For the first time since mid-March, New York City FC played two consecutive home matches in the same stadium. Those accustomed to a certain match day ambiance at the Yankee Soccer Stadium may have noticed some changes in the supporter section against Atlanta United and the New England Revolution: Drums and tifos are reportedly banned for the month of July due to fan misconduct during NYCFC’s lopsided US Open Cup loss to the New Jersey Red Bulls.
Misbehavior in the away fan section at Red Bull Arena also has led to a significant cut to the away ticket allocation for the July 17th Hudson River Derby. Sadly, this is nothing new for matches with the rival Red Bulls.
The first-ever meeting between the two clubs featured reckless in-stadium fan behavior (throwing smoke bombs onto the pitch) that led to NYCFC’s away ticket allocation getting cut from 1,500 to 500 for their next visit to Harrison.
That subsequent 2015 trip to Jersey featured a now-infamous supporter skirmish outside a Newark bar that involved weaponized ad boards and garbage bags, all of which was captured by AP reporter Rob Harris. The Red Bulls’ May 2016 visit to Yankee Stadium (that would be NYCFC’s brutal 0-7 loss, of course) also featured extensive pre-match shenanigans outside the stadium.
These types of issues have not been exclusive to Red Bull matches. There were incidents with Cosmos fans in 2015 and 2016, a fan brawl broke out on the street after a match in Orlando in 2017, and of course there was the prolonged presence of publicly identified far-right extremists in NYCFC supporter sections at home and on the road.
Consistently being a part of unruly scenes in and outside of stadiums has sullied the reputation of all NYCFC fans, even if it’s an extremely small number of fans responsible for that unruliness. It has become all too easy to view all New York City supporters in a negative light when there are so many examples of a few people in sky blue acting so utterly idiotic. It’s humiliating.
This laundry list of unsavory fan behavior does the club no favors if the magical day ever comes and the front office is tasked with convincing a New York City community board that their shiny new soccer-specific stadium will be a welcome addition to its neighborhood. It's unclear if the residents of the Bronx or Queens will be receptive to a permanent partnership with a fanbase known for wannabe hooliganism. (Though realistically, the money and local governmental power involved in any stadium deal will likely still outweigh any community-driven concerns about NYCFC fans.)
The most frustrating aspect of this continued struggle with fan aggression is that it feels as though little to no progress has been made either by the club or the leaders of its supporter groups to prevent these situations.
Both club and supporter groups have now had eight years to figure this out, yet self-policing and regulating things on match days, particularly on away days against rivals, remains a massive weak spot.
What needs to change? I am not a member of any supporter group and never have been, so I can’t speak authoritatively on how they handle their internal affairs. But the groups have leaders and presumably have a general understanding of who is attending in their sections, especially on away days. I have to believe more can be done to weed out known troublemakers before they’re able to reach the point of doing something that warrants fan sanctions, even if the supporter groups wield less power than the club itself when it comes to meting out punishments.
Similarly, it seems clear there is a disconnect between the supporter groups and the club. Banning fans and imposing sanctions after the fact isn’t enough, and it’s not proving to be a deterrent as the same formula has been followed since 2015.
It’s long past time to solve this lingering problem. It must be said that NYCFC are not alone in MLS in still dealing with fan violence. But New York City’s problems are too persistent and have brought too much embarrassment to a club still in its relative infancy. In the history of the league, other supporter groups elsewhere have succeeded in cleaning up their own houses, so there’s no reason the NYCFC family can’t do this.
Really, this should be a season of good vibes in the stands as the team remains fresh off their biggest on-field success in history. Instead, we’re once again forced to accept punishments and public embarrassments due to the actions of an imbecilic few.
Here’s hoping that those who actually get tickets in the away section for the next Derby Day (decided via a lottery now, apparently) will avoid making the mistakes that have marred far too many of the team’s trips across the Hudson.