On a picture-perfect Florida spring evening this past Saturday, the Tampa Bay Rowdies hosted Louisville City at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg.
For this, my very first visit to Al Lang Stadium, I found that there’s a lot to love about the stadium, and the fans that fill it. Sitting on the edge of a bay with a cool breeze blowing through the stands, you’d be hard pressed to find a more picturesque stadium in all of the United States. And just as the stadium has plenty of character, so too do the fans with an age range from infants to 90-somethings. Of course, there’s the supporters group — Ralph’s Mob — that make the biggest impact on the atmosphere with their constant singing and banging of the drum through the entire game.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies possess so many unique characteristics. The rich history of the team that was founded in 1975. The distinct green and yellow hoop shirts that are to be seen everywhere throughout the crowd. Plus every foot of this old baseball stadium is used to maximum effect. The kids section in the corner behind one of the goals with its grass mound that children run up and roll down. The outdoor patio area nestled near the water’s edge in the opposite corner. Across the other side, you have a pitch-side bar area near the corner flag, as well as food trucks and concession stands behind the stand that runs the full length of the field.
Best of all, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. You’re close to the pitch, and there are plenty of opportunities to stand next to the advertising hoardings to get an even better view of the action.
On the pitch itself, the quality of the USL game between the Rowdies and Lou City was decent. The first half was competitive and featured a lot of open play. In the second half, the game got scrappier as players tired. But overall, the game was worth watching, which was made even better by soaking up the Rowdies experience.
Toward the end of the match, I ventured next to Ralph’s Mob to feel the noise of the rapturous supporters group. And they didn’t disappoint with their flag waving, drum beating and mixture of chants and songs. Even after conceding an 88th minute equalizer, Ralph’s Mob didn’t stop singing. If anything, they picked up the beat.
If I lived near the west coast of Florida, I could imagine my family and I spending most Saturday evenings watching the Rowdies in person. With ticket prices as low as $10 and plenty of activities for the kids, the Rowdies are the model of how to run a club that has a close bond with the local community.
Photo credit: Kailey Harris