Dave Trauernicht soaked in the Republic FC match on a rainy Friday night with his wife, a couple of his daughters, three nieces and about a thousand of his best friends. They danced and swore and cheered some more.
The pitch was slick but the play was fast, all taken in from the new high rise of bleachers above the north end of Bonney Field, where the Tower Bridge Battalion had gathered in communal ecstasy.
“We’re all neighbors here,” Trauernicht said, looking around at his Battalion brothers and sisters while standing on his seat as the entire bleacher section rocked and rolled with the rhythm of the bouncing masses. “We drink together. We cuss together. We chant, we yell, we yell at the other team. We yell at the refs when we feel they make bad calls. We dance together. We sing together. We do it all together, and it’s all for the Republic.”
His team lost to the Orange County Blues FC 2-1, but the outcome wasn’t that big a deal for Trauernicht, 42, a field engineer for Pacific Gas and Electric. The Auburn resident grew up on soccer and loves the way it has exploded as a fan favorite in Sacramento. He was one of the first to join the Battalion when the group formed to support Republic FC and established a fan culture the likes of which Sacramento had never seen.
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Fans in every sport love their teams and their schools. But there’s something about soccer, something about Republic FC’s following – something about the Battalion – that makes their thing different and unique from, say, the passion basketball fans have for the Kings.
With the Battalion, the feeling is as much about their city. It’s explicit in their songs, this “Glory, Glory, Sacramento,” stuff, the declaration, “This is our home, Sacramento.” They sing for their region and themselves and their feeling for each other.
“There is something different about it,” Trauernicht said in the 18th minute of Friday’s match, when his wife, Arizona, returned from the concession stands to slip a 22-ounce can of Heineken into his right hand. “You’re part of a bigger community. I’ve met at least 100 new friends – at least. All the time my Facebook is going up, my Twitter has gone up.”
Team president Warren Smith has said it before. The support groups, the community connection – it’s all written into the cultural DNA of the game that sprang from the pubs of fortress Europe. In Sacramento, it’s the Battalion that Smith says keeps his club true to the sport.
“They mean a lot to us,” Smith said beneath the VIP tent on the other end of the field from the Battalion, just as the Blues’ Didier Crittenand poked the tiebreaker into Republic FC’s net while Smith’s back was turned. “We work together on how we can stay true and make sure we are building a team that is true to the sport. It’s just a great group. It means a lot.
“Obviously,” Smith said, “it represents a thousand tickets.”
Many of the people who hold them have shared quaffs with Smith. During exchanges in public houses around town, the Battalion legions are no more shy with the fellow in charge than they are with a linesman who raises the offside flag a little too quickly against the local boys.
“They tell us when we screw up,” Smith said, “or that our prices are too high.”
At the same time, they thank and praise him for the team’s accomplishments. It is a true relationship between him and them.
If Friday night’s defeat pained the Battalion, the group got over it soon enough in the after-party at the Zebra Club, where the red neon sign over the door at the corner of 19th and P informs dedicated drinking enthusiasts, “Open 6 a.m.”
Paul Wong established residence on a Zebra bar stool at the more reasonable hour of 10 p.m., hustling over after the game. Others filtered in at a trickle at first, but it wasn’t long until the place was jammed with fellow fans decked out in the finery of Republic FC. Wong, 28, a construction worker, didn’t know or like the team or soccer until last year. Now he makes trips to Seattle, thanks to the influence of the Tower Bridge Battalion.
“When Sacramento Republic first started, I had a friend say, ‘Man, come to soccer,’” Wong said. “I said, ‘Man, I don’t like soccer.’ He’s like, ‘Man, just come. You’re going to love it.’ First game with the Battalion, I was like, ‘Man, what have I been missing? This is crazy.’ Ever since then, I’ve become a season-ticket holder.”
Wong roots for the Kings, too. He joined the Crown Downtown movement that formed to help keep the basketball team in town when outsiders wanted to move it. He says the basketball experience doesn’t come close to the euphoria his group shares in the bleachers above Bonney.
“We party two hours before every match and after every match, too,” Wong said. “The community comes together here.”
Trauernicht, the PG&E guy from Auburn, said he has friends and coworkers asking him all the time about this soccer thing, this Battalion thing. He tells them the deal – it’s 90 minutes a match, on your feet.
“They’re like, ‘Are there places where you can sit?’
“There are,” he answers, “but I choose to stand and sing.”
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.