Athens Army has come a long way

Teams that fall to the women’s soccer team at Chessa Field get a sendoff from the Athens Army, the support section that debuted this season at games. The members of the devoted group who cheer on the Bobcats at home games on Friday and Sunday afternoons repeat “you came a long way just to lose” to the other team as the minutes on the clock dwindle to zero. They recite the chant to the tune of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” once for each goal Ohio led the game by.

Together, Athens Army president Tony Keffer and vice president R.P. Kirtland have worked to organize a group of supporters to occupy a section of the stands at Chessa during games this season. The group made their debut with seven people at the first game of the season against Marshall and, after a bit of initial disorganization, they have been able to take hold on an identity.

“It’s a small field so seven people can make a lot of noise,” Keffer said. “But we really didn’t know what we were doing and we were getting in people’s way and stuff, so now we actually have our own section and we know what we’re doing, so it’s a lot better.”

The group has grown since the debut. Keffer and Kirtland have used Twitter to spread the word, using the handle, @AthensArmy. Some players have reached out to the group on social media, including Ronni Rock and Cat Rogers.

The leaders of the Athens Army have heard positive reactions from the players and head coach Stacy Strauss about what they have done for the atmosphere at the team’s games.

“We’ve got some Twitter shout-outs and I actually went to high school with one of the players and she said the players really enjoy it,” said Keffer. “I talk to Stacy a lot as well, and they really enjoy having us here, cheering them on.”

The members of the group have adapted a variety of chants that they use to taunt the visitors on the Bobcats’ home turf. Keffer is a a Columbus Crew fan and member of the professional team’s spirit section, the Nordecke, and Kirtland is a member of D.C. United’s District Ultras.

Though Kirtland is a former high school standout on the soccer field, the phrases he and the other Athens Army members chant aren’t derived from his experience as a player.

“We didn’t really have anything like this in my high school,” he said. “I went to a very rural high school. Nobody cared about soccer, so most of the experience I draw on to do stuff like this is stuff I learned while being with the Ultras, while watching games on TV, you know just looking online and listening to some of the great old chants.”

While the group aims to bring an electric atmosphere to Chessa, they must be cautious of the mantras they use in the family-friendly setting. However, there was an exception this season.

“A lot of the chants we come up with, we can’t use or have to change because it is a small environment with a lot of little kids and we have to make sure we don’t majorly offend anybody,” said Keffer. “The Miami game, all bets are off, but other than that, we don’t want to ruin the game for anybody else.”

The players have taken notice to the new presence at games, and though Rock says that she hasn’t directly spoken to the Athens Army members, she recognizes them now that they’ve been making noise in the front row of the stands at each game.”

“I think it’s a little humorous, the knocks they have at the other team and you know, just supporting us on our set pieces and free kicks and trying to throw off the opposing goalkeeper as they’re taking their punts or their goal kicks,” she said. “They’re a great group of guys.”

Other fans at games routinely chuckle at the sayings that the group shouts. Providing a ripple of laughter in a game against Cleveland State early in the season, a member of the Athens Army bellowed to a referee on what appeared to be a foul on an Ohio player that went uncalled, “What is this? The Hunger Games?”

The noise isn’t limited to yelling. The members of the support group tote vuvuzelas, a recycling bin, which they beat on with drumsticks and thunder sticks. When the Bobcats find the back of the net, rolls of green and white streamers are thrown into the air. When action on the field starts to get rowdy, one member of the group waves a yellow card in the direction of the referee.

On other calls that the Athens Army doesn’t agree with, sometimes a member will call to the referee, “I respectfully disagree” or “I call shenanigans.”

They often try to throw the opposing goalkeeper off by counting out the seconds she has held the ball after a save, knowing that she is only allotted six seconds with the ball in her hands before getting rid of it. In support of Ohio’s goalkeepers, they will yell “BOOM” when they dropkick the balls to their teammates after a save.

The excitement factor at games has increased for everyone involved, including the players.

“It’s made our games a lot more exciting than they have in years past and I mean we’ve never had a group like this at our games and certainly not that kind of noise before,” Rock said. “So, I just think it adds a certain excitement and thrill of the games that we haven’t had before.”

Keffer and Kirtland have goals for the growth of the Athens Army.

“By the end of the year, I’d like to get two or three rows of the stadium for nothing but Athens Army members, but I hope in the future we’ll be taking up an entire section,” Keffer said. “I mean, I know that’s a very lofty goal, but I know soccer is rapidly growing in popularity in America, so I think we should be able to pull it off.”

At the end of the season, the Athens Army hopes to send of the opposing team, but this time a little louder.

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