The San Jose Earthquakes didn't have much stake in a game with Toronto last month. But when the two teams met at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, you could feel the bleachers shaking.
Stand too close to the beer-soaked, half-naked jumping men in section 109 and you might endanger your eardrums. Unquestionably. you'd learn the difference between a fan and a fanatic.
"It's more than just being a hard-core fan; it's really a way of life," said Paulo Brasil, one of the 1906 Ultras. "We are chanting for the whole 90 minutes. A lot of us don't even get to see much of a game, to the point where we have to record it to watch later."
For soccer fans, chants mean everything. Brasil said the 1906 Ultras have at least 30 chants in their repertoire. Songs like this:
The group puts potential chants through an elaborate process: Members post lyrics on a forum, along with links to YouTube videos whose tunes the group might want to appropriate. The chants undergo a group critique and revision, then get a tryout at a bar or tailgate party before making their debut at a game.
The Ultras are not the only Earthquakes fan group working on chants. The Casbah has been rooting for the team since 1996 when it was known as the Clash, after the punk band of that name. The Casbah was named for a song by the Clash: "Rock the Casbah."
While the Ultras were stomping the bleachers and tearing their shirts off, the Casbah struck up a more casual note behind the opposite goal cage, in the designated supporters' section. "We're, I guess, just a little more family-friendly," said Jordan Yan, who joined the Casbah five years after it started.
The Casbah comes up with its chants organically, said Yan. "Pretty much all our chants started with some guy up in the stands and everybody just sang along."
This season, yet a third group joined the Casbah and Ultras in the stands. The Faultline emphasizes its diversity. "We're just kind of the every-fan," said organizer Crystal Cuadra-Cutler. "We're trying to go for that melting-pot thing. We have some older people, some married people, immigrants, English as a second language."
The Faultline strikes a decidedly sweeter note:
At the Toronto game, they passed out their newly devised chants on sheets of paper.
The fan groups differ in reputation as well. The Ultras found themselves in the headlines after an altercation during an April 14 match against the Portland Timbers.
Timbers fan James Decker told Portland police that Earthquakes fans attacked him after he waved a Timbers scarf before the match. A group of about a dozen swarmed his car, punched him in the face and smashed his windshield, he said.
No suspects were arrested, but the Earthquakes front office suspended the Ultras from traveling to away games and planned to monitor the group's use of profanity.
"We don't condone violence," said Brasil. "Sometimes we use choice language in one or two or maybe three of our chants. We've a rated R section, not PG. Since we tend to travel, and we're very strong and passionate supporters of the Quakes, we'll get a lot of backlash from the other supporters. It could make for an interesting night, but not anything really violent until allegedly what happened in Portland."
The Ultras are cooperating with the investigation and will impose their own sanctions on any Ultra found to be at fault, Brasil said.
Ostracism would mean a lot in the tight-knit group Brasil described. When one member couldn't afford to attend his mother's funeral, the others pooled their resources for the airfare. "I guarantee there is not one Ultra who is unemployed because if there were, we would find them a job," Brasil said.
It's a lifetime commitment:
All this passion makes for a lively scene at Buck Shaw Stadium. And players say the support makes a difference. "I notice the chanting the whole game," said forward Adam Jahn. "That's awesome. It definitely helps out, for sure."
The Earthquakes now have a new stadium under construction, and presumably fans and their chants will flock to the 18,000-seat soccer-only venue, scheduled for completion in spring of 2014.
The Earthquakes, currently languishing in eighth place in the MLS, next take on D.C. United, having an even worse season, in the nation's capital on Saturday.