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It ended in the last round of penalties. After 90 minutes and two sessions of extra time. On the last kick. A striker named Rufat Dadashov went bottom left corner, to fake out the goalkeeper and send Phoenix Rising past Reno 1868 into the USL Championship Western Conference Final. That was it. Another strong season for Reno up in smoke.
It would be nice if that was it, right? Good season, pack it up until next year. But what no one knew at the time was that this would be the last play in the history of Reno 1868.
Last Friday, essentially out of nowhere, The Athletic’s Jeff Rueter broke the news that USL Championship side Reno 1868 would cease operations immediately. Shortly afterwards, the club confirmed the news with a statement, citing the devastating economic effect of the Coronavirus as a major driver in the decision.
The news was a sudden, brutal blow to Reno supporters who are still processing the shock, grieving the loss of their team, and figuring out what to do next.
“This was my life since 2015 and now it's gone,” said Lindsay Brouner, a member of the Battle Born Brigade, a Reno 1868 supporter group.
“To just have five years of effort just go poof, it throws you for a loss,” said DJ Racis, co-founder of the Battle Born Brigade.
There is nothing worse as a supporter than losing your club. It is the worst case scenario. The schedules, the routines, the rituals that your life has been built around, all of a sudden, gone. The goals that haven’t been scored yet, the tifos that haven’t been painted, the nights out, the trophies, the moments and magic all still to come, now frozen forever as dreams.
The email that hit supporters inboxes just before 10am PST last Friday was the worst case scenario.
Brouner was at kickboxing, and her phone began to blow up with texts from fellow supporters. Jean-Paul Perrotte, a BBB member and music professor, was about to teach a class over Zoom when the email came in. He read it in disbelief, looked over at his 12-year-old son, who was also in the room, and thought, ‘How am I going to tell him?’ with the quick follow up thought of ‘How am I going to teach this class right now??’
Over the course of the day, emotions turned from confusion and shock to sadness, with the realization sinking in.
“Gutted was the word that basically everybody was using,” said Racis.
“The last few days for me, it still hasn’t really sunk in fully, that there’s no longer 1868. It’s like, what am I going to do on my summer weekends next year? It’s saddening to me,” said Brouner.
Perrotte delivered the news to his two sons, who loved attending matches, and had grown close with several of the players. Fortunately (Unfortunately?) 2020 conditioned his sons to expect the worst.
“They were pretty sad, but, they know it’s a crazy world with COVID. I think they’re used to disappointment,” Perrotte said. “So it was kind of, ‘Well what are we doing to do?’ I probably took it worse than they did, because for me, I love doing that with them.”
Reno 1868 played its first season in 2017, and put out a strong on-field product in all four of its seasons. It finished with a 62-26-28 record and advanced to either the conference quarterfinals or conferences semifinals every season. Just a few days ago, head coach Ian Russel was named USL’s Co-Coach of the Year, after leading the team to an 11-2-3 record.
“When you see a team that is so well-run on the field, with such a high goal-scoring rate. I don’t care how small or how big of a city you are, that’s exciting stuff,” said Perrotte. “I mean, they’re doing all this stuff and they’re doing it right, so that makes it very hard. It hurts just as bad being a small team. What we had was so good.”
Same goes for off the field. Shortly after the club was founded in 2015, the Battle Born Brigade was created. Named after Nevada’s state nickname, which honors the fact that it achieved statehood during the Civil War, the group built a tight-knit, passionate atmosphere.
“We just thought [that name] that was going to be the perfect reflection of the embodiment of what the supporters group is going to be,” said Racis. “We’re going to battle all of the time, no matter what. We’re going to push forward and do the best we can.”
Along with fellow 1868 supporters group Douglas Alley Renegades, they created an exciting match day atmosphere that even non-members felt drawn to.
“There were six of us initially that started the group, and we ended up growing to about 250-400 people per game,” said Brouner. “There were people in other sections who weren’t part of our group who joined in on the chants and that warmed our hearts to see that. We’d have kids coming up asking if they could wave flags. Just having that community involvement meant so much to us”
Last Saturday night, needing to do something to help work through the news, several members of the BBB met up. In the cold, 25 degree night, on Greater Nevada Field’s outside lawn, they sang, chanted, and swapped stories about the group they built and the club they loved.
There were the away day trips to Phoenix and Vegas. The time a Las Vegas-based sponsor of the club paid for a tailgate before the 1868 vs. Las Vegas Lights match in Vegas, which was set up too close to the Lights tailgate, almost causing a scuffle.
They talked about the routines that they’d miss. Pre-gaming at Mellow Fellow, before marching over to the match. For Perrotte, it was stopping at Taste of Chicago with his two sons, buying hot dogs and fries, playing a few rounds of pinball then walking over to the field to take their regular spot in the stands.
As the news whipped around the country, SGs began reaching out, offering their sympathy and support. Phoenix offered to let Reno supporters come down to cheer at Phoenix Rising games next season. The Orange and Black Soccercast, an Orange County SC podcast, temporarily changed the colors of its logo to honor 1868. Supporters from Oakland, San Diego, even their rivals Sacramento reached out.
“That’s just, I would actually say heartwarming,” Racis said. “To hear things like that, to know that supporter culture in the U.S. isn’t divided per team, it’s everybody together. We’re all there for the same cause, to support soccer in the U.S.”
Maybe it’s too soon to be thinking about what’s next. It hasn’t even been a week. But sometimes filling that huge, empty, hole of grief with a little bit of hope and energy is exactly what’s needed. Racis has already started putting out feelers for interest in a new team and Perrotte has friends who are Union Berlin supporters in Germany, who’ve offered to weigh in if they get serious about starting some sort of grassroots club.
“How do we get a groundswell of support to try to bring some semblance of a team back?” said Racis. “It’s not going to be overnight. We need to figure out how to fund this, who do we look to on how to actually start this up? So, I think it’s going to take a little bit to just get the word out and see what interest there is.”
“We want soccer here, so we’re going to do whatever it takes to bring it, whether it’s grassroots, whether it’s an amateur team, we’re going to do the legwork and try to get it done,” said Brouner.
Once the initial shock wears off, there are still so many painful moments ahead. The phantom limbs of a lost team.
The kickoff banquet for season ticket holders usually held in January or February was something to break up the cold winter months, and the first few freezing matches of the year got fans through until spring.
“That’s all gone now,” said Perrotte. “Standing at the game, jumping up and down, trying to keep warm in the snow with my kids. I’m going to miss that. That was one of the most fun parts of the week, doing that.”
But even as so many things about this situation are out of the supporters’ control, there’s two things that Racis and the rest of the BBB will continue to do no matter what: Remember what they’ve built, and and work to be able to do it again.
“People came and went, but these core people are still here. I don’t think our friendships will go away one bit. It's going to galvanize, it's going to fortify. So the Battle Born Brigade will not die. Even if we need to go to our local community college and cheer there, or the University of Nevada women’s games and cheer. If we have to go to high school games, we’re going to try to do whatever we can. This, this was basically my everything, and it was, it was an everything for quite a few people. So I don't think anyone's going to try to say goodbye.”