As it is almost matchday again, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on my experience last weekend watching the Columbus Crew match with The Crewland, a supporter’s group based out of Cleveland.
Cleveland is my hometown. It’s also where I came to love soccer. Well, a form of it anyway. I was raised on Cleveland Force indoor soccer, followed by the three-time champion Cleveland Crunch. Growing up in Euclid, I was also exposed to a thriving Croatian soccer culture and even saw Dinamo Zagreb play local Croatian club A.C. Rebels in Eastlake. It was probably Dinamo’s reserve team or something, but it was the most amazing display of soccer skill I had ever personally witnessed in my life to that point.
After college in Athens, I got a job in Columbus and have worked in Central Ohio ever since. My first internship took place in the Columbus during the spring and summer of 1996. The timing and location weren’t exactly a coincidence. I have been a Crew fan since day one and have been involved in documenting the team since 1998. Columbus is my home in the soccer world.
Many different life circumstances have been swinging the pendulum back Cleveland’s way in recent years, so any re-paving you see on I-71 between Cleveland and Columbus is likely because I wore out the asphalt. I am dual citizen of those two great cities in a lifetime sense and also on a weekly basis.
As a dual citizen, it’s been interesting to watch the symbiotic sports relationship growth between Central Ohio and the North Coast. There’s the relationship between the Cleveland Indians the the Columbus Clippers. There’s the relationship between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Cleveland Monsters. And now, most staggeringly prominent of all, there’s the relationship between the Cleveland Browns and the Columbus Crew. Who ever could have imagined Brown & Orange and Black & Gold being so perfect together?
With this further strengthening on the Cleveland-Columbus sports alliance, it made me so happy to see a group like The Crewland come to be. After experiencing supporter gatherings for EPL clubs at different establishments in town, Nick Prokop started the Crew-focused gatherings last fall. Platform Beer Company in Ohio City is the group’s home base, reserving the front room for Crew fans and showing the game, with sound, throughout the entire establishment.
On Saturday, there were over 40 identifiable Crew fans in attendance in the crowded bar. Some of them are season ticket members who only show up to watch the away matches, while others will be at Platform every week. Either option is a very good thing for the Columbus Crew. For those who can’t spare the time and expense to make trips to Columbus, they are still building a community. They are still fostering the bonds of friendship and fellowship. They are still connecting with the club and each other, and if the #SaveTheCrew movement taught us anything, it’s that those bonds matter, not just in a sports sense, but in terms of our personal lives and for the betterment of our communities. Plus, it’s just fun to yell and scream and sing with your friends instead of doing so from your couch. The collective experience heightens the senses.
Here’s what Zack Steffen’s penalty kick save looked like from a Crewland perspective:
And here’s what the game-clinching goal by Gyasi Zardes looked like:
So yeah, that was fun. And it was hardly the only out-of-market watch party for the Crew. There were similar gatherings in Akron, Toledo, Bowling Green, Dayton, and even Cincinnati, where some sensible people still prefer Ohio’s team over the Flappy Knife-Lions. There were even out-of-state viewing parties in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Denver. And those are just the ones I heard about.
These groups and viewing parties are even more useful beyond the shared experience of the regular attendees. For example, when my wife and I were driving on our honeymoon, we stopped at a Browns Backers bar in Louisville to watch the season finale. It was so easy for us to plan our drive knowing we had a place in Kentucky where we could stop and watch the Browns game. Similar Crew experiences were evident on Saturday. One Crew fan had to work in Cleveland, so instead of missing out, he headed over to Platform to watch the game with The Crewland. Likewise, a season-ticket-member couple from Sandusky came to Cleveland for a concert and they were able to watch the game with fellow Crew supporters before the show.
Whether one is a dual Cleveland-Columbus citizen like myself, a current Clevelander who supports Ohio’s team, or a visitor to the North Coast with the good kind of Black & Gold in your veins, Saturday provided ample evidence of a common truth:
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