Since Columbus is centrally located in the state of Ohio, fans often drive from hours – and even states – away to support the Crew. Arguably the biggest congregation of Crew fans outside of Columbus is the Cincy Crew, who travel approximately two hours north for every game.
With more and more minor league teams popping up across the country, fans are finding smaller local clubs to support when they are not at Crew games. Tom Andrews, a resident of Cincinnati and friend of Be Massive Soccer, recently did just that when he started the Seven Hills Crusaders, a supporters group for the Cincinnati Saints.
The Cincinnati Saints field a men’s and women’s team for both indoor and outdoor competitions. The outdoor men’s team plays in the Midwest Soccer League, and the indoor team plays in the Premier Arena Soccer League (PASL-Premier). The outdoor Lady Saints play in the Women’s Soccer League, but the indoor Lady Saints are currently only playing exhibition matches. All of the outdoor games are held at Withrow University High School while the indoor games are held at the Tri-County Soccerplex.
I was recently able to ask Andrews some questions about the Seven Hills Crusaders and supporting lower-division soccer:
Question: What drove you to start a supporters group for the Saints?
During the U.S. Open Cup, Crew fans are exposed to lower-level teams in other local cities (e.g. the Dayton Dutch Lions). So, us fans are continually discussing what other teams are around Ohio; a team we can support in the offseason or when our Columbus Crew are not playing. American soccer has slowly been growing in Cincinnati over the years. Cincinnati regularly brings 50-100 people to Crew matches, and I knew we had to find something to keep our group of fans growing. I was approached by David Satterwhite, President and CEO of the Cincinnati Saints. He was looking to grow his fan base and knew what we brought to the Nordecke. Satterwhite wanted that atmosphere at Cincinnati Saints games. Those of us in Cincinnati all became very interested.
The Seven Hills Crusaders started with approximately 20 core followers online and expanded to 200+ in a couple weeks simply from word-of-mouth growth. We continue to grow each match, getting louder and more recognition from the Saints’ current indoor league (PASL-Premier) and their parent league (PASL). We are currently the only recognized supporters group in all of the PASL and PASL-Premier.
How did you get the name for your group and the section where you stand?
When working with a few other organizing members (Jerry Legend, Brian Creelman, and Joel Harvey), we knew our group had to relate to both the Saints name and Cincinnati’s history. Cincinnati has deep German and Catholic roots, along with its well known geography and many neighborhoods/boroughs. With all those aspects being considered, we began with our name being in German. However, due to the somewhat difficulty in pronunciation of the German language, we translated it to English. Our name references Cincinnati’s “Seven Hills” (Mt. Adams, Mt. Airy, Mt. Storm, Mt. Echo, Mt. Washington, Mt. Lookout, and Mt. Healthy). Then, with the Catholic tie-in of the team (Saints), we added the “Crusaders.”
The section we stand in is known as the Abbey. In the Catholic faith, an abbey is a monastery or convent where those go to build and grow their faith. An establishment as strong as an abbey was a great fit for a group of crusaders supporting the Saints. While we are not a group with any religious affiliation, we are a group with great pride and strength in our city and club.
What plans do you have for the group in the future (tifo, trips, merchandise, etc.)? What is your ultimate goal?
We are currently focused on our growth. The Crusaders are working on zero member funding. At this point, we need to show everyone who we are and what kind of atmosphere we can bring to the arena. The Saints organization continues to give us their full support. They have given us a reserved supporter section at all home matches in the Abbey. Along with the reserved section, they help us with ticket discounts, merchandise discounts, etc. All of these perks are only available to active Crusaders.
While the Nordecke helped lay the groundwork for the Abbey and may share some of the same members, our organization, goals, and direction are pretty different. The Nordecke’s groups are always looking to grow, but they already have an active fan base and money flow. We know where we want to be and go, but first, we need to create a strong and active base. The Crusaders are working to bring more of the European football atmosphere to our city. We all have done extensive research into various ultras groups and strive for that passion. Creating tifo, chants, and full-club support is of the highest priority during this inaugural season for us.
Supporting lower division soccer isn’t for everyone. What is it like watching and supporting teams in the lower divisions, especially the indoor teams?
The first and biggest difference between supporting an MLS team as compared to our PASL-Premier club is the demographics and exposure to soccer support. When marching in for the first time full of flags, chants, and a large group of people, we received a lot of odd looks. Many of those looks even came from the opposing team. The majority of fans in the stands are elementary school-aged children and their parents, as Cincinnati has one of the largest youth soccer leagues in the country. When we made our first appearance in the Abbey, we reached out to all those coming through the ticket gates. We shared the lyrics to our initial chants, and we continue to work to get everyone more involved. After each match, the Crusaders and the Saints organization is approached by players and fans who show us their support of our group and how much fun we bring to the Soccerplex. Grassroots movements are very hard to get up and going, especially when the supporter culture has never been truly introduced to the city you call home. Today, we are going strong; tomorrow brings even more growth. All we can hope for is the continued success of our Saints and the word of mouth publicity from those who saw us chanting loudly, “When the Saints Come Marching In!”
The Cincinnati Saints have two more indoor games left this winter. The Lady Saints take the field before the men’s side. The men play Paducah Premier on January 12th and the Detroit Waza reserve side on the 19th. Head to Cincinnati and join the Seven Hills Crusaders as they cheer on their local team!