Wednesday, May 29, 2024
Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Best Seat in the House

I have the best seat in the house on match day and you’ll never convince me otherwise.

Photos: Chris Norris & Alex Tremel

As I nurse the blisters on my hands and my sore throat and my aching shoulders after Saturday’s season-capping victory over the Sad Wolves, I’m reflecting on what this season means to me. What do I take away from a season that ultimately ended in disappointment – a season that ends with a match played for not much more than pride? A season that saw draw after draw and a table that always seemed poised to break our way if only we could string together a win or two, but ultimately ended with the Flamingos in 9th and out of the playoff spots? It’s an answer I couldn’t find in this game alone, but as I reflected on the season, and even further back on the seasons before it, it was as if the answer was there all along, waiting to be pieced together.

2021

This season started with optimism. I remember the Slack chat teaser that came from The Flock’s pioneer President Andrew Schmidt, as FMFC were finalizing their deal to bring in Coach Carl Craig: “I think it will send a message that we’re well and truly not fucking around.” I found myself wondering what that even looks like for a 3rd division club. Slowly but surely, as I learned more about Coach Craig, I knew he was precisely the man I would have selected to lead us into battle once again. This was a man that talked about community, about attractive football, and was in a friggin’ punk band, for Christ’s sake. It was fully cemented on April 10th – our first real get-together at Breese Stevens Field again, this time for a kit reveal. And Coach Craig comes out and reads a poem published first in 1807. (To complete your mental image – it is a cold and rainy spring morning in Wisconsin, and he’s wearing a brilliant teal parka.)

“…For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”

– William Wordsworth, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

I did not know what was in store, but I was on board. Wherever Coach led us, I would follow.

And like that, the season was off! A few games on the road and then it was Back to Breese (conveniently almost exactly 2 weeks after my 2nd Moderna Dose) for a roaring stoppage-time winner from Derek Gebhard. If you need a refresher on what that one was like, I’ll point you towards my tweet from the day:

RIP those ad boards.

And it was everything I had hoped it would be. I don’t need to tell you what that was like. I’m sure everybody remembers That Event – your first foray back into the “real world” after being holed up for a year-plus. And instantly the Flock opened up their arms and welcomed me back, excited to laugh and chant and share stories and taunt opposing keepers, like we had never left. But this year, I was doing it from behind a drum. (I’m the drummer in the Dulce Hoodie doing a little too much.) That was a new experience for me. Not banging a bass drum, as my band instructor in high school yelled at me more than once for banging the drum instead of playing my alto sax. But I had never had the chance to do it before for the Flock. 

Fox Valley Flock – An Aside

In year one, I wanted to do EVERYTHING I could as a supporter from outside of Madison. I went to every meeting Forward Madison or The Flock announced on social media, I learned the chants, and when called to fill in, I got up on the capo stand and led from the front. And they wanted me to keep doing it! So for the first year, I led from the front. And when I wasn’t on the capo stand, I was doing my best to sing loud from the stands and lead by example from the middle. 

I also met with Andrew one-on-one during those early Flock meetings and we discussed new Supporters’ Groups. La Barra 608 had already been announced and I knew I had to make one for people like me. I live in Oshkosh – about an hour and a half Northeast of Madison. Surely there were more people like me, people that loved soccer and had heard about this new team that was forming just a short drive away! I would lead the charge, and create a catch-all group for those of us from my neck of the woods – the Fox Valley Flock. “Wisconsinites are die-hard sports fans, people drive from all over the state to go to Packers, Badgers, Brewers games,” I said to myself.

As Year One went on, I realized that leading a supporters’ group was not as easy as I initially expected. I thought surely once I came up with this (super clever) SG name and paid a co-worker with design experience to come up with a dope logo, all that was left was to make the socials and they would flock (heheh) to me! Boy, was I wrong. I got a few commitments to meet up or chat from others in the area that were interested in what I was doing, but none ever followed through. My first “Watch Party” ended up being me and a few close friends that wanted to come support me but had relatively little interest in the team or soccer at all. Unfortunately, it was a rough start.

But not to worry! At the end of the first year, I told the others in the Matchday Ops team that in year two, I’d be stepping back from capoing. My new resolve was to build up this SG that to this point consisted of only me. But I knew I had to go out into the world and find soccer fans where they were. So that was my big plan for 2020! Meet new soccer people through volunteering, USMNT watch parties, outdoor and indoor soccer fields, anywhere I could find them. But 2020 had other plans. So instead, I spent all of Year Two at home, isolated and watching Forward games from the comfort of my couch with my LED light strips set to pink.

2021 (cont.)

For Year Three, as we emerged from the darkest days of the pandemic, I lowered my expectations for myself. I would simply enjoy being back in the Flock End. Forward Madison and The Flock had become so instantly a huge cornerstone of who I was, and I had them back, at long last! So I dipped my toe back in to the Matchday Ops crew – I would fill in where needed in an emergency. It turns out, the Home Opener right after a long pandemic shortly after vaccines had been made available constituted an emergency. So Steve Shah, my partner in crime and the guy leading the Flock from the snare and cymbals, looked at me and said, “You wanna drum today?” Hell yeah, I wanted to drum. And as you saw earlier… I drummed.

