Supporters of soccer teams are unique. There have a culture and way of supporting that is quite different from the other major American sports. For those unfamiliar, the student sections and fans of some college football teams can be comparable to the passion and dedication that soccer supporter groups bring. Supporters throughout soccer stadiums around the world, wave flags, pop smoke, sing organized chants, break out into a beer showers during goals and come together to celebrate the beautiful game and supporting their favorite team.
The US Open Cup match on Wednesday night was a high profile and monumental match for both Austin and San Antonio. It was a single elimination match in the oldest soccer tournament in the United States that was being streamed nationally on ESPN+. Several city officials including city of San Antonio mayor Ron Nirenburg were present. It was a regional rivalry between two Texas cities less than 80 miles apart; the backdrop of San Antonio numerous MLS bids and Austin getting a MLS franchise set the scene for this game.
There was a lot of energy in the stadium before and during the match, the Austin FC supporters were almost 500 in attendance, with majority sitting in the northwest corner sections of 120 and 121. The bunker on the south side of the stadium, which is the section that holds San Antonio FC supporters holds almost 200. The stadium was a near sell out crowd of just over 7,500. Both sides were very passionate for their teams.
Things starting occurring early on, beer showers have been part of the supporter culture in Toyota Field since the Scorpions days of the NASL. Supporters carried the celebration of beer showers from section 118 into the bunker. Prior to Wednesday night, it had never been an issue by stadium security. A San Antonio FC fan in the bunker had a beer shower early on in the match, what appeared to be during a SAFC early chance to score. A Bexar County sheriff went to the fan and aggressively grabbed the fan’s arm to remove the fan from the stadium, according to several witnesses. The fan, unware of why the Bexar County Sheriff showed such aggression, pulled his arm away and demanded to know why. The Bexar County Sheriff continued the aggression to detain and remove the fan, several other supporters came to the defense of the long time fan to explain that beer showers are allowed in the bunker as it is a designated area for supporter groups. Some witnesses stated some beer may have been sprayed on the mayor, who was in the bunker at time and was interacting with the supporters and banging on the drums. The mayor did not appear to have any issue if beer was sprayed in his direction, according to witnesses.
The longtime supporter that has been a season ticket member since 2016, was removed from the stadium. Several supporters left in protest after the display of security and staff.
The second incident occurred with two long time supporters and are popular within the bunker as they usually lead on the drums and chants, one supporter also paints and hangs the tifos and banners that are seen over the bunker during games. The two supporters have been seen and known to wear black button down shirts that say “Bunker Boys” and include the slogan “Fuck the Rest” in show of passionate support to the club. This shirt has been worn during several games this year, but on Wednesday night it became suddenly offensive and were told by staff and security to remove the shirt or leave. When the two supporters tried to have a conversation when trying to tape over the offensive word, they claim that staff started becoming vocally aggressive and a small argument ensued. The two long time supporters left and that point, the drums used to lead were taken down and more supporters left the bunker due to the incident.
Meanwhile in the Austin FC supporter section, security was light only a couple of stadium security staff in yellow shirts and only one to two law enforcement officers were seen around the section. Austin FC fans were witnessed by numerous fans in different sections of the north end of Toyota Field standing on seats, stepping on the railing, having numerous and large scaled beer showers and at least one stadium seat destroyed. At no time, was security of law enforcement seen going into the Austin FC supporter section to mitigate or stop the actions of Austin FC fans.
The events that transpired, engagement of staff with supporters, lack of security around Austin FC fans and inconsistent enforcement of stadium policies on Wednesday night during the US Open Cup Third Round match between San Antonio FC v Austin FC was a failure by Toyota Field security and staff.
San Antonio FC fans and supporters were quick to go on social media and voice their displeasure of Toyota Field security. Some supporters commented that they would never return to support San Antonio FC again, others demand an explanation and statement from the San Antonio FC front office, some stated the vast difference of treatment between Austin FC fans and San Antonio FC fans.
The Crocketteers, one of the supporters groups of San Antonio FC, made an official statement:
According to the statement released by the Crocketteers Board of Directors, there was unclear communication between the Front Office of San Antonio FC and the supporter groups, sudden changes of enforcement of policies, changes in hired personnel. (One person took to social media to say that, the staff at the bunker normally work at AT&T center for Spurs games and were unaware of the bunker culture and methods of chants and celebrations). The statement also lists requests to improve communication and show consistency in the rules and policies of Toyota Field.
It has been well over 48 hours since the end of the US Open Cup match and almost 24 hours since the Crocketteers Board of Directors made a statement. The front office of San Antonio FC has yet to make a public announcement and at the time of this publication had not reached out publicly or privately to the Crocketteers or other supporter groups on the events that occurred on Wednesday night.
It seems to be San Antonio FC has lost some long time season ticket members and supporters, as they will never return to Toyota Field to support SAFC. Members from Mission City Firm stated that they willing be removing the drums from the bunker in protest. Other are thinking of not returning as well or not being in the bunker for future matches. Others are contemplating no longer hanging the tifos and banners that were hand made by the supporters. It would surely suck the atmosphere from Toyota Field for future matches.
The Supporter Groups are waiting for a response from San Antonio FC, the next home match will on April 30th versus Monterey Bay and the bunker will likely look vastly different from the past. It remains to be seen if how many if any will take their place in the bunker, or will it be a complete walk out by supporters.
We will bring updates on further developments as they happen.