It’s a small moment.
One that you might miss if don’t stick around.
Long after the whistle has blown in Madison, under the glow of the still-lit floodlights from Breese Stevens Field, members of The Flock supporters group have gathered at a bar just steps away from their home stadium.
Earlier in the night, Forward Madison fought to secure a tie against Toronto FC II. It’s not the three points the fans wanted, but after a difficult string of matches, it’s a point that they’ll take.
Supporters inside the bar queue up to order the next round of drinks while those out on the patio swap stories and recap their favorite moments from the match. Then, without warning, The Flock supporters erupt into a collective round of applause.
“Nice job, Ryan!”
“Great save in the first half, Phil.”
“Turbo, Turbo, Turbo!”
The Forward Madison players have started to stroll into the bar and, even after a frustrating match, the bond between the fans and team is unmistakable.
From cheers and chants, to the occasional inside jokes, the Forward Madison faithful treat the players as part of their family. Same goes for the players toward the fans. Even if COVID-19 protocols mean they can’t sit together as they normally would, they still take time to connect.
Shared Grant Pieters, a member of The Flock, “It’s a different level here in Madison. Because we’re friends with these players and care about their success on and off the field, it becomes something where it’s more than just a club you follow. It’s part of our lives.”
Behind the awe-inspiring kits. Behind the viral merch drops. The Forward Madison supporters embody some of the best qualities of local soccer.
“We knew early on that we wanted to create a supporter culture that extended well beyond the sport,” said Andrew Schmidt, President and Co-founder of The Flock supporters group.
As Andrew explained, “Madison isn’t historically known as a soccer city but there is a strong connection to community, and we wanted that to be at the forefront of our work.”
For the past three years, Andrew has been integral in building the Madison supporter culture to where it is today. And while he is quick to lift up his peers and shirk praise, Andrew is somewhat of a godfather in the Madison soccer community.
Ask anyone around and they’ll tell you that the amount of sweat-equity he has put into the club is a big reason why Forward Madison supporters are seen as a role model across all U.S. leagues.
From their positive and carefree atmosphere on matchdays, to the work they do out in the community, The Flock represents a level of intention in supporter culture that many other fans in the U.S. have used as a North Star when forming their own groups.
While The Flock is the original and overarching supporters group in Madison, within its family is a host of smaller groups that reflect the diversity you will find in the “Flock End” on matchdays. Together, they work as a coalition for good for the club and the community.
Featherstone Flamingos is an all-inclusive group that celebrates the very best of Black culture in the sport. The Mingo Ladies promote female involvement in the community and Forward Madison matchday culture. The AccessiMingos is a group created for supporters with disabilities and are big reason why everything from the concessions to the capo stand are accessible to all fans. La Barra 608 was founded by Latinx supporters for Latinx supporters, and blends the traditions of South and Central America with the soccer culture in Madison.
“We are steadfast in our work to ensure all our communities are taken care of here in Madison,” shared Chris Fox, one of the founders of the Featherstone Flamingos. “The Flock is a family and together we are loud, vibrant, and unwavering in that commitment.”
What’s also unique is that The Flock’s impact is not just limited to Madison alone.
Chris played an integral part in the 2021 Juneteenth efforts across the USL. Chris worked with the Independent Supporters Council to design a shirt that was sold to benefit The Black Women’s Player Collective, USL Black Players Alliance, and the Black Players for Change.
When asked why he gives so much of his time like so many others within The Flock, Chris was quick to point out the intent behind supporter culture in Madison.
“We’re not showing up to matches, drinking beers, and leaving,” said Chris. “We’re spending hours upon hours with our boots on the ground, making sure that the roots of community are cemented for the next generation in Madison.”
Take for example the Flock Food Project.
Most Saturday mornings during the season, before anyone sets foot in the stadium, you can find members of The Flock down in the dirt planting vegetables at Troy Gardens. Launched by the Mingo Ladies supporters group early in 2021, the initiative is a fan-driven effort to provide fresh produce to families in Madison and the surrounding communities facing food insecurity.
The Flock Food Project helps combat rising food insecurity in the region and is a direct response to the impacts felt due to COVID-19 and broader social inequities.
“This project is a way for us to make a difference in the community, shared Alexa Nichols, one of the leaders of the Mingo Ladies.
“Of course, we want fans to have a good time on matchdays and support Forward Madison but even more than that we want The Flock to have a role in making Madison a place where everyone is there for one another,” explained Andrew.