excellent work, here.
More photographs from the inaugural home opener: