The Red Watch – Giving to the City and Club
Words: David Barr
Soccer in the United States has a flavor all its own.
The ingredients are of course the style of play and what is happening on the field but just as importantly the atmosphere. At War Memorial Stadium and on the road on most occasions, Little Rock Rangers have a devoted group who loves their city and club – the Red Watch.
“When I was in the process of getting the ball rolling on the club’s creation,” Rangers president Jonathan Wardlow explained. “I talked with the Chattanooga FC owners a few times since I felt our markets were somewhat similar. Tim Kelly told me to just let the supporter group evolve organically and don’t try to fabricate one. I’m so happy I didn’t get involved. I just left those folks alone and have watched them do their thing. It’s has been so cool.”
Initially when Rangers was founded in 2016, another group, The Red Order got things started with the first -year club. Going into year two, the National Premier Soccer League team saw a second supporters group come into existence with the help of a Florida transplant.
“I had been involved in the supporters’ group in Jacksonville, Florida (Jacksonville Armada), prior to moving to Little Rock,” said Red Watch president Ryan Stallings. “In talking to some friends here who had spent some time in the Pacific Northwest, they had really come to love soccer just through the experience of being in the stands with like the Portland Timbers (Major League Soccer) and the Timbers Army. So year two, we decided that we’re going to start a supporters group and spent a lot of time talking to a lot of the supporters groups at the NPSL level particularly the Chattahooligans and Chattanooga FC and then the Northern Guard Supporters with Detroit City FC which are the gold standards, if you will of lower league supporter culture.”
Stallings and group began to research names and more as their goal was to support Rangers, be involved in the community and have a great time. Much like Rangers, there is a Scottish influence. Rangers from the European club deep in tradition Glasgow Rangers and so it only made sense that the new supporters group followed in step taking on the name Red Watch after the Black Watch which is rooted in the Scottish military.
Eventually both groups consolidated into what today is a growing group of 62 members who cheer and chant at home and hit the road in the Heartland Conference all for the love of the Capital City.
“As 2018 approached, we really started to expand on both the numbers but also the kind of goals we wanted to reach and for me, that was doing a lot of community service. I look at Little Rock Rangers as a kind of a gift and in many ways to a city. Jonathan’s vision of just bringing the team here. There’s not a lot of money to be made in lower league soccer, so it’s got to be something you love and something that a lot of people volunteer and put in a lot of time just for love of the game, but also love for their home city.”
Like many soccer supporters’ groups – that community service element is very strong and growing stronger with the Red Watch. From working with Habitat for Humanity on clean up days to food drives and supporting tolerance and equality, the group is using fellowship and soccer to make a difference where they live.
“You start really at supporting the team, supporting the players, helping create a game day atmosphere that people want to come to. But really our long-term goal and long-term mission will be how do you give back to the community and how do you give back in a way that reflects well on the club. That started with Lucie’s Place, which is a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth at risk. There is a program that was started by a lot of the other supporters groups in our league and it has now extended to the American Outlaws (US National Team supporters group) and even to MLS where June is “Soccer For All” month with pledges and donations from all levels of soccer including the Rangers and NPSL for goals scored goes to different shelters and organizations. So, that was really good. We are also partnering with Arkansas Food Bank collecting food at every home match. Going into 2019 the offseason, we have three or four other non-profit organizations that we’re working with right now that will help us be able to expand your community service work into the future.”
The impact of the Red Watch is not lost on the players, staff or owner of Rangers.
“The Red Watch has become a vital supporter’s group,” Rangers manager Will Montgomery said. “Their ability to uplift the players, to keep working harder is awesome. They also have a penchant of distracting the opposing team’s players, which is uniquely part of the game.
The same can be said for Wardlaw who is amazed each match day.
“I can’t express enough how much we appreciate The Red Watch. The players and fans feed off their energy so much and the atmosphere they create only seems to get better.”
From watch parties at Fassler Hall to giving back to the city and the club, the Red Watch is continuing to gain a reputation as one of the premier groups in the NPSL and above.
“A lot of people around NPSL and the country hold a lot of respect for Rangers. We are connected with every other supporters’ group from probably Division Two to USL Championship down and everyone knows about Little Rock Rangers and everyone really admires the ownership group and really admires the program. Regardless of where we are in the season, or our fortunes have gone or how many people are going to be in the stands, there’s always going to be the Red Watch rain or shine singing, cheering. Whether it’s congratulations after a win or encouragement after a loss we will be there.”
If you’d like to join the Red Watch it is easy and free. Simply send a direct message via twitter or Instagram and Ryan and group will take care of the rest.