Sixteen-year-old Alexander Watts was dressed in Tampa Bay Rowdies gear from head to toe. He’ll make the 75 minute drive to every home game this soccer season.
“I came to my first game in 2013 and I was interested 100 percent,” Watts said. He stood in the general admission section of Al Lang Stadium along with everyone else in Ralph’s Mob, a group of passionate Rowdies fans.
They are a sea of green and yellow, wearing scarves, hats, knee-high socks, flags, bandanas and jerseys to support their team. They have multiple chants that die-hard fans know from frequently attending games and these are an important part of the ritual.
Kelly Cooper has been going to the games for five years now, and she says it is too hard to choose her favorite of the chants.
“We call it like we see it. I love all the chants – there’s just too many that we do,” she said. Cooper was not even slightly concerned about Saturday’s rainy weather putting a damper on the game. She had oral surgery the day before and even though she admits that she should have been at home resting, she still felt the need to show up and support her local team.
“We consider everyone here family,” she said. “My favorite part is the atmosphere and lifting the players’ spirits up from the bad ref calls.”
The president of Ralph’s Mob is Jason Bruzzichesi. His first Rowdies game was in the beginning, back when the Rowdies first started in 2010. Because of work, he had to move to Minnesota and then to Salt Lake City, but in both places, Bruzzichesi was a long-distance participant in Ralph’s Mob. He moved back to St. Petersburg a few years ago.
“I was never a big soccer fan,” said Bruzzichesi. “I was a really big Bucs fan. Then I had a friend take me to a Rowdies game, and it was like a light switch.”
In 2014, Bruzzichesi became president of the club and helped to turn Ralph’s Mob into more than just a fan group. It is now a nonprofit organization that partners with charities.
The group held a book drive during one of the games earlier this month. Ralph’s Mob also works with the St. Petersburg community to host food drives, and they maintain business alliances with local restaurants.
Ian Burke, a junior who is studying marine biology at USF St. Petersburg, is also a member of the fan club. He proudly wore his season ticket around his neck. When the first goal was scored by Rowdies midfielder Joe Cole, Burke jumped up with the rest of the group to celebrate. This celebration went on for several minutes, and just when it ended Cole scored a second goal. Ralph’s Mob did not sit down for the last half hour of the game.
Burke enjoys the fact that his school is so close to campus and thinks that it’s awesome that on the way home from school he can sometimes see the Rowdies practicing.
Aron Retkes can be easily spotted at the front and center of Ralph’s Mob. It’s hard to miss his character, as he beats on a bass drum in his top hat. He is another fan who has supported the Rowdies from the start and joined the mob in 2011. Without meaning to, Retkes has become a mascot for the group.
“Everything was kind of spontaneous,” he said. “I have fun with it. Nobody recognizes me without the top hat.”
Retkes comes to every single game, even traveling as far as New York to support the Rowdies. He says he is grateful for the support of the stadium’s front office.
“If you went to a different sporting event and tried to have this much fun, they’d probably kick you out,” said Retkes.
Saturday’s victory over Rayo OKC ended with a score of 2-0, and even after the players had left the field, the mob stayed and chanted, a cacophony of noise emitting from their section. Specifically, they cheered for Cole, their self-proclaimed MVP of the night.
“They’re not the best players in the world, but it doesn’t really matter because they’re our local home team. In a way, that makes it even better,” Bruzzichesi said. “You feel every win, every loss. It is an emotional experience every game.”