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More from the NYCFC Pigeon, Masked Hero of the New York Soccer Community

Part II of our interview, in which Omari McCleary shares his thoughts on the supporters group scene, the state of the team, and staying active in the community.

NYCFC Pigeon at the Tribeca Film Festival
NYCFC Pigeon at the Tribeca Film Festival

Here's the rest of my interview last week with Omari McCleary, a.k.a. the NYCFC Pigeon. The response to Part One has been tremendous-- thanks so much, family!

Hudson River Blue: You talked about the team being more than a team, and the people you’ve met. You’re a member of NYC12. Do you want to talk about your supporters group, and landscape of supporters groups around the club?

Omari McCleary: I love the NYCFC supporter community with all my heart, and this is only Year 2.  We went through a brief period of silly competition amongst groups, but I think we have finally matured.

I'm proud to say that I was a charter member of the Third Rail in 2013. Like, I'm pretty sure I coined the slogan "Hail the Rail", but who cares. Even though I'm no longer a member, I have no animosity towards the Third Rail. In being the largest and official supporters club, there are a lot of expectations to meet and you can't please everyone. That's even more challenging when you have members in other countries and have to coordinate with the club and league. For me personally, there was intimacy missing from that supporter experience, but I still recognize the influence they have on organizing big opportunities for our whole supporter family, whether folks want to admit it or not. TR President Rox Fontaine and Business Director Alex Schaefer were among my first NYCFC friends, TR was the first, and they'll always be important to the NYCFC Family.

NYC12, or Brown Bag SC as it was originally called, is the oldest unofficial supporters group. These were the folks that I remember being drawn to because because we seemed to be united by not taking ourselves too seriously, and keeping it fun. We just have always had commitment to build real friendships, a community. A community not only just around the team or the sport, but the city.

I like the idea of being a smaller crew. I think it helps us hold each other accountable, and run efficiently.  We have 60 members and it's easier to remember everyone's name, and organize events and campaigns. Someone has to vouch for you to get in, not that we’re not inclusive, but we want members who will go out of their way to get to know the person behind the supporter. I think Oscar Martinez, our president, embodies that philosophy. I’m in a group chat with my supporter family every day. We talk almost every single day, and that’s beautiful to me. Its not about the gear, or getting wasted, or even trying to out-do other groups. It's about every game day feeling like a family reunion or a birthday.

There's also the vision of supporting the city and its future as hard as we support the team. I can go to my group and say, "Hey, we need shin guards." "Hey, I need chaperones to help me take these kids somewhere." "Hey, I need someone to bring the drums to this tournament we are doing, so we can hype the kids up." Or, "Hey, can we use some of those member dues, since the kids don't have jerseys?"

That's not just unique to NYC12 either, our whole NYC supporter culture is about that life. All of us -- Bronx Social Club, Hearts of Oak, Los Templados, Third Rail -- have contributed to my efforts to build accessible soccer for kids in the five boroughs. We are all out here singing and losing our minds for 90 minutes, but also leaving an impact on these streets. All the supporter groups have soccer squads, too. We are about this life, 100%. We are history in the making, united over the fact that we see what this club is going to become, we are the trailblazers for soccer passion in the five boroughs.

I'm going to grow old with this family, our kids are going to inherit our legacy. The best have been our away games, when we become one family. You can feel it. NYC has so many influences – European, South American, Caribbean –  and we all are working to be a safe community for all walks of life. We have so many flavors in the pot, and our supporters groups should represent the same diversity and swagger of the city we live in.

HRB: How are you feeling about the team right now?

OM: I’m so glad we had the terrible season that we had last year. For me, it was the way to sort out who’s really down. We found out real quick who became a Founding Member just because they wanted their name on a brick and sell their tickets on StubHub. We all know the OGs, the people who were there from day negative one, and we know the people who were there from day 101 but came in bleeding blue and orange.

NYCFC is going to be an extremely successful club. The bandwagons are on the horizon, now that us pioneers have blazed the trail. One of the things I’m most excited about is that we’re most likely going to face the Red Bulls in the playoffs. If we end their season, it's a wrap for them. I was in the MLS promo video for the Derby, as the Pigeon, and I talked a lot of junk, about them having two coasters (the Supporters Shield) but no cups. Then we got thrashed. However, the truth is that they really need to beat us when they can. Their wins are kind of them saying, "We’re still here! We’re still relevant! We're not going to have to sell our stadium!"

I also have an ongoing bet with NYC12. If we win silverware this year, I’m getting a NYC12 tattoo. I'm pumped for the playoffs. It’s going to be cold MLS Final in the Boogie Down Bronx.

HRB: Anything else you’d like the fan community to know?

OM:  First thing is, I don’t want to be a celebrity. It’s not about me. This pigeon is a visual reminder of who we are, together. We are everywhere, we are unflappable, we are dirty, we are majestic, we survive, no matter what, in a flock. You can try to hurt us, but we'll just keep coming back, because we will be here forever.

My connection with all of you, who otherwise would be strangers on the subway, is one of the most special things to ever happen in my life. We are supporters of each other before we support professional athletes. That's why we are a club. I love us. We are doing something special here in these streets, the world's beautiful game in the world's beautiful city. No matter what your race, gender, sexuality, or class is... this is your club. We make it here and everywhere. Please support inner-city soccer. Free, fun, and safe. Thank you all, because every time we all sing, mosh, rap, eat chicken buckets, raise a tifo, retweet, I just think of that future moment when I'm too old to wear that mask and I bring my first infant child to our very own stadium and I look into its eyes and say, "Hey baby...I want to know...Are you NYC?"