New on SocTakes: Supporting Local Soccer: My return to Fort Worth

Fort Worth

FORT WORTH, Texas — In the aftermath of my first Supporting Local Soccer post on the Fort Worth Vaqueros, the team and the supporters’ group both reached out to me to have me back at another game on June 16. I gladly accepted.

Tonight, I’m making my second trip to Fort Worth this month. The Vaqueros have invited me back for another game, this time in NPSL action. The Vaqueros are set to take on Katy 1895 FC in a match that has serious implications for the Vaqueros’ playoff hopes.

I’m doing things properly this time, heading out much earlier than before to join the pregame party at Magnolia Motor Lounge. This bar/restaurant is located less than half a mile north of Farrington Field, just off University Drive in Fort Worth’s West 7th neighborhood. The neighborhood is Fort Worth’s fun spot, home to a number of interesting shops, bars, and restaurants. It’s actually my first time in this area in years, having last been here on a trip to the nearby Kimbell Art Museum. Most of Fort Worth’s cultural highlights can be found within a mile radius of West 7th.

I find a parking spot that’s roughly halfway between Magnolia and Farrington. As I walk to the pay station, a woman pulls up next to me, rolls down the window and asks if I’ve paid yet. I reply that I haven’t. She then hands me a paid parking slip good through the morning. Thanks! I promise her to pay it forward later on. West 7th is absolutely packed today. I’m not surprised. It’s a Saturday evening and the weather is gorgeous.

I walk to Magnolia, and I find a handful of people with Vaqueros or other local soccer gear on. I’m in the right place. I find it unusual that I’m not carded entering the bar by the doorman. This is a first. Most people assume I’m younger than I am, and I had my wallet ready expecting to show my ID. I’ve been told that the Panther City Hellfire have my ticket tonight. I order chips and salsa, which the waitress tells me is handmade, and wait for the Hellfire to arrive. It’s objectively not bad.

The Hellfire arrive with their drums and flags ready, and take their seat outside on the patio. I grab my food and move outside to join them. I introduce myself to Nick Rainone and Jessi Foster. We start talking about the first piece I wrote, which segues into other soccer media. Nick mentions soccer podcasts, which leads to a discussion on the shows we listen to and enjoy. I mention “Front Porch Soccer” offhand, and immediately get a reaction of “I love that show!” from Nick. This is bad for my ego.

As we sit, eat and talk, I get to know a bit more about the group. It’s clear that everyone here is well-versed in lower-division soccer, and shows just how close the world of American soccer is. I mention that I’m planning to document my experiences for Soc Takes again, and I’m told to post the piece in their Facebook group once it’s finished.

At roughly 6:50, we finish eating and settle our various tabs, and begin making our way to the stadium. Someone mentions that they don’t have enough sticks for all of the drums tonight. I tell them to wait there, as I still have all of my FC Dallas gear in my car. A few minutes later, I have four pairs of good enough sticks ready for them.

The group makes its way to the corner of Morton Street and University Drive, and begins singing and drumming as they march to the stadium. I follow behind with my camera to get some pictures and video.

We walk to the end of the block and into the gates at Farrington Field. The Hellfire then take their normal position at the front of the stands, and start passing out chant sheets. Tonight, I elect to sit with them rather than wandering the stadium.

By 7:15, the stands have begun to fill. It’s already apparent that the crowd is significantly larger than last time. Easily over a thousand people here, probably not that far from two. I decide that tonight, I’m participating in the noise instead of just observing it. I gesture to a nearby drum and ask Nick, “May I?” I get a quick yes, and get to work doing what I’m most accustomed to doing at soccer games. That is, for about 10 minutes until I tear a blister on my right hand. Damn. I hand my drum back to Nick and switch to taking pictures.

