By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
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By Patricia Calhoun
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And the Rapids aren't the only ones keeping tabs on fans. Behavior at other U.S. soccer stadiums has forced MLS officials to take note.
At a Columbus Crew home game in Ohio against the New England Revolution in late May, the Crew supporters got a little unruly and begin hurling objects onto the field, in some instances striking players. More disturbing, however, was a video that surfaced after the game of an off-camera fan shouting a racial slur towards Kheli Dube, a New England player from Zimbabwe who scored the only goal in New England's 1-0 victory.
Members of the Crew Union and another supporters group, the Hudson Street Hooligans, denounced the fan's behavior, and the Crew vowed to ban the fan for life, but as of yet, the fan still has not been identified.
Nearly two months later, on July 21, the Crew fans again found themselves the subject of controversy in a friendly match against English Premier League squad West Ham United. When a group of West Ham fans made their way into the Crew supporters' section, they were greeted with chants, and a brawl broke out between nearly a hundred Crew fans and thirty West Ham supporters, with Columbus police officers and Crew Stadium security staff eventually separating them.
"You hope that this stuff is freak occurrences," Cain comments. "Columbus for whatever reason is getting hammered with it this year, but you hear about things here and there every once in a while. I do feel it's infrequent, though, not a growing problem or anything. A hooligan over in the U.K. would look at anything that's going on in the MLS and say, 'That's nothing.' At the same time, you hope that your supporters police themselves."
Because if supporters won't, police will.
"Recently, I think there have been some flare-ups," says Sergeant Wayne Granger of the Commerce City Police Department, who has worked many Rapids games and is familiar with section 100. "Everything that I have seen has been related to park issues where there have been repeated warnings and people continue to disobey the rules.
"Smoke bombs are my biggest concern, because that's a fire, and you have kids in there," he continues. "This is not Britain. This is not Germany. They're not going to allow people to be standing there shouting profanities in a family environment; if they can't understand that common courtesy to the rest of the people there, then they are going to have security talk to them... It's a large venue. Family and safety is what we're all about, and we're supporting Kroenke in what he's doing. I don't think there is anything unfair in those fans getting more attention from security because they subject themselves to more scrutiny by not calming down."
Retired Rapids star defender and U.S. International player Marcelo Balboa says it's a fine line. "You want diehard soccer fans, you have to let them be diehard soccer fans. But you also have the family element. It's tough in the MLS, because the league and the concept of diehard fans haven't been around that long, so people aren't used to it or don't know what to make of it," says Balboa, who hosts a local radio show on AM 1060 and will be NBC's soccer analyst during the Olympics in Beijing. "But in Europe, South America you have leagues that have been around hundreds of years. In Argentina and Brazil they're dancing in the stands, they're dancing tango, they're dancing salsa, there's flags waving and smoke filling the air and they want you to dance on the field, they want you to make soccer beautiful on the field. As a player, myself, I'll take a stadium of 80,000 that hate me but that are screaming and into it over fans that are just sitting there."
It's a Sunday in late July, and the Rapids are taking on the Columbus Crew at Dick's in a game that could lift the home team into a playoff spot with a victory. In section AA of the parking lot, the tailgate scene is three to four times larger than it was for the exhibition match against Tigres.
Throngs of cars are parked by the practice fields, trunks open in proper tailgate fashion. A small sea of supporters clad in Rapids maroon — or whatever international jersey they've chosen for the day — chat and laugh with one another, eating hot dogs and drinking beer, while little kids try to juggle soccer balls as best they can.
"It's really kind of a community among us," Bratt says. "During the off-season, you really miss these people. We'll meet up once or twice, but it's never like it is during the season — like this, with everybody out and having a good time."
Paige Burnham agrees. In fact, the community feel among the supporters is the only thing keeping her here. She's not even sure if she wants to go into the stadium tonight, doesn't see the point. Burnham and her husband, Tel, a goateed Englishman with a shaved head, are fed up with the organization. Last season they had six season tickets, but they canceled them this year. For Tel, the club's decision to keep coach Clavijo was the last straw. The only reason they're here tonight is because of a free ticket offer from the C-Firm, which was given a hundred extra tickets by the front office in an attempt to grow the group. The Burnhams don't align themselves with any particular supporters group but are merely Rapids fans. Though probably not for long.