Jeff Fabin is a relative newbie to this newfangled soccer thing but he’s embraced it like few others I’ve known. So when Jeff asked to pen a feature on Buffalo’s growing soccer culture I couldn’t say no. Jeff is an avid USMNT/DC United/Liverpool fan…look for more from him in the coming weeks on ITM. Take it away, Jeff…
We here at In Towards McBride are nothing if not: 1. Huge fans of the US game & 2. Chronic navel gazers. So let’s dial the clock back a bit to the spring of 2010 and take a look at how the Beautiful Game has taken root in the heart of Bills obsessed Rust Belt Land. The soccer scene in Buffalo was unestablished and completely buried in the overall sports landscape. Little did we know that in less than half a year all this would change. 2010 was the dawning of a new era in Buffalo when it came to football and it genuinely took a lot of people by surprise.
That World Cup year marked the inaugural season for FC Buffalo, our local team founded in 2009 by a group of friends from the North Towns who wanted to build a soccer club in Buffalo just because they loved the game. I didn’t think much of it until my friend Russ, who incidentally runs this blog, asked me to go to the first game with him and some mutual friends. I was never a huge soccer fan at any point in my life, but for $5 to get into the stadium what could I lose. I watched every World Cup going back to 1994 and watched EPL matches on Saturday morning while recovering from Friday night, but never really paid attention other than those sporadic moments. Never expected how much my world would change since the day I walked through those gates at All-High Stadium.
It didn’t take long before I was a season ticket holder and fell in love with the in-game experience. We quickly bonded with the teams front office and built a joint effort to help grow the game in the area. With the World Cup offering a perfect backdrop to that summer, we held events in the area to watch US games and were blown away by the turnout. It got to a point where people were turned away at the door because the bar was filled way WAY past capacity. At this point we really knew that there was a strong presence in the area when it came to soccer.
To say it was hard work would be an understatement. In Buffalo you are living under the umbrella of the Bills and Sabres, and to a lesser extent the Bandits and Bisons. Bringing out what felt like an underground scene in Buffalo when it came to soccer, we were hit with many successes and many obstacles. It almost felt felt like that underground punk band trying to hit the big time (but with less hair product and more pits – Russ). The times spent at Papa Jakes for World Cup 2010 and for FC Buffalo parties led to the birth of the Buffalo Chapter of American Outlaws. AO is a nationally recognized supporters group that was formed in 2007 and currently has 70+ chapters across the States. At first we were unsure if we would be able to meet the qualifications to have a chapter, they weren’t steep but knowing what we were dealing with in the area we were still uncertain. Any qualms were quickly thrown out the window as our initial inquiries to the local soccer community were answered loud and clear and we immediately had a chapter.
While we were trying to grow the sport on a national level, we were trying to grow it at a local level and that spawned the birth of The Situation Room. It was at the ingural game that Dale Paradowski, one of the group originals, decided it was a good idea to belt out Bad Romance by Lady GaGa. I can’t speak for the rest of us, but I was wondering why the hell he would sing such a song. But what he was trying to do worked, we were quickly named “The GaGa Boys” by Nick in the front office. This is when we realized we had something, even if we had to ditch that horrid name. At the post game party we all talked about a new name for our supporters group. Russ instantly said “The Situation Room” and why not? The team was named after Wolf Blitzer after all. We had our name and a small band of core members, now what?
2011 served up a new year of uncertainty, as we needed to find a bigger/slightly more welcoming establishment. The bar served us well but on the whole we needed to move on. This is when we reached out to Geckos. We were looking at the 2nd season of FC Buffalo as well as Gold Cup 2011 in June and needed a place to cater to all the events we had planned. Ownership at Gecko’s had a history with the game and were willing to play host to our burgeoning movement. The Situation Room held a fundraiser that was a complete success. AO Buffalo held Gold Cup events that packed the bar wall to wall. FC Buffalo was packing the bar for post game events which also included The Bedlington Cup versus the Bedlington Terriers, a team from England that just like FC Buffalo was also sponsored by local billionaire and sugar daddy Bob Rich. It was a complete success as it garnered local media attention and helped grow all groups locally. There were articles in The Buffalo News and features on local news, Seriously, local soccer on TV and in the newspapers? Nothing could go wrong, it felt.
This is when the obstacles started to hit. The frenzy we hit from these events started to die down. No longer were we packing the bars to watch soccer, we had maybe a handful of us heading out to watch games. Patrons at these bars would ridicule us for our love of soccer after spending a summer filling these same places with fans. The scene we felt we established was gone as we were quickly muscled out of the places we completely took over. This was a the time we needed to move on once again.
Fast forward to the present and things are looking up again. AO Buffalo has a new home bar called The Library, FC Buffalo and The Situation Room have also moved onto Mes Que; Buffalo’s first and only soccer dedicated establishment. World Cup Qualifying in June gives AO Buffalo a base of excitement to work off of again. FC Buffalo has moved onto a new Great Lakes division in the NPSL that will only help build some local rivalries. TSR has already ran with it and along with supporters groups in Detroit & Cleveland have founded the Rust Belt Derby…first of its kind in our region. The summer promises to top everything that has come before it thus far.
Amongst our groups we have a wide array of fans. While we all share a love for FC Buffalo and USMNT soccer, we all have other teams we follow on top of this when it comes to MLS and EPL clubs. We have built a community of fans and while opinions and loves may differ, we all share a love for the game of soccer. Its a community thats more close knit than anything I have ever seen amongst football or hockey fans in the area. As weird as it sounds, its almost like a family.
It’s quite amazing to see what the “scene” has become in just a short time. At this point, it can only get bigger.
Get at Jeff on Twitter: @jfabin15