I've never been to a soccer game before. Well, that's not entirely true as I did attend every single game Jonathan played in middle school for the tiny Conway Christian. Our family of boys either played baseball, volleyball, or swam. With fours sons involved from the time they were very, very young, you can imagine how many sporting events I've attended. None of that prepared me for the scene I witnessed on Tuesday night at the Cheyenne Saloon on Church Street.
I followed this little family, heading to the big announcement that the Orlando City Lions are to become part of Major League Soccer. According to Shannon, one of Dana's employees, Orlando City spent three days decorating both the street and the saloon. You'll see in a moment how well they succeeded!
Purple and red, the team colors, were everywhere! Typically, when there is a big event on Church Street, Dana asks me to document the affair for the owners of the property. Well, I hadn't heard from her about this so I called her on Sunday, asking if she needed my services. "Thank you for reminding me to hire you!" was her response. Truth is, I didn't want any money, my interest was access. Wait a minute Gail, you said you had no experience with soccer?
Because you know me only as an empty nester, or some of you anyway, you can't know that I would, make that will, do just about anything for my sons. Jonathan has been following this story since the beginning, and I knew it would thrill him to think that I was there for the big news. And it did.
The event was scheduled for 6 or 6:30, however, that did not stop people from lining up by 4:30 when I arrived. No clue how early they really got there. Apparently soccer fans are, what you might call, passionate, which if you were there you might think that word is not strong enough!
I don't know who these guys are, but they look pretty official. Plus, I love their expressions:
Little did I know what part these folks would soon play:
and banners of all the teams in the leagues flew from the balconies:
Ahem, Orlando Health, my former employer is "part of something MAJOR," with naming rights or some such thing. I'm not so sure how I feel about a "non-profit" being involved but obviously, no one cares what I think.
Although I did not have an official badge, I followed Shannon inside and pretty much had the run of the place, taking shots of all levels and trying to figure out how best to use my camera in the purple light.
The shot above is off limits to us commoners, reserved for the bevy of political big-wigs and their ilk.
If it has been a long time since you've seen the inside of CS, you may have forgotten that there are three levels from which to watch the dance floor and stage.
Once inside, there was no doubt about the results of the "exciting announcement," as it was billed. It was really all very exciting as I still remember when the Magic announcement was made in this very same building nearly 30 years ago. There's just something about sports teams that gets people excited. Hope maybe? So after taking my test shots, I perched on the second level, on the right, pretty much where the number symbol is. I had a little bar area to place my bag, and more importantly my reading glasses so that I might every now and again, check my shots. And I waited. Pretty soon a man and woman came to perch next to me.
Now when telling Angela this story during her afternoon visit for tea yesterday, she claimed that I am like a magnet for interesting things. Well, I don't know if that is true or not, but I do get lucky sometimes. In this case, the man was the director of Wide World of Sports at Disney! His wife was chatty, having him get me a drink and telling me over and over again, how big a deal this is for Orlando. Furthermore, he knew everyone involved, telling me the story of the Brazilian man who put up $70 million for the franchise. Turns out, he owned about 300 English as a Second Language schools in South America before selling them for an astronomical figure. 70 million, as it turns out, is pretty much chump change to him. After moving to Orlando, he hatched this idea and here we are. Did I mention he was raised in a barrio? That is some success story.
Finally around 6, the doors opened, letting in the crowd to fill the area in front of the stage. It was then that they began chanting and singing, with drumbeats filling the air.
I've never heard anything quite like it to say the least. In the foreground you see the journalists waiting to finish their stories, or so I presume. It was wild and crazy to say the least. Finally, the big moment arrived with the hosts introducing Governor Rick Scott to a smattering of boos which I thought was pretty rude, but hey, this was a rowdy crowd.
This is him smiling before being introduced. I took this hanging over the railing, so not the best photo you'll ever see, but I'm including it because of the policeman behind the Governor. It is none other than our market policeman, a very, very big guy with the sweetest personality ever. Talking to him the other day, I learned that as a young man he played professional basketball in, of all places, London. He also serves as the policeman to the Orlando Magic. I suspect he's doing the market gig for extra money for his upcoming trip to revisit London after all these years.
Following the booing, Governor Scott put on a different face, maybe bemused is the word for it? Every shot of him I took later has the same expression as this one:
This photo is of some of the most powerful and influential people in our area, including none other than Mayor Dyer! Want more of him?
Although Mayor Dyer gets a lot of press, Theresa Jacobs, pictured in the middle (see above) is the Mayor of Orange County which is way, way bigger than the city.
Mayor Jacobs is on the right, that's Daisy Lynum in the middle, a city councilwoman who represents the district where the stadium is to be built, and Commissioner Patty Sheehan on the left, who one day may very well become the Mayor if my instincts tell me anything. Since her election, she has been a tireless supporter of downtown, as well as being instrumental in the SODO project near our home. Did I mention she is super nice? How about that she is the first openly gay person to hold an elected office in our area?
Everyone got a few minutes on the mike, including the owner, the President of Orlando City, the coach, the team doctors, and finally the Commissioner of Major League Soccer. To say that it was loud is an understatement. I believe this article from the Orlando Sentinel called it a boisterous crowd. Now, why didn't I think of that?
All those purple balloons in the earlier shot, they fell, as did confetti, and then the crowd really took the celebrating to a whole 'nother level. Flags waving, chanting, and the continuous drumming. Who are these people is what I want to know?
My, oh my!
What I only just noticed in the above photo is that it seems as if the Mayors are shaking hands. It is widely rumored that they are not so fond of one another. Do you remember how I was so struck by the display of the Texas flag everywhere we went while visiting Jonathan and Alissa in Austin? Telling folks that, some said they had no idea what the Florida flag even looks like. Well, it sort of looks like the one flying above the Iron Lion one below, only instead of it being purple, it is white.
The party continued outside in the street until who knows how late.
After thanking the folks beside me for all their inside knowledge, I made my way back to the car, before most of the crowd left the building. Arriving earlier, I figured four hours on the meter would be enough, and as it was just about that, it was time to get myself home.
David went to the championship game for Orlando City in the Citrus Bowl a few months ago, leaving with the impression that soccer is going to be big in the States, sooner, rather than later. After what I witnessed at this event, I feel inclined to agree. Orlando is indeed moving on up!