See a full gallery of photos at the end of this article.
Energy Football Club in Oklahoma City had their season home opener Saturday night and Free Press spent the evening there.
The weather was as close to cooperative as it gets in an Oklahoma spring.
Eager fans started waiting in line for tickets and to enter almost an hour and a half before game time. They were dressed in variations of Energy’s bright green.
One couple, Ryan and Leslie Stallings, and their two children, Caitin and Connor, came all the way from Little Rock, Arkansas, decked out in all kinds of green. They even had green hair spray and face paint.
“We love Energy,” said the dad. “We watch them on ESPN all the time and come over when we can.”
We saw Tim McLaughlin, who co-owns the team with Bob Funk, Jr., eagerly walking around the facility one last time before they let the fans start coming in. He had an active presence in the stadium throughout the night.
The Chilnza family of men dressed in their own homemade spirit garb including spikey green and white headdresses couldn’t wait to sit find their seats.
“We love it, man,” said the dad of the group, Nick Chelnza. “We come up from Lawton for every game.”
On the other end of the spectrum was Barbie Schroader who had never seen a pro soccer match. The team was going to introduce her as “Teacher of the Match,” honoring her for hard work in her Calumet Elementary classroom.
Members of fan cheer clubs took up their traditional spots in Taft Stadium at NW 25th and N May Avenue.
In 2015 the 80-year-old stadium was re-opened, fully rebuilt with a new artificial field and put to use for Energy matches and Oklahoma City Public Schools north side football games.
It was rebuilt with money from MAPS, Energy FC and Oklahoma City Public Schools. However, the original 3-story stone grandstand wall facing May Avenue was maintained to keep the historic feel of the place.
Soccer is a passionate fan’s game.
Like football, it’s a team sport with a lot of action that requires a blend of individual skill and careful teamwork.
But the players have no protective gear, so the fan is able to easily identify, and identify with, each individual player somewhat as they can in baseball.
But that’s as far as similarities with American football and baseball go.
“Football,” as soccer is called everywhere else in the world, is well-known for its raucous, profane and occasionally violent crowds.
Some countries in the Middle East consider their soccer fans to be so profane and potentially violent they won’t even allow women to attend at all.
Pro club fans in the U.S. are loud, passionate and occasionally profane. But the clubs try to keep the profanity to a minimum. And racial slurs are strictly forbidden.
That is true in Oklahoma City, as well.
Energy has its own “Fan code of conduct” that reads in part: “Slurs, derogatory language, physical harm and/or threats of physical harm towards anyone are completely unacceptable and will be dealt with in the strictest possible terms.”
Usually, the worst that happens is that a protective mom might cover both ears of their child and wait for the fan clubs to settle down after a “bad call” by the officials.
Energy has two active clubs they can count on to show up and produce a lot of crowd energy during the match.
The oldest and biggest fan club for Energy call themselves “The Grid.”
It’s mostly made up of English-speaking millennials and older hangers-on who like the vibe.
They have occupied a spot in the bleachers behind the goal on the north end of the field for some time, except for an interruption in 2015 when Energy ordered them to move to the southwest corner of the stands.
That year Energy thought The Grid was becoming too profane and offending families who came to the matches. Energy has always advertised itself as a place friendly to the entire family.
Team management was concerned because many of their players coach youth leagues, so elementary students attend with their families to see their coach play.
But Energy and The Grid kissed and made up. And eventually,The Grid moved back to their favorite spot in the north bleachers.
So, this year at the home opener it seemed that all had been forgiven since the showdown in 2015.
The north bleachers were full of happy 20-somethings.
The drums were pounding.
The fans were chanting profanities within certain guidelines.
And some moms were covering their children’s ears, but not that often.
One fan sitting in the middle of The Grid was Bevan Stockdell.
She admitted that the first season she came to Energy matches she sat in some nice sponsor seats on the sidelines, but now she sits with her husband, Marshall Stockdell, who is an enthusiastic member of The Grid.
Not seeming to be the raw language type, we asked her if she liked the chants.
“I don’t sing all the chants because I hate them,” she said. “But it’s fun. It’s energetic. And I’m having a good time with my husband.”
Marshall Stockdell works with Fields and Futures, an organization led by Energy co-owner Tim McLaughlin and his wife Liz that has been rebuilding playing fields around OKCPS with funding from several sources including the Wes Welker Foundation.
He was eager to talk about the value of having a pro soccer team in Oklahoma City.
“With soccer, because of the interest and the awesome opportunity for young Latino kids to have and find new role models, that’s something that the other sports aren’t bringing,” Stockdell said.
Another active club is made up of Latino young adults. They call themselves Furia Verde and set up at the top of the east stands.
The English translation of the name is “Green Fury,” and they live up to the name with furious drumming, chanting and flag waving throughout the entire 90 minutes of regulation play.
Free Press was finally able to catch their president, Martín Sop at the end of the game when he was no longer leading chants.
Dressed in his bright green Lucha Libre type head covering and cape he was eager to talk about Energy.
“I’ve been following them since the first game,” said Sop. “I love this game. About this team, I can say everything.”
He said originally, there “wasn’t anything for Hispanics. There was nothing.” And so, some of them who sat near each other decided to form their own group.
Furia Verde was born.
Even English speakers who sit close to the club in large numbers seem to enjoy their high energy and noisy drumming. They follow along with cheers that Sop enthusiastically leads.
After the match we caught up with co-owner Tim McLaughlin again and visited in between his complimenting players on their way to their cars.
Even though Energy lost their home opener, he was still enthusiastic and encouraging the players on their way home.
And he was enthusiastic about the value of soccer for Oklahoma City.
“It’s such a unifying game,” McLaughlin said as he started to point around the stadium. “Rooting for your city’s team. The Grid. You’ve got the Hispanic people who are so passionate. You’ve got the corporate people. You’ve got the family sections. You’ve got great players.”
But then he couldn’t talk any more. He had to break away and give more players encouraging words.