Orlando City SC defeated the Tampa Bay Rowdies for a sixth straight meeting on Sunday, claiming the 2014 I-4 Derby trophy with a 3-2 victory down in Tampa. But that’s not what anybody has been talking about this week.
As you may have heard about by now — and if you didn’t hear, get out from under the rock you’re living in — sixteen fans were ejected and four men were arrested at Sunday night’s game for several incidents, including battery on law enforcement officers. According to several eye-witness reports, Orlando City supporters tried entering the Rowdies’ supporters’ section, and one City fan apparently struck a young kid in the face.
Orlando City President and co-owner Phil Rawlins issued an open letter to the fans on Wednesday, bringing down the ban hammer on the two prime supporter groups – The Ruckus and Iron Lion Firm.
Here is most of that letter from Rawlins:
“Orlando City is proud of the reputation it has built in the community and will not allow a small number of fans involved in unsavory behavior to tarnish our organization. For these reasons the Club, following consultation with local law enforcement and Major League Soccer, has taken immediate action which includes (but is not limited to) the following steps:
“The four fans arrested have been suspended from all future Orlando City games pending the outcome of legal proceedings; Both current Supporter Groups – The Ruckus & Iron Lion Firm – have been indefinitely suspended pending their agreement to a new Fan Code of Conduct which follows MLS Supporter Group guidelines; All privileges associated with being a Supporter Group (e.g., use of drums, flags, large banners, etc.) are temporarily suspended. The Club is in the process of implementing new guidelines to become a “Recognized Supporter Group” which will involve privileges (such as use of drums, flags, large banners, etc.) for those groups that comply in the future; A copy of the new Fan Code of Conduct is being distributed to all fans.
“We extend our apologies on behalf of our fans to the Rowdies organization for the events of last Sunday. The Club has also written a letter to the Tampa Bay Rowdies expressing the same.”
This wasn’t the first time that the SG’s have been in the news this season. A couple months ago, Disney, which is currently homing Orlando City for the 2014 USL PRO season as it gets set to move back into the Citrus Bowl next season, asked SG’s to tone down their language during games and respect their rules when cheering on the team at their park.
My thoughts on the matter
I am not a member of any support group, and don’t plan on joining one any time soon. I think, though, that all of the SG’s do a great job of supporting the club. With that said, they’re not bigger than the club and shouldn’t feel like they have the right to go overboard with things.
When a handful of people act out against the law in somebody else’s home, as was the case on Sunday, it makes everybody look bad. It doesn’t just make the SG’s and the fan base look bad, it makes the club look bad, and we all know how hard Rawlins and everybody around him have worked over the years to make Orlando City a nice, respectable brand that people can look at and say, “they do things the right way; I want my club to be like Orlando City.”
The actions of the fans on Sunday ruin that, and I think that Orlando City did exactly what they had to do in bringing down the hammer, suspending the SG’s and taking away, pretty much, their freedoms at any future matches until they agree to the new Fan Code of Conduct, the same one that will be followed in Major League Soccer starting next season.
I spend a lot of time on Twitter — and I mean a lot of time. I don’t care what people involved with the Rowdies have to say about us, I really don’t, but when I see the national media and writers of other MLS team talking about Orlando City in a bad way, and then when I have my own colleagues here at Fansided asking me what the hell is going on with the SG’s, it’s a little embarrassing.
I understand that both sides — Orlando fans and Tampa fans — are at fault here, but this is not the first time we’ve had to talk about stuff like this. Isolated incidents are one thing, but when things begin to snowball and one thing becomes another, and then another, that’s when things get out of control, and I applaud the Club for stepping in and taking action. SG’s had a chance to do something about it, but didn’t, so the club stepped in and did something for them.
Going back to what I just said about Rawlins and the club working hard over the past couple of years for the image of the club: the last 10 months or so have been so great for Orlando and Orlando City Soccer, and things had been almost perfect this point — winning the USL PRO championship in front of 20,000 people; getting the stadium deal; getting the MLS franchise; unveiling the new logo and stadium renderings; and signing Kaka. Things couldn’t get much better than that.
We’re just a handful of months away from heading into the offseason as officially the 21st MLS franchise alongside New York City FC. It’s been a great ride up to this point, let’s not ruin it, people.