Sometimes the uniform of a fan can become as recognizable as the uniform of his team. Since the late 1990’s, Jay Berlo’s uniform has been a pair of loud, purple camouflage pants. His team is the Dallas Sidekicks, whose storied indoor soccer tradition that began in 1984 was reborn last year after an eight-year hiatus.
“Eight years was a long time to keep the faith,” Berlo said. “Two years ago I decided to throw the pants away because I had pretty much given up hope that I would ever see the Sidekicks play again.”
Last May, when the team’s new owners announced the Sidekicks would return to DFW for their 20th season, Berlo found himself on the hunt for a replacement pair of his signature pants. The Sidekicks joined the PASL and picked the Allen Event Center as its new home. When word came that such familiar faces as legendary player-turned-coach Tatu and star veterans like Sagu and Nick Stavrou would be involved, long-time fans were quick to jump on board.
“Going into this season, I had mixed feelings as a fan,” long-time Sidekicks supporter Edward Hamm said. “There was excitement–that something familiar that I loved was coming back–as well as caution. I hoped that it would be done right.”
By most standards, the Sidekicks comeback season was overwhelmingly successful. The team completed the regular season with a record of 13-3, won its division and qualified for playoffs. Head Coach Tatu was named Coach of the Year, while goaltender Sagu and defenseman Kiley Couch earned spots on the PASL All-League teams.
“It was the right time with the right building and the right people,” team statistician and super fan Alan Balthrop said. “I have never been ashamed to call myself a Sidekicks fan, and this year that feeling was even further enforced.”
For their comeback, the team decided to feature some of what made its games a unique and exciting experience for old fans. From the giant balloon pop that pumps up fans before the fourth quarter to throwing a Tatu jersey into the crowd after each and every goal, odes to the past reminded returning fans why they loved the experience. These traditions drew new fans into the mix as well.
“I was proud that the organization could put something together that made me feel like, basically, no time had elapsed,” Berlo said. “People want more bang for their buck now, and the entertainment side of games provide that. We came in just as competitive as ever and represented the area so well on and off the field.”
Good times and good soccer kept fans coming back throughout the season, filling the Allen Event Center with more than 5,000 fans each game. The Sidekicks led all other PASL teams in attendance, and as the season progressed, the intensity and passion of the crowds followed.
“As fans, we are our team’s biggest supporters and also their loudest critics,” Balthrop said. “Sidekicks fans are reacclimating themselves to the sport and developing an emotional attachment to the team.”
The emotional, electrical environment that took over the Allen Event Center every home game not only created a thrilling experience for fans, but also permeated onto the field.
“As a player, hearing the fans up in the stands fills you up, drives you to perform and motivates you to be better and work harder,” Tatu said. “The fans create an environment that really feeds us energy during games.”
When the Sidekicks return to the field next season, the hope is that fans old and new, whether sporting a vintage Tatu t-shirt, a new player’s name emblazoned on the back of a jersey, or a pair of loud, purple camouflage pants, will come together to support their team once again. With a mix of skilled veterans and an influx of young talent, the Sidekicks are building in the offseason to continue as a force to be reckoned with in indoor soccer for another 20 years and beyond.
“What kept me coming back for so many years reaches further than just the soccer,” Balthrop said. “It was the passion and dedication of this group that you have watched and developed an emotional attachment to. We desperately wanted them back, and our biggest hope is that they stick around for the haul.”
If the 2012-13 season is any indication, the Sidekicks are on their way to do just that.
Season tickets for the Sidekicks 2013-14 season are on sale now. For more information, visit www.dallassidekicks.net or call 214-550-6130. Follow the team on Twitter @GoSidekicks or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/gosidekicks.