My wife Sasha Weleber and I spoke with Mei-Ling Hyler and a number of other members of the Blue Ladies of NYCFC at Ryan's Daughter on the Upper East Side, where we watched the USWNT beat Nigeria 1-0. You can find the Blue Ladies on Facebook here and on Twitter here.
Hudson River Blue: There are lots of different supporter groups, but it seems like the Blue Ladies are something special. There doesn't seem to be the same kind of conflict that's going on with the other supporter groups when it comes to the Blue Ladies.
Mei-Ling Hyler: The Blue Ladies were born out of a desire not to have conflict, to just have a place where ladies can get together to talk about football.
We started out in January or February. At first, a lot of us were just Third Rail members. Because there wasn't any football happening, a lot of people were just bickering about complete and utter nonsense. I couple of us got together, and we were talking about how it was ridiculous what people were talking about. The season hadn't even started yet, and people were already criticizing the coach! It was like, "Can't we just talk about football, even though the MLS isn't happening yet?"
There was also a little bit of weirdness, like when a girl would say something on the TR page, and a guy would say, "Are you single?" Nobody's here for that. So, we kind of separated off, and we'd laugh about things people were saying. There were all of these arguments about Man City, and we were like, "Just shut up!" It was totally stupid.
More and more, we started coming across other ladies, as the season progressed, and a lot of people who were new to MLS. MLS is very confusing to people who don't have a background in it. The group was a way for us to learn together about MLS. We wanted to create a place where people could learn together and share. We have some members who are very into football, and they've been able to educate a lot of us.
From that, we've been exposed to women's football, which some of us maybe hadn't been familiar with before. It's a great way for us to get to know the sport, and get to know each other, help each other, and educate each other in a way that's not judgmental. It's not like, "Oh, you're a girl, you don't know anything about this."
HRB: So, you were getting some of that kind of reaction previously?
MH: Yes. People were afraid to ask questions because they were afraid someone would jump down their throats or mock them. We just wanted to make it a place where it's like, "If you know a lot of stuff, that's great; if you don't know anything, that's great, too."
HRB: You're totally separate from the Third Rail?
MH: We're totally separate. There is some overlap, but we also have some Brown Bag members, some Bronx Social Club members. You can be anything and still hang out with the Blue Ladies. We're not exclusive. Even Hearts of Oak, there are a couple of Ladies from there as well.
HRB: Do you all sit together?
MH: There's a good chunk of us that hang out in the front of 236. But there are also a lot of us that have season tickets in other sections as well. Usually, at halftime, we get together at the top of 236 and talk about the game a little bit. We'll meet up beforehand or afterwords at Dugout.
HRB: What was your club before NYCFC?
MH: Arsenal. I'm a huge Arsenal fan. It started during the invincible season, with Thierry Henry. I hadn't really thought much about football. My husband was a big Liverpool fan, which was really awkward. It was the first time I had watched football, and it was really exciting, amazing stuff.
HRB: You had an amazing event with Jeb Brovsky. How did that come together?
MH: It came together when we first found out that Jeb and his wife were expecting. Jenny Lando said, "Wouldn't it be great if we threw them a baby shower?" Then, we were like, "They probably don't even really need anything." But maybe, because Jeb is so involved in charity work against domestic violence, maybe we should do something for charity in their baby's name. So, her and Sonya worked together to organize this really awesome event and get lots of donations for the shelter. There's no real leadership in the Blue Ladies. If someone has an idea, we're like, "Alright, that's great, let's get that going."
HRB: I had heard some of your colleagues say the same thing. It's not hierarchical, where people are saying, "You can do this, but you can't do that."
MH: Exactly. If you have an idea, and it gets traction, then we're doing it. It doesn't require the whole membership to do it. I feel weird even calling it a membership. It's so casual and laid back. If you get a group of six ladies together to do a Blue Ladies thing, then it's a Blue Ladies thing. I guess the idea was to have something for every female supporter of NYCFC. There are no real meetings.
HRB: What are some plans for the future?
MH: Right now, we're into supporting the U.S. Women's National Team. We're excited about organizing more watch parties and getting the word out. Some people have been talking about getting a football league together. There are a lot of athletes among the Blue Ladies.
HRB: How are you feeling about the team nowadays?