Steve is an incredible piece of the Matchday atmosphere. Always making sure the drums are where they need to be and holding together a musical unit full of people with 32 oz beers at their feet are no small accomplishments. Without his encouragement this year, even though I loved it, I would have happily receded from view to be the guy that filled in on a bass drum a couple times. But I could see he meant it when he told me I had done a good job, and that I truly was a valued piece that they were looking to add to the team. And so I became one of the drummers. When available, I got behind my bass drum and finally was leading from the place I felt most comfortable – the back.

My Mom

One of the times I was “unavailable” for drumming (or at least for part of the game) was one game this summer against Tormenta. This game marked a special occasion for me – after two years of me going on about this silly flamingo soccer team in Madison, my mom was finally going to join me for a game! It took a push from her best friend, who came along as well, but finally I was going to get to show her what this all meant to me and why I kept going on about it. 

My mom, a devout Catholic, was ahead of me on my relationship to Forward Madison. She would often needle me over what each of us was doing on our respective weekends. She made the early connection that Soccer was my religion, The Flock was my denomination, and Breese Stevens Field was my church. It’s not a perfect comparison, but as I learn more about myself and my beliefs, I don’t shy away from the implication as I once would have.

On this Saturday, I would share my faith with my mom. Before we hit the road, she picked out my Pride Kit and a scarf to wear for the day. We hit the pregame with The Flock and I saved her a spot next to me in the Flock End. I have never seen anybody pick up the spirit of the Flock faster. My mom is in her element anywhere there are people. She will talk to anybody about anything and that day was no different. I saw her make friends, sing and jump for as long as she could, and she left that day spreading the Good Word – she was hooked.

On a recent Facebook post, FMFC asked for comments “telling us why you are a Forward Fan” and my mom commented:

“I am a fan because of The Flock – and their willingness to include converts to the sport – and group – and antics!!!!”

The Real Fox Valley Flock

The reason I bring up this particular day is because it was a clarifying one for me. My mom was coming! I told everybody I knew. My friends decided they would join, and my mom’s best friend was going to bring her son along too. Our friends invited their friends, and all in all,  we had a cadre of 12 sharing this experience together. A group of people that ultimately had no real connection to each other, but all with some connection to the Fox Valley.

It wasn’t clear until I was thinking about a caption for our picture from the day, but in retrospect, this was the real Fox Valley Flock. 12 relative strangers coming together to experience one moment, one game, one Saturday evening as part of a larger whole. Whose only unifying element might be this singular soccer game, if not for the Fox Valley and the relationships we share. Someday I’d like the Fox Valley Flock to grow into something more; I still envision true watch parties in THIS neck of the woods so I don’t have to drive all the way to Madison for my Flock fixes. But for now, this little bundle of people was the exact right group of people to join me for such a special day.

The Answer

I promised meaning and an answer early in this piece, so by now I’m sure you’re wondering – where is this all going? The question was, “What do I take away from this season?”

The answer is: The rest of it.

Not the soccer. Not the product on the field. Sure, it’s easier to be a fan when the team is flying high and scoring goals. It’s easy to get loud after somebody scores from a free kick right in front of you. It’s hard when the goals dry up, when the points only come one at a time and it feels like the draws will never end.

But that’s not what it’s about. I care about seeing FMFC fight for a championship – and we’ll push again next season with that as the expectation from a club that does a lot of the other stuff right – but I care more about the people here. The experience. I care about Andrew and Steve and the rest of the people, too numerous to name, that saw this guy showing up to games on his own and said “You belong here.” I care about bringing along the people that mean something to me and showing them what’s special about the Flock and Breese Stevens and Madison.

And the answer is Community. That’s the better parallel to religion. This is a place where truly all are welcome. Where the main theme is standing up next to the person beside you and saying, “We fight together.” 

All are welcome in the Flock End. From near, from far, from all walks of life. We want you. And we want to share this gift with you.

Loud. Vibrant. Unwavering.

Post-Script

After the end of the game, our beloved captain and FMFC’s Community Engagement Manager, Connor Tobin took a long moment after the game to collect himself on the field before walking around to speak with every fan that wanted a moment of his time. He was exhausted, he was emotional, but he came up into the drum well to thank each of us personally for the atmosphere and the hard work we put into bringing the energy to Breese Stevens. I gave him a hug and gifted him a Fox Valley Flock hat – I wanted him to know that there were people from all over this state (and indeed this country) that respected him and what he put into this club – on the field, and more importantly off of it. With the cap in his hand, he left us with the following message:

“All you guys are thanking us for that” (pointing to the field) “…This is what makes it special. Just look around at what you guys are building, and the sense of community. You don’t have to be a football fan, you don’t have to like any of that stuff. You have to like this (sweeps hands around Flock End), and you have to like making Madison a better place. And when it means something more than that (points out at the pitch), that’s what it’s fucking about. And it’s fucking incredible. I love you guys. This is awesome.”

Author

  • Alex Tremel

    Fox Valley Flock Founder. FMFC/SKC/TOT Supporter. Packers/Badgers when not doing soccer things.

    Twitter

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