By Joel Warner
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"I got two season tickets and I would always bring a different friend, and they all loved the atmosphere," Cleland says. "And I loved it too, I'd bring in a cowbell and a drum and it was great that you could be in there and stand and sing like you can't really do at other sporting events. It was fun in a totally different way for me."
On June 21, after tailgating in the parking lot with fellow fans for the home game against Houston, Cleland came into the game late; in his haste, he missed the rules of behavior placed on all the seats of section 100, replete with the new streamer-tossing-protocol handed down by league commissioner Don Garber in the wake of MLS fans picking up on what the rest of the world was already doing — throwing streamers at an opposing player taking a corner kick. But Cleland threw a streamer at the wrong time.
"I'm tall and easy to spot," Cleland says with a laugh. "And all of a sudden security was on me, telling me to get all my stuff because I wouldn't be coming back in. Basically, it ended with the security guard asking me for my ID and information, so I guess I'm on some kind of hooligan list. That streamer didn't go anywhere near a player; I wasn't aiming for a player. It was just ridiculous. I spent the whole game in the parking lot with another guy who had been kicked out. There's certainly going to become a point where I won't go anymore if this keeps up."
What's particularly frustrating for the diehards is that the Rapids have used the supporters groups in their brochures and advertising material. "There's a picture of me waving a Rapids flag that they use to promote season tickets; there's a picture of my son with a Rapids cape," Bratt says. "There's one of guys throwing streamers and smoke bombs going off. But now if I try to bring in a flag, Argus will be there measuring to a centimeter how long the pole is. It's frustrating, because our peers in the MLS, other supporters groups, are being allowed to grow, to flourish. In Chicago and D.C., more recently Toronto, they appreciate their fans, and they have twenty to thirty different fan groups. We want to grow and have five or six groups, hopefully have people in section 101, then 102, and really expand this thing."
It's a notion all of the Rapids supporters groups agree on.
"Denver is a great sports town," Bratt says. "They'll back a winner. You saw the Rockies last year. If this team would get on a roll, this stadium would fill. Denver's not about rock stars, Elway aside. This town is about a team that wins. If this team starts winning, we will get the supporters."
Kieran Cain, Rapids senior director of marketing and entertainment, says it's not the supporters groups as a whole that are the problem. "It's a couple of individuals that have consistently identified themselves as pushing the boundaries as far as behavior goes," he explains. "I would say they get a little bit of extra security, but that's because that's the only section where we have people throwing things or where there are repeated incidents. They keep an eye on them, but it's not the Gestapo looking to shut people down."
Cain, who has been with the Rapids organization since the early days at Mile High Stadium, can remember what it was like to have a mammoth stadium empty, with no noise from the fans, and in that regard, he says, the Rapids appreciate what the supporters groups are doing.
But Cain also views the Rapids as family-friendly. "It's the same thing with a hockey game. You go to an Avalanche game and it's probably going to be different from the atmosphere of a game in New Jersey," he says. "I think we as Coloradans tend to have a more family-oriented atmosphere, and with the amount of youth-soccer players that there are in this state and their families coming to games, you have to take that into account."
At the beginning of the 2007 season, when the Rapids supporters were seated in section 114, Cain reports that the front office received numerous complaints from families seated near the supporters groups.
"Not only did we have to give up seats for the supporters groups," he remembers, "but we were losing a couple of sections on either side as a buffer zone between people that didn't want to hear cursing and stand the whole game and have beer spilled on them and that type of thing. We wound up having a half-full section 114 and two empty sections on either side of it. It was just impacting our sales too much; we'd have to lose whatever hundreds of seats that is to get fifty people in there. So kind of by mutual agreement we decided to move everybody to section 100."
Mutual agreement is not what some fans have called the move to section 100, but Cain says it improved the relationship between the Rapids and their supporters. And since the entire Rapids organization is housed within Dick's, they are in closer contact with Argus Security and can better monitor behavior.