It all started months ago, when I received an e-mail notification that the United States national soccer team would open its 2011 Gold Cup (Copa Oro) schedule against Canada at Ford Field.
I forwarded the e-mail off to a few of my soccer-crazy friends, and one of them — Fruitport varsity boys coach Greg Kobylak — took over from there, organizing our trip across the state for Tuesday’s contest. Kobylak was also in charge of finding tickets for the game, and he scored seats among the American Outlaws — a rowdy band of fans who follow the U.S. team with the type of passion and enthusiasm that makes soccer the most popular sport in the world.
Six of us made the trek to the Motor City, where we followed the crowds into Ford Field with about 30 minutes remaining in Tuesday’s opening contest between Panama and Guadeloupe. We found our way down to our section, but paid little attention to the row and seat numbers on our tickets — the American Outlaws don’t sit, and they don’t worry about such insignificant and bothersome rules such as assigned seats. You simply find some open space and slide on in and join the party.
This was certainly different than any other sporting event I’ve ever attended.
The thing that jumped out first was the attire — everyone in the American Outlaws section wore some kind of USA jersey or T-shirt in either red, white or blue. Many had American flags draped over their shoulders or flag-patterned bandanas covering their faces like an outlaw sauntering down a dusty street in the movie “Tombstone.”
Red, white and blue wigs, crazy hats and home-made noisemakers (no vuvuzelas allowed) were everywhere, and once I got over the visual stimulation, the incessant noise began to take over.
The American Outlaws don’t sit down, and they don’t watch the game quietly. There are chants, dozens of them, and early on, while Panama and Guadeloupe were still fighting it out on the pitch, we were introduced to our leader for the night, a tall, lanky guy in his 20s with a red bandana holding back his long hair. He stood on his seat, head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd, and led the chants. Some were songs, others were cheers, many of them vulgar and rude and completely inappropriate but all of them loud and raucous.
To read more of this story, see today's print edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.