“Oh Birmingham! It’s lots of fun! Oh Birmingham is lots of fun! Its full of Hammers and Blazers. Oh Birmingham is lots of fun!”
(Magic City Brigade at the UAB vs. ATL Silverbacks Match in March 2015)
As I sat down to watch soccer the Saturday evening before Easter, I tuned in just in time to catch Max Urruti put his left foot on a cross to redirect the ball into the net in the 63rd minute. Timbers 2. FC Dallas 1. Green and Yellow smoke filled the air. The chainsaw revved up as Timber Joey cut another goal slice from the log. Providence Park erupted with unified songs and chants as the lead-clinching goal happened under the shadow of the Timbers Army.
Standing-room only, with flags flying and persistent cheers matching the rhythm of the game, the Timbers Army are known to be one of the most passionate supporter groups in MLS. But they had humble beginnings, starting as a group of 8 fans only a few short years ago. But nowadays, the Timbers Army routinely has lines wrapped around the stadium hours in advance of kick-time just to get a seat in the standing room only section of Providence Park. So, how does a budding soccer city cultivate organized soccer fandom similar to what the Timbers Army did in Portland?
I recently had a discussion with Forrest Collins, President of the Magic City Brigade, about the movement to bring professional soccer to Birmingham and the role the Magic City Brigade plays in that effort. And what I have come to learn is that supporters group fandom plays a prominent role in the success of a professional soccer team. Fortunately the Magic City Brigade is playing that role for the Birmingham Hammers, and the future of soccer is bright in the Heart of Dixie.
The Magic City Brigade began in the UAB dorm room of Forrest Collins in January 2014. Collins was excited about the then-recent announcement about a grass-roots effort to bring soccer to Birmingham by a club called the Birmingham Hammers. He figured that if there was going to be a team, the least he could do was drum up a little support to help move the effort forward. So on January 13th, 2014, Collins created the Magic City Brigade Facebook Page and Twitter handle. And although Birmingham has yet to field a professional soccer team, that has not stopped nearly 500 like-minded individuals from “liking” the Brigade’s Facebook page.
(The first gathering of the Brigade: UAB vs ATL Silverbacks in March 2014)
Modeled after the Emerald City Supporters of the Seattle Sounders (archrival to the aforementioned Timbers Army and Portland Timbers) as well as the Iron Lion Firm and RUCKUS supporters groups for Orlando City FC, the Magic City Brigade strives to create an in-game atmosphere that is electric, fever-inducing rowdiness. As Collins sees it, “the roar of a crowd can cheer a team on.”
The Magic City Brigade also has a more formal leadership structure. The “Brigade Board” consists of Collin Barnwell, Mark McConnell, Mack McDaniel, Palmer Gilliland, and Forrest Collins. Each member of the board is responsible for certain aspects of the Brigade’s fan culture: from organizing the drums and chants, to public outreach for events, as well as continual improvement of the supporters group experience.
In this author’s humble opinion, the most successful supporters groups are full of people that are passionate about soccer, love their team and city, and love to have a good time. The closest thing I can relate it to is the student section in Tuscaloosa or Auburn on a Saturday in the Fall. During the game, there is a lot of singing, a lot of dancing, a lot of drumming. And the Birmingham Hammers will count on the support from the Magic City Brigade in the upcoming exhibition season.
Consistent with all other supporter groups out there, the Magic City Brigade is not lacking in confidence. The Hammers take on Nashville FC of the NPSL on Friday May 29th at 7 PM. The Brigade predicts a 4-0 thumping. The Hammers then are set to play the Knoxville Force of the NPSL on Saturday May 30th at 7 PM. The Brigade foresees a 3-1 romp, only allowing one goal due mainly to our good-natured southern hospitality.
(The Magic City Brigade founder Forrest Collins (center) with Birmingham Hammers co-founders Morgan Copes (right) and John Killian (left))
Magic City Brigade founder Forrest Collins grew up playing this game. It is in his DNA to be passionate in his support of soccer. And to him, there is something special about Birmingham Alabama that will help a pro soccer team be successful here. “We are in the middle of Alabama, which is in the middle of the South. We are in prime territory to connect the South where soccer is becoming a huge sport.” Is he right? Only time and a little bit of soccer will tell.
If you’d like to join the Magic City Brigade, check out their Facebook page of the same name. There is no cost, other than perhaps losing your voice after singing for 90+ minutes of soccer action.
The Birmingham Hammers kick off their exhibition season next month on May 9th, playing away at Nashville FC. Their first home match will be the second leg against Nashville FC on May 29th at Sicard Hollow soccer complex in Vestavia. For more information on the complete schedule, go here.
One thing is for sure: the Magic City Brigade will be representing the heart and pride of the Hammers throughout this inaugural season. Go out to a game or two and see what it’s all about.
*Photo credit to Doreane Collins and the Magic City Brigade Facebook page