Fort Worth is looking strong tonight. They’re hounding the Katy defense for much of the early minutes, when Jamie Lovegrove scores the opening goal. The Panther City Hellfire react by lighting off their blue and yellow smoke. From the restart, the Vaqueros keep the pressure on, and Kalle Masue scores a second in the 17th. More smoke ensues. Things continue in Fort Worth’s favor for the next 10 minutes. Then, while attempting to deal with a counterattack by Katy, goalkeeper Marko Jovanovic goes down in the box. This doesn’t look good. He ends up needing a cart to get off the field, and the Vaqueros have to sub in their much younger second ‘keeper Grant Makela.

Fort Worth

Fortunately for young Grant, his offense does well to keep the ball contained to the opposite end of the field for much of the half. And then, once again on a counter, Katy gets a chance in the 38th minute. It’s in, 2-1 Vaqueros now. From kickoff, Fort Worth seems bent on avenging their fallen keeper, and immediately press forward. It takes just two minutes for Masue to restore the two-goal advantage. At this point, the Hellfire have exhausted their supply of smoke, and begin singing a new song to describe their situation. “We’re all out of smoke, so we’re gonna bang on our drums all day!” The whistle blows to end the first half shortly thereafter.

At halftime, I wander over to the merch table again and find that the Hellfire are selling scarves! And they take methods of payment that aren’t strips of fabric! I quickly hand over a plastic rectangle and acquire a scarf for my collection. I also find that there’s a table set up just to sell drinks, with a selection of sodas and Jarritos beverages as well as bottled water. This table, too, accepts plastic, and I get myself a bottle of water. It’s hot, but not nearly as hot as my previous visit.

As I continue wandering the stadium, I meet Vaqueros general manager Tobias Lopez. He recognizes me, likely from the “obligatory” photo at the end of the previous piece, and thanks me for writing it. He also tells me that next season he’ll have a season ticket jersey for me so that I can come to games whenever. I do my best to express my gratitude. It means more than I can express that he read the piece and appreciated it to such a degree.

The second half begins with Katy on the attack and it takes the visitors just three minutes to score their second goal of the night. The lead is cut to one goal — for around thirty seconds. Fort Worth kicks off and rushes forward, and the first attempt at goal lands in the net. Cue the Hellfire’s song on their unfortunate lack of smoke once more.

The restart is taken, and once more it takes Fort Worth mere seconds to find yet another goal. It’s now 5-2, and this latest goal by Zachary Adler in the 50th minute seems to deflate the visitors. Their strategy shifts from pushing forward to dropping way, way back in an attempt to stop the bleeding. It works. Adler’s goal ends up being the final goal of the night for either side. This does little to dissuade the Hellfire, who continue their singing through to the final whistle.

After the game, I wind up talking with Marc Foster of the Panther City Hellfire and his son Teddy. Teddy is an unusually tech-savvy young teen, and we end up talking about my day job in corporate IT as well as gaming PCs. Marc, as it turns out, is ridiculously well connected in the local sports world as well as with American soccer as a whole. He used to work for the Brahmas hockey team back in the day and he’s even familiar with my other employers at the WPSL. We continue talking about soccer, which somehow deviates to discussing northern Michigan. His wife is from the same town as my dad, a tiny place along Lake Huron with a population of just 2,695. There’s a very good chance that my grandmother was her teacher in elementary school. Small world indeed.

I wrap up my conversation as it’s getting late and it’s a 45-minute drive home. As I’m walking back to my car, I find a car full of other youths looking for a parking space in the same lot where I parked. I grab the fully paid parking slip I received earlier and, after a brief conversation, pass it along once more. The drive home is fortunately uneventful, and when I arrive, I take a half hour to transfer my notes and pictures to my server. It’s been a fun and exhausting night.

Obligatory

I hope you enjoyed this addendum installment of Supporting Local Soccer. Be sure to check out my other pieces on the Keene FC experience, Little Rock Rangers experience and original trip to Fort Worth.

If you have a unique soccer experience you’d like to share, please let me know! My direct messages on Twitter are always open, and I’m more than happy to make a trip out to support local soccer.

If you, somehow, need more of my nonsense in your daily life, please follow me on Twitter and Instagram, where I’m @JohnMLTX. And as always, thanks for reading.

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