Hello, and welcome to American Tifo, a weekly newsletter for, and about, North American soccer supporters. Thank you for being here. If you haven’t already, subscribe! If you’re a member of a supporters group, please consider sharing this with the rest of your SG and encouraging them to subscribe as well.
All supporters groups have values. But sometimes, it’s easy to let those values just stay words. Let those words check the boxes of what should be said. Sometimes, the tailgates and chants feel like it should be enough.
But there are places where people are living the values of their group and their city every day.
One of those places is… wait for it…Tulsa, Oklahoma.
FC Tulsa supporters group 83 United are unequivocally dedicated to their community, reinvesting back into the city of Tulsa at every opportunity.
In order to understand that, you may need to accept that the Tulsa in your head likely does not match the real Tulsa.
“It’s a friendly town but it’s a hardworking town,” said Nathan Napier, treasurer of 83 United. “We have our roots in the oil boom of the 1920s and even into the ‘70s and ‘80s. I think a lot of that has stuck around and that kind of mentality is still thriving today.’
But now, instead of that hard work and ambition going into oil, it’s being funneled into Tulsa’s thriving arts and culture scene.
“We’re doing so many things in the way of building new music communities, new artist communities,” said Napier. “How that interacts with the city has really grown over the last five years. You see murals going up everywhere, art markets opening up. That’s really driven community engagement, not just for 83 United, but citizens in general.”
“Tulsa has a little bit more uniqueness to it.” said 83 United president Denis Lane. “So you've got this entire art and music culture here that's not represented in any other city around the state.”
Folded into Tulsa’s culture is a surprisingly rich soccer legacy. Pro soccer debuted in Tulsa in 1978, and in 1983, the Tulsa Roughnecks won the NASL’s Soccer Bowl, making them the only professional sports team to win a national championship in the state of Oklahoma.
When the Roughnecks were revived in the mid 2010s as a USL side, the supporters group that formed in 2014 to support them, the Roustabouts, placed their commitment to the community front and center. They formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit arm called 83 United, and immediately threw themselves into making an impact at a local level.
“We’ve always said the mission starting out was not just to help grow the game of soccer, but to see what we could do in the community, and that’s just taken on different avenues over the years,” said Lane.
Written into the group’s bylaws was a commitment to support soccer in and around Oklahoma, from the grassroots to the highest professional level. This allowed the group to direct the majority of its energy into helping the city in any way possible, with the hope that it also created an access point into supporting the club or attending a match.
“Everything we raise goes back into the community,” said Angela Porter, vice president of 83 United. “At the end of every year, what we make in our membership dues goes to operating costs, but every single thing left over from that goes to philanthropy and local organizations. Whether that’s sponsoring one or two children and paying their fees for a summer soccer camp to turning unused parks into soccer pitches. If we can get you to a game and get you on this team and you’re here forever, we’d love that too.”
In 2019, the club came under new ownership, which decided to leave the Roughnecks name behind in favor of a fresh start as FC Tulsa. The Roustabouts were then faced with the same dilemma: Keep the Roustabout name or evolve along with the club. Soon they realized that the answer was right in front of them all along. They renamed their full group 83 United, merging along with fellow SGs, La Union 918 and Wrench Maidens. By doubling down on the name of their nonprofit arm, they were staying true to their roots, while reaffirming their commitment to their community.
FC Tulsa’s fresh start also led to a renewed partnership between the SG and the club, rooted in community service.
“The biggest feedback point from fans was engagement with the community,” said Napier. “We have this vibrant community, and a lot of unique stories to tell. How can the club get involved with that and truly be a community member? They’ve shown themselves to be that by far, from the ground up. They’ve completely flipped the script and it’s been great to watch.”
From teaming up with 83 United for various initiatives to donating $500,000 to the Philbrook Museum of Art, and helping to launch the Tulsa Dream League, FC Tulsa’s owners are not playing around, which only fuel’s 83 United’s own community commitment.
“Our new team owners match our fundraising up to $5,000 every year,” Porter said. “It’s just great to have that support and that partnership from our team owners. It’s something really unique.”
83 United’s values and mission probably take no better form than a group of Tulsans hopping into a pool of freezing water at the end of February.
“We do get messages now about people looking forward to it, wanting to know when we’re going to get the team set up,” Napier said. “It’s become our big preseason fundraising push that gives us a chance to interact during the off-season.”
This year, 83 United has a record 14 plungers on their team and have garnered involvement from FC Tulsa, and the wider Tulsa sports community, including the Tulsa Rugby Club and Tulsa Rumblers Sandlot Baseball Club.
With a few weeks still to go before the February 27th event, 83 United have eclipsed its $5,000 goal, and have raised more money for the Plunge than any organization in the area.
The initiative takes on a deeper meaning for Lane, whose son has Down Syndrome.
“He gets out there, he loves running around with the kids and running with friends and mentors, which has been great for me and my wife,” Lane said. “So I’ve seen firsthand what Special Olympics can do.”
Make no mistake, 83 United know how to party, from the pre-match tailgates held on the closed-off street next to the stadium, to the rousing renditions of “Living on Tulsa Time” and “Oklahoma” belted out in the supporters section, to the post-match rounds at the Tulsan Bar. But just as their community efforts are opportunities to introduce wider Tulsa to professional soccer, their matchday presence is also a way to showcase their community engagement.
“One of the things I always say to the front office is I want them to highlight our most recent community service activities on the Jumbotron and put the pictures up there,” Porter said. “Let everyone know that we’re not just the beer-guzzling, drum-beating, cowbell-ringing hooligans back there yelling at the referee. We’re the same guys that raised $5,000 for the Special Olympics.”