Orlando City fans customize players' tunnel at new stadium with street art

Orlando City SC - Jason Kreis adds to fan art in players' tunnel

ORLANDO, Fla. – Liverpool FC have their famous "This Is Anfield" sign. Bundesliga team St. Pauli boast a hellish red tunnel, complete with skull-and-crossbones motif. And now Orlando City SC have their own take on the intimidating players’ entryway, courtesy of their fans.

Actually, the Lions’ version is the brainchild of longtime OCSC Vice President of Gameday Operations Alex Wolf. It borrows heavily from the German model, but with a unique Orlando slant provided by the team’s three main supporters’ groups.

Wolf was born just outside Stuttgart, but went to Middle Tennessee State University to study sports management. And he was looking for a different way to engage the fans at the new Orlando City Stadium this season.

“We’ve always had a strong connection with our supporter culture,” he says. “But, as we got bigger, there was a challenge to keep that personal connection between supporters and players, which is a very important relationship. It was a question of, ‘How do we re-connect with that feeling, even if we can’t go back to the early days?’

“Growing up in Germany, there were a number of influences that got me thinking. What popped into my mind was the idea that, with the tunnel, what if we only allow supporters to put stuff in there? It’s the last thing the players see before they go out and it gave me goosebumps thinking about it.”

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Photo by Susan Veness

Convinced he had a great idea by the tail, Wolf’s challenge was to sell it to senior management. He wasn’t exactly sure they’d love the idea of letting a bunch of fans loose with spray cans in their brand new stadium. Then he remembered St. Pauli.

“That was the best way I could show them, ‘Hey, here’s what I’m talking about’,” Wolf says. “So we took [the St. Pauli tunnel] and made it purple as a visual aid for the direction we wanted. I told [the board], this is a raw street-art kind of thing, and it will really resonate with the players. Luckily, everybody bought into it and could see the sense of it.”

That’s where the Iron Lion Firm, the Ruckus, and the Crown (which supports Orlando’s NWSL team, the Pride) came in. Armed with masses of spray paint, several dozen fans arrived with Wolf one afternoon and got free rein.

The end result? A purple, black, and white graffiti symphony in English, Spanish, and Portuguese to reflect both players and fans.

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Photo by Susan Veness

It is rich, raw, and to the point. Down the right-hand side (where the City players line up) run messages of support, fight and urgency; down the left (facing the visiting team), epithets of doom, despondency, and defeat. Wolf makes no apologies for the blunt approach.

“If I’m a player and I see something on the wall that inspires me to put an extra shift in, to remind me there are a lot of people out there counting on me, basically to play hard, that’s what we’re looking for,” he says. “And if we take the visiting team out of their stride, even just for a moment, then our job is done.

“It’s a lifestyle thing. The fans put in a lot of time, effort and sacrifice to be here, and they just want that acknowledged. None of them had any street-art training. We said, ‘Hey guys, just put stuff out there. Anything inappropriate we’ll paint over, but have fun with it, put your heart in it.’ It may not be the prettiest picture, but it gets the message across.”

Once the project was underway, Wolf learned that Toronto FC’s training facility walls are decorated by the main fan groups, but was relieved to discover it wasn’t the player tunnel.

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Photo by Susan Veness

“This is not like anywhere else,” he noted. “We were the first ones to do it in the way we’ve done it and you can’t take that away. It’s something personal and it means a lot to the players.”

There was one thing that gave him pause, however – when head coach Jason Kreis discovered the "street art" prior to the home game with Colorado on April 29.

“At first, I heard Jason was looking for me and I thought ‘Oh, s*’!” Wolf admitted. “Then I heard he was looking for spray paint, and I was like ‘Give it to him! Let’s see what he does.’ It’s just another cool personal touch.”

Kreis was more than cool with it.

Orlando City fans customize players' tunnel at new stadium with street art - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/IMG_0192[1].JPG

Photo by Susan Veness

“I think it’s absolutely fantastic,” he says. “I really love the idea and I love a lot of the messages. I’d love to see even more, and those messages to be brighter and bolder.”

He may well get his wish. Wolf reveals there will be a phase two to the tunnel-painting later this season. Kreis also set the seal on the fans’ work by adding his own message at the very end of the tunnel, the final thing his players see before they step foot on the field. It is one word: "together."

“For me, to see those messages and think about how we lead this group and our mindset as a team, the word ‘together’ is the most important word I can come up with,” Kreis says. “It’s a word the players hear several times a day and I think it should be engrained in their minds. That’s why I wanted it to be the last word that they saw.”