After years of waiting, fans of Birmingham-based supporters' group the Magic City Brigade finally have a professional soccer team to cheer on in 2019. | Photo courtesy Magic City Brigade
Like the team it was originally founded to support, the Magic City Brigade came from humble beginnings.
The Birmingham-based supporters’ group, which was created in 2014 – two years before the Birmingham Hammers took the pitch for their first competitive game – didn’t have much to work with in its early days.
“At the beginning, it was really four or five people that were supporting the idea of a team,” said Brigade Board Member Nic Gulas. “The Hammers sponsored a game that had the [Atlanta] Silverbacks come over to play UAB in an exhibition and there were like five to seven people in the Brigade section for that match.”
A lot has changed between then and now.
The Hammers are no more. In their stead is Birmingham Legion FC, currently preparing for its inaugural season in the USL Championship. And the Brigade is bigger and better than ever.
“It’s honestly night and day,” said Gulas. “It’s definitely a lot easier to sell people on it. You have a product to point to. We’ve got a full organization. We have a brand-new logo, a brand-new team. And from the Hammers evolving into Legion FC, the group has evolved along with that.”
According to Gulas, the Brigade now has over 100 paying members, a number that continues to grow by the day as Birmingham’s home opener against Bethlehem Steel FC on Saturday at BBVA Compass Field comes closer into view.
The group has also developed a strong relationship with both its new team and the local community.
Gulas says that members of the Brigade have regularly met with the Legion FC front office over the past two months to discuss plans for the 2019 season. He feels the club has taken its ideas and opinions to heart when it comes to developing the gameday experience and that the supporters' group has a green light to do what it sees fit in the Brigade’s official section on the north side of the stadium.
The atmosphere that the Brigade hopes to create for its team all season long was on full display last month when Legion FC hosted fellow Eastern Conference side Nashville SC in a preseason friendly. The group had over 100 people come out for a pre-game tailgate before filing into BBVA Compass Field to provide the soundtrack to the action.
“We had three drums, two bass drums and a snare drum, a saxophone and a trumpet. We had about 35 flags or so with a smoke machine and it was on metal bleachers so even when we weren’t chanting there was kind of like a drumbeat going along,” said Gulas. “There was still a lot of noise being made and we’ve gotten a lot of complements from people that were watching from across the field that we were loud, they could see us, they could hear us, that they’re excited to see what it will become on a real matchday.”
The match against Nashville also gave fans a first glimpse of the steel furnace, which will be a fixture throughout Legion FC’s inaugural home campaign. The pre-game ritual will see smiths pour hot steel into about six-inch bars before every game as a tribute to Birmingham’s industrial history.
“We’re going to be able to build a wall of all of them just to track every single Legion FC game,” said Gulas. “[The club] is really getting involved into the history of the city as much as it can and really trying to draw on that history of being a steel town.”
Brigade Vice President Simon Iles was very pleased with the “dry run” of events that transpired that day and is working hard to add even more benefits for Brigade members throughout the city.
“We’ve been able to set up relationships with local businesses and stores and restaurants that have wanted to come on board and help support us and give our members kind of a little discount for being a part of all of this,” said Iles.
“Also, we’ve made a deal with a local brewery that we’re going to watch road games at. They’re brewing the beer for us and all that sort of stuff which is fantastic and obviously something that we’ve seen other supporters’ groups do as well.”
Every little thing is helping the community come together around Legion FC.
Now, with only a handful of days to go until the club kicks off its inaugural season, it’s almost surreal for those that have waited a long time to see professional soccer in Birmingham.
“I think for me personally, just seeing a professional team in Birmingham play a competitive game – I mean friendlies and exhibition games are one thing – but to actually be there for its first ever competitive USL Championship game is going to be a proud moment,” said Iles.
“We’re definitely excited about being able to make our mark both locally and in the league as far as fan experience goes,” said Gulas. “We have a couple things up our sleeves that we want to try and roll out, but at this point we’re just excited to get to match one and then go from there and hopefully grow from there as well.
“It’s kind of like Christmas morning. You’re just anxious at this point, you’ve got the presents under the tree and you’re basically just counting down the days.”