Much has been said about Forward Madison FC’s fans and supporters.
“This is the best place to play in the league,” said midfielder JC Banks.
“Those guys are going to win us some games,” said head coach Daryl Shore.
The Flock, the club’s unofficial supporters’ group, has done community service projects, hosted watch parties and tailgates, and makes quite a spectacle of marching into Breese Stevens Field before every home match, where they sing and chant and cheer for all 90 minutes.
And as fun as all that is, a handful of fans noticed one thing lacking — and decided the Flock End needed a bit more melanin.
“When you look at the stands, you don’t see a lot of black or African supporters,” said April Kigeya, one of the founders and leaders of the Flock. “But Africans play soccer. It’s a huge culture thing, right?”
Kigeya, whose son Demetrius plays for Forward Madison’s USL League Two affiliate Green Bay Voyageurs, is also a cofounder of Mingo Ladies, the women’s supporters’ group.
Kigeya, along with fellow Flock leaders Chris Fox and Kyle Carr, last week launched Featherstone Flamingos as an all-inclusive supporters group to bring Black culture to Forward Madison fandom.
“Colors, energies, food. Anything you can think of, just to be able to bring that and incorporate that into soccer,” Kigeya said in an interview just before Forward Madison’s last home game.
“It comes from a need for the Black community to be a part of football,” says Fox. “We are as important as every other group, and we are as needed as every other group. So why not? We’re a part of the culture, we’re a part of the sport. There’s a lot of Africans around the globe that play the sport, and people of all hues.”
“Also, we really want to emphasize that, you know, we have African-Americans on the roster,” sais Carr. “So we just want to show that there’s a supporter’s group that represents those players. You’ve got, someone like Don Smart or Mason Toye, you’ve got guys like that, and we want to make sure that people feel like there are people that look like them and represent them, also.”
One of those guys certainly appreciates the effort.
“Oh that would be awesome,” said midfielder Brandon Eaton after practice on Monday, who had not heard about Featherstone Flamingos. “Any atmosphere we can bring, especially more minorities and people of color, of all kinds, that’s definitely better for game atmosphere, the stadium, the fans and the club.”
Eaton says he’s not even sure what more Black culture in the stands would look like, but is hoping Featherstone Flamingos are ready to push it.
“I don’t know maybe some more instruments, different kinds of instruments from different cultures,” he said. “We’ve got some Jamaicans here, guys from African countries. I don’t know what’s legal in our league but try to push the envelope,” he added with a laugh.
Kigeya says the Featherstone Flamingos — named for Don Featherstone, the inventor of the pink plastic lawn flamingo — plan to take the spirit outside the stadium, too.
“(We are) planning to do a lot of outreach with Boys and Girls Club, local schools, to get kids to come here to do community events,” she said. “Hopefully we can do what La Barra did for the Latino community, for the African-American community,” she said, referring to the Latino supporters group that started before the beginning of the season.
Eaton also recognizes the importance of reaching out to communities of color, something he regularly did during his time with the Richmond Kickers.
“We’d go down to cities and schools that are in more struggling communities and we’d go and introduce soccer to them, play with the kids and show them that this is a sport that uses that outlet,” Eaton said, noting that he’s open to doing the same in Madison.
“If there’s a possibility I’m definitely all for it, yeah,” he said.
The Featherstone Flamingos, along with the rest of the Flock, will host a watch party tonight at Robina Courtyard tonight starting at 5:30 for the Forward Madison away match at North Texas.