If you’ve ever been to a match at Red Bull Arena you’ve probably seen (and heard) the large group of fans behind one of the goals singing, chanting, jumping up and down, and supporting the Red Bulls for the full 90 minutes. Those passionate supporters form the "South Ward" at Red Bull Arena. On Saturday night, I experienced the mayhem of Red Bulls fanaticism up close.
When I arrived at New York City's Herald Square late Saturday afternoon the setting was a calm, typical weekend day in Manhattan. People sat on park benches, tourists strolled by carrying shopping bags and taking pictures of the various sights and of course the consistently clogged New York City traffic slowly rolled by. However, in the next hour the typical Saturday in Midtown would be turned on its head.
The first Red Bulls supporters started to slowly pour in. Before long there was a large crowd gathered wearing various Red Bull jerseys, t-shirts, scarves and any other form of Red Bulls colors. A small group of Chelsea fans made their way over to the Square as well, decked out in blue and singing songs in toast to their club’s FA Cup victory earlier that day. The various supporters groups that make up the South Ward at Red Bull Arena (Empire Supporters Club, Viking Army, and Garden State Ultras) carry various tools of their own, but it’s clear that all are united behind their support of one club.
In the shadow of the Empire State Building, the march is set to begin. Red and white flags are raised, a drum is readied, and voices are rising.
“The whole park sings with us, the whole park sings with us,” starts the familiar chant, adapted slightly for the day’s surroundings, followed as usual by a loud “Let’s Go Red Bulls” chant. Even the Chelsea fans started to join in.
As the crowd moves down 33rd Street towards the Football Factory at Legends, traffic moves by even slower than usual, as people roll down their car windows, gawking at the curious scene. Tourists, who just moments earlier were gazing at the Empire State Building, now turn their cameras to the spectacle unfolding on behalf of the Red Bulls supporters. One thing that no one can deny about Red Bull supporters: They. Are. LOUD.
I spoke with two tourists, who said they were around the corner on Fifth Avenue and could hear the supporters from there before making their way over, curious as to what was going on. While they had only a passing familiarity with MLS and the Red Bulls, they came away impressed with the support, saying the fans had “great energy”.
The chants and songs continue: “For you, for you, we’ll be singing a song. All day, all day, we’ll be singing a song. And when we win, we’ll be singing a song.”
“As long as I’m breathing, I’ll sing for the Red Bulls, when we’re winning or when we’re losing. We are your people, we’ll always follow. We’re always behind you, that you can count on.”
Those are just a couple of the staples of the South Ward song book that the supporters broke out for the march and well through the night as the viewing party commenced at the Football Factory. And of course, there were a couple of anti-L.A. songs mixed in as well to get in the proper mood for the night’s match against the Galaxy.
As the march simmered down and the supporters began filing into Legends to watch the match, the “Let’s Go Red Bulls” chant began again, this time with the prelude, “The whole street sings with us, the whole street sings with us.”
By the end of the night it’s clear: Whether a park, a street, a bar; wherever there are Red Bulls supporters, their unbridled passion and energy will transform any typical venue into the sights and sounds of Red Bull Arena.
For the full 90 minutes of the Red Bulls' 1-0 victory over the Galaxy, it felt as if Red Bull Arena had been moved to West 33rd St. in New York.
The South Ward supporters certainly left their mark on New York Saturday.
New York is our