We’ve come a long way in just a year. One year ago, the supporters’ groups were very tribal with no connection other than a team. I look at the pictures I took from the first game, and Sections 18 through 20 were PACKED. I compare that to the pictures from the last few games, and the number is halved.

Sure, if you’re a bumbling drunk, you may blame that reduced number on the Louligans. But you’d miss the big picture: those last games, the remaining few are wearing LOULIGAN shirts. No longer is there a mismatch of shirts; the Louligan green is prominent. There’s a unity, a strength that wasn’t there when the team started its nosedive.

No one was asked to ditch the UK black, or the HSC yellow; people were coming into the fold, making one voice. There’s not a club out there in the US that wouldn’t want this unity. The Facebook page became a hub of activity, alive with the enthusiasm the Louligans have.

And we maintained it during the offseason. The Illinois Piasa were ecstatic for us to bring our brand of support to indoor soccer. We made Soccer For Fun a tough place to play in; just ask Sebor. This lifeblood that kept running encouraged the ordering of Louligan scarves.

So now it’s time for the Lions.

Thirteen Louligans road tripped to Des Moines to support the boys in green. Thirteen doesn’t sound like much; however, factor in the seven hours one way and the Seattle-esque weather we had that weekend, and suddenly the sacrifice becomes a bit more obvious. And the Louligans in attendance brought it; the Red Army (the Des Moines Menace supporters club) had to step up their game to match our intensity. We may have had as many in attendance as they did; the players for both sides acknowledged our presence during the game by their actions.

It’s opening weekend. We’ve all been looking forward to this. Our event page on facebook shows about 45 in attendance (the number is higher, but I subtract the players and Pixie. She’s a bitch.). We sold almost that many season tickets, which we should be proud of. The players have already posted their anticipation for our presence. Arrangements are still being figured out, but we know they want us there.

It goes without saying that we have earned our place. The previous franchise never really could get the business together to treat us right. They slighted us. The bouncy castle was more important than making good on promises. Plain and simple, I know many feel like they screwed us.

But it’s time to leave it in the past. The time is now. The Piasa showed us what a franchise can offer us, even on a smaller scale. We “rebuilt the brand”; we had more and more people contributing to the events. The Piasa made us welcome, made a place for us, and we gave back all we could. What we developed at the Piasa games was unmistakable: Loyalty.

Loyalty to the team. Loyalty to the players. But most of all, loyalty to the Louligans. We still work on bringing new fans. We convert the fans that supported the teams before us. And at the end of the game, when the players come over and applaud the Louligans, you know you’ve been a part of something important, win or lose.

So let’s take our place at the Tony Glavin Soccer Complex. Let there be no mistaking who we are: we are NOT the imitation ultras, the American poseurs that pretend to be European or hooligans. We are NOT the hand sitters, that wait for the PA to tell them when to clap. We don’t dismiss the local team since they’re not Euro teams or even MLS. We are Louligans: we scream until hoarse, we chant our songs so the people on the other side can hear, and we respect the game.

I have no idea what to expect on Sunday. The weather is not looking cooperative. I don’t know the price of a beer, or where we’ll park. I vaguely know where we’ll stand. I’m still learning the roster. And none of this matters.

What will matter is 40 of us, walking in, scarves and drums and flags up. Our presence will be made. Our boys in green will hear us, will feel us in their bones, will give us all they’ve got. We’ll give them nothing short of that in return. They deserve it. We deserve this. It’s our time.

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