A brave baptism
The afternoon was a cool seventy-degrees on Saturday October 23, 2010. It was the day I was inducted into La Barra Brava, the D.C United soccer club supporters group. The festivities were on extra high alert for that night would see the retirement of one of the club’s heroes and reasons for its existence, MLS Hall of Fame player Jamie Moreno. I had heard of the raucous nature of the group by my friends who invited me to join them, but I was not ready for the passion-filled exuberance that is the La Barra Brava family.
I arrived early in the afternoon to the fields outside of RFK, several hours before the match started. I was introduced to the group’s founder Oscar Zambrana, who greeted me and outfitted me in the group’s uniform, the La Barra Brava Jersey. He gave me tickets for section the group was born in, section 135. There in the grassy lots, on the outskirts of the stadium, I joined hundreds of supporters from all sorts of backgrounds; A group of misfits all with one mission, to become the soundtrack that rallies DC United to victory. A community was setup based around a massive charcoal grill adorned with 80 pounds of sizzling beef that filled the air with a delicious aroma of lomito saltado. There were kegs of brown ale and coolers filled with craft beers to wash down the grilled meats. Beyond the main Barra Brava grill, small camps were set up around smaller grills and tables that featured individual club members’ specialty dishes. While, I was reluctant at first to visit these satellite groups, the fellow Barra Brava members welcomed me warmly and proudly with offerings of smoked pork shoulder and grilled lamb. This marathon tailgate is the first ritual of La Barra Brava, and the only rule it honors is that everyone brings something to share.
After a few hours of water gun fights, libations and impromptu futbol matches Oscar and “the Elders” of the La Barra Brava broke out the giant brass drums and started passing out the enormous flags for the march to the stadium. “The Elders” of La Barra Brava not only lead the club in the non-stop jumping, singing, and chanting that make up the 90-minute matches, but also police the group, watching out for the group’s overall safety. The march became a sea of black, red, and white banners highlighted by smoke billowing from flares to the thunderous sounds of drums and singing:
QUE ESTA NOCHE,
The club is steeped in the traditions of South American futbol clubs or top Barras, but has become a melting pot of traditions from all across the globe. The literal translation of Barra Brava means “Brave Fans,” and these fans have gained plenty of attention as the “12th man” bouncing RFK’s stands.
Once we entered the stadium, filling sections 135 through 138 (the group has grown considerably since its founding in 1996 to over 1,800 members) drum circles erupted as the black and red flags waved proudly. As a member or even a guest you are expected to sing, jump and shout, as it is a “standing room only area.” This mentality sets La Barra Brava apart from other support groups for MLS teams. Through years of loving abuse, many of the seats are torn away, entire rows missing in the dilapidated RFK stadium, a nest that has catered to thousands of fans.
The climax of the game came not from the outcome, a hard loss to Toronto FC that finished D.C. United’s worst season to date, but from Jaime Moreno’s final goal. The group chanted his name for all of D.C. to hear, and again even louder in the 82nd minute of the game when he walked off the field for last time. The energy that flowed over the crowd was so immense, the scoreboard didn’t matter; we were witnessing the end of era.
I was hooked. While, no game since this first game I went to has captured that intensity, it always has a strong bond of community. La Bara Brava is an open family that will welcome you in with no questions asked.