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Living Louligan: Willinho’s Dad Matt and Open Cup Away Games


Editor’s note: Many of you know who Willinho is. Will House and his brother Jake have grown up in the Supporters Sections; everyone has a Jake or Will story. Their dad Matt has been a long time member of the Louligans and has given his son a lot of incredible memories, from F1 races to away games in Wichita. People have asked why the Open Cup means so much to a large majority of soccer supporters; I think Matt’s personal spin show the emotional bonds that develop fron and around these games.
If you don’t like it, we may have to break out Willinho’s Wheel of Judgement. You don’t want to spin it. 😀

One summer I was in Kansas visiting my wife’s family and saw Sporting KC was playing a weeknight game so I decided to check it out. That night they were playing then USL Pro side Orlando City in the U.S. Open Cup. I don’t remember anything about what happened on the pitch that night, but I’ll never forget what I saw in the section next to me. Rabid fans all decked out in purple (Orlando’s colors) singing and cheering their away side on with a passion normally reserved for a championship game. Then one of their strikers put the ball in the net. Purple streamers went flying through the air and they exploded in songs and cheers. I thought to myself “it’s not like this is a final or anything.” Then it occurred to me that yes, this was like a final to them. Orlando had been tearing up USL Pro that season, but this was their chance to prove themselves against an MLS team. This was truly a David vs a Goliath. Everything we love about sports distilled in this moment.

You’ve heard supporters around the country talk at length about the history of this tournament and how it’s been a staple of soccer in this country for over a century. I’m not here to talk about that. Others have done it more eloquently. I want to talk about why it matters to me.

In the days of Saint Louis FC, Open Cup draws were something I always looked forward to. One year we drew away at FC Wichita of the NPSL in our first round match up and I thought this could be a great first away day for me and my then 5 year old son Will. We arrived at their supporters tailgate and a man known only to us as “Johnny Freedom” welcomed with open arms. For those haven’t known the joy and heartbreak of being a part of supporters culture, what happens outside of the stadium and in the stands is just as important to us as what happens on the pitch. It’s such a niche subculture in this country that we don’t carry the same animosity that rivals do elsewhere in the world. Even though we represented the Goliath in this scenario, we were greeted with warm embraces and ice cold beers. They wanted to hear our stories in USL and what it was like having such a big supporters group. I remember Will walking over to one of their drums and he immediately was handed a mallet and told to drum away.

Members of our own unparalleled drum corps came to the game as well to do what they do best. There were only handful of us from STL there that day but we were loud and proud. Our drummers fired up in our away section and were greeted by some that did not like our ruckus, but mostly by opposing fans that hadn’t experienced such a tight, well regimented drum line in their stands before and loved us. There was a point where opposing fans were actually coming up to us with song requests like we were setup in a hotel lounge. We brought our own brand of energy, but their fans were bringing their own because David and Goliath were looking pretty evenly matched. At the end of the day Saint Louis took the win, but we took amazing memories of interacting with fellow fans that would have never gotten to meet otherwise.

Years later we were on our own David-like run of taking down MLS teams in the Open Cup, and we drew away at Atlanta United. We had to go. In the parking lot before the game we were greeted by one of my oldest friends and his son who had moved to Atlanta and became die hard United supporters. Our sons, who had never met each other before, stood next to each and bonded over seeing their teams play each other. A scenario that wouldn’t be possible without the Open Cup.

Fast forward to last weekend and a now 12 year old Will was asked to carry a banner honoring the title won by the 1920 champion Ben Millers hat company of St. Louis. St. Louis Public Radio did a story the displeasure on the fans part by St. Louis City SC not participating in this year’s tournament, and his picture holding the banner was the main picture of the article. People keep remarking to me how serious he looks. And they are right, he is serious about this. He has spent over half his life attending games in this tournament. He understands it’s special. He understands that Goliath taking their ball and going home cheapens this for everyone. He, like the rest of us, understands that amazing sports memories aren’t reserved for 20,000 – 50,000 stadiums in our country’s biggest cities. They can happen on a Thursday night in Wichita, or Des Moines, or Omaha when teams and fans that would normally wouldn’t ever get to share a stadium, get to see if David can knock off Goliath. The history of this tournament is all well and good, but the tragedy of MLS choosing to not participate in this tournament is that the Wills and their families that passionately support this beautiful game are going to potentially miss out on making memories like the ones I’ve shared.

St. Louis Till I Die,
Matt House

BONUS: These two pictures were sent to us after the article went up from a specific lurker that’s a friend to the Louligans for a long time. Should I post? He’d probably say “Get after it.”

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