MH: Recently, we've had really cohesive play. They finally seem to be all on the same page, working as a unit. Maybe it's a bit of them being comfortable with each other and comfortable in their positions. There's also been a lot of consistency in the lineups. We've been steadily improving. Even when we were losing, there were little bits you could point out and say, "Well, that was good." You could see little things falling into place. It's the age-old story: an expansion team is going to suck in the beginning. Now, there's a spark of hope. We're going to build on our wins.
HRB: Have Blue Ladies gone to some of the away games?
MH: Yes, a lot of them. We didn't go to Salt Lake City, but we had people in Chicago, and a lot of us went to Philly. That was a lot of fun. They're already making plans to go to Boston. A lot of the Ladies are excited to go to as many away games as they can.
HRB: Where are most of the members from?
MH: There are a good amount of homegrown New Yorkers and a bunch of transplants. A lot of people who emigrated as children. Everyone falls in love with New York so easily. You can feel like it's your home even if you've only been here a short while. I'm from here. I was born in Brooklyn Hospital.
HBR: You weren't tempted at all to follow the Red Bulls?
MH: I had tried to watch Thierry Henry, but it was very hard for me to watch MLS games, and I just didn't feel a connection to it. We went to two games at Red Bull Arena, but the whole arena was empty. It felt weird. I couldn't really take it seriously. The crowd is so much a part of the experience of going to see a game. If it's you, emptiness, and a couple other people, it's weird, and I couldn't really pay attention to the game. It was awkward and a little sad. The team has improved a lot over the last three or four years, but I don't think the attendance has.
HRB: What was different for you about NYCFC? The atmosphere and the fans?
MH: Yeah. Before I knew about any supporter groups, I was thinking, "Oh my God, there's going to be a team in New York City, and I can actually go to these games? And it's not going to be a big hassle, or a two-hour excursion out to the wilderness of New Jersey? This is doable for me." I talked to my husband about it, and I told him we have to do this. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. The team could be crap, who knows, but at least this is our crap team. How many people were around when Arsenal was created? It's an awesome time to watch what happens. It's history.
HRB: How did you feel about the New York Post article featuring the Blue Ladies?
MH: I was shocked and amazed that the Post said something nice about anything!
I feel like our fan base does deserve recognition. From before the first ball was kicked, people were saying no one's going to care if the team doesn't win, that New York fans are plastic. That it's all about money, that this team's just a fabrication. No. You're overlooking an underserved population that's starved for football. That's what we've proved. We're here. We're in it for the long haul. We don't need wins. We just need our team. Win or lose, we're going to be there until the end.
HRB: How's the online traffic the Blue Ladies are getting?
MH: Our Twitter is followed by a lot of cool people. A lot of the players follow us, and the team follows us. A lot of the other supporter groups follow us, and we re-tweet each others' stuff. The Blue Ladies pretty much get along with everybody. We try to keep the peace, especially in 236. Emma [Leslie], who is a huge part of our group, is a capo in 236.
HRB: Have you noticed that your membership is growing?
MH: We're growing little by little. We're somewhere around 150 Ladies on the Facebook group. Every game, we get at least one or two new members. At first, a lot of people are suspicious. They're like, "What do I have to do to join?" We're like, "You don't have to really do anything!" Hang out with us, or don't hang out with us. We're here if you want to be with us, but if not, not a big deal. A lot of people have been weirded out by other groups. Everybody we talk to in person seems pretty cool. We basically just hang out on Facebook, talk about football, and plan watch parties.
HRB: Do most of the new people find you online, or at games or bars?
MH: Most of the people we meet at games or at Dugout [near Yankee Stadium]. We'll tell them what we do, and they say, "Hey, that's awesome, I'd love to be part of a group for women."
Sports culture is very 'dude-oriented,' especially if it's not women playing the sport. It's like, "This isn't exactly for us." We want to show there are a lot of women who follow the sport, or who are interested in the sport, and it's not just about the players being cute, although some of them are. I wish some of them played as good as they looked. I don't want to name names.
HRB: Anything else we should know about the Blue Ladies?
MH: I'd like everyone to know we're a very open, inviting group. You don't have to be a certain age, you don't have to be a certain anything. You just need to be a lady, identify as a lady, or not mind being called a Blue Lady. That's really it. There have been some trolls who say we're divisive and exclusive. It's not about exclusion. It's just about making a safe place for ladies to talk about football without being judged by dudes. We're not trying to take anything away from anybody. It's not about taking away members from other groups. We're just trying to watch some football.