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For soccer fans well-versed in outrageous supporter behavior from around the world — from ultra-violence to racism to showers of detritus hurled from the stands — it's hard to swallow inappropriate sign content as a legitimate gripe from management.
John Bratt — "Badger" on the message boards — made a sign last season for a game against FC Dallas which cleverly read, "F*C* Dallas." But he says it was confiscated as well. Ditto for a giant banner made by several fans and hung behind the goal with a giant hourglass and the words, "Time's Up for Clavijo."
"People are calling for (Mike) Shanahan's head, and he's won two Super Bowls," says Bratt, a C-Firm board member. "You can support the troops and still oppose the president. We're not screaming at little kids, we're not invading the pitch, we're not throwing flares, we're not throwing socks full of nickels at the keeper. You go to a Nuggets or an Avs game, other Kroenke-owned teams, and you'll see way worse, but you don't see those fans being messed with as much us. But because this is soccer in America, there's this misperception that this has to be for five-year-old kids and their soccer moms."
Or "Dippin' Dots," as they're referred to by the diehards.
The Rapids front office insists that it's just trying to keep the games family-friendly, but Bratt and others believe it's gone too far.
"The Rapids have the same fan code of conduct that every team in the MLS has," Bratt continues. "They've just chosen to enforce it, in my opinion, beyond the letter of the law. And that's hurting the growth of a real fan culture here."
That code of conduct — detailed in the Dick's Sporting Goods Park Fan Guide — can at times seem highly interpretive. Inappropriate behavior includes, "but is not limited to, standing on chairs/seats...interference with the event, or participants of the event in any way," using profanity or "disturbing other guests' enjoyment of the event." Throwing, tossing, or discharging any object within the facility is banned, but "streamers/confetti may be thrown in times of celebration of our team's success," the guide says. "Streamers or confetti thrown at players, referees or any event staff or during corner kicks or throw-ins is considered prohibited behavior."
For a brief period of time, the Rapids allowed the supporters section access to a fog machine, but after other fans complained, it was taken away.
Aside from being confusing, the rules and restrictions have also changed time and time again, often from game to game, supporters say.
Still, Bratt continues to seek open dialogue and reasonable discourse with the front office — because, as he sees it, that's the point of a supporters club.
But he also sympathizes with a new group of supporters that emerged this season, a group of fans who, while not militant, don't exactly avoid conflict. They are the North Corner Council, and they are the bane of many a security guard's MLS existence.
"My take on this is it's the MLS, it's the Rapids, for crying out loud," says Pablo Aguayo, one of the main pillars of NCC. "I know good soccer and I personally cannot sit in the middle of the field and take in the game because I'd fall asleep, so I go where the atmosphere is. Every time after a game I go home and watch the game on TV again and I actually see it so as to be a knowledgeable supporter, but I'm at the game for the atmosphere of the fan section."
Once a member of C-Firm, Aguayo says NCC was spontaneously created out of a dissatisfaction with that group. "A bunch of people didn't break off and form the NCC," he explains. "All we did was put a name to all these people that left but were still showing up and supporting the Rapids. The reason that I think a lot of those people left is because the C-Firm was just too G-rated, too tame. It's not like we're going to have a row with everyone and fight up, but if you're going to use a name like 'firm,' a traditional European supporter term, you need to have something behind that. We just kicked it up a notch."
While that attitude tends to draw more of the young soccer fans — little footie-philes who look like they could be TP-ing houses on the weekends — their behavior isn't exactly something out of Green Street Hooligans: some curse words, an inappropriately-timed streamer, a smoke bomb at the worst.
But their behavior does attract the attention of Argus Security — with which the Rapids contract — as well as Rapids and Dick's officials, who can often be seen along an elevated walkway above the north-end goal, poised like hawks watching Section 100 and calling out the offenders.
Dave Cleland, a 41-year-old IT project manager for a bank, recently found himself booted from the stadium a mere ten minutes into the game. Cleland, a huge fan of Arsenal — the famed English squad in which Kroenke owns a 12 percent stake — bonded with some Rapids fans while watching football at the British Bulldog and decided to give the local squad a chance. It didn't hurt that the Rapids have aligned with Arsenal — and that the Rapids fans he met at the Bulldog knew their stuff.