Saturday afternoon in Fort Lauderdale, as game time approached, a charter bus full of FC Tampa Bay supporters rolled into the Lockhart Stadium parking lot. Ralph’s Mob had organized a bus trip on short notice to see their team play its biggest rival across Alligator Alley on the east coast of Florida.
Ralph’s Mob is an independent fan group supporting FC Tampa Bay. The name Ralph’s Mob is rooted in Tampa Bay soccer history. Ralph was the mascot of the original Tampa Bay Rowdies from the mid 1970’s to the early 1990’s. If you look at the original Rowdies logo, Ralph is the man with the mustache. Last season, Ralph’s Mob President, Steve Holler told NASL.com, the mob part of the name came about when the group got together: “We’re loud and obnoxious, kind of like a mob.”
The Supporters Group has become a fixture at FC Tampa Bay home games, but even by the high standards of the group, the bus trip to Fort Lauderdale was remarkable. The Mob, in a short period of time organized this trip to Fort Lauderdale, with the incentive of seeing their team play against their biggest rival.
In a sport that is still developing in America, the growth of localized derbies and traveling fans are critical. Unlike many newer soccer rivalries that have a somewhat contrived feel, The Tampa Bay-Fort Lauderdale rivalry emanates from the 1970s and 1980s when it was the biggest professional sports rivalry in the state of Florida. Much like the Pacific Northwest rivalries in MLS, the Coastal Cup between Tampa Bay and Fort Lauderdale can trace its lineage and personal history back a generation. Almost uniquely among American soccer rivalries, it provided the ultimate professional sports battle between two rival Metropolitan areas in the 1970s and 1980s. (This was largely due to the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Bucs being in different NFL Conferences.)
This reality was ultimately motivation for forty five FC Tampa Bay fans to rent a bus and pay their own way to Fort Lauderdale for the first matchup between old rivals in 2011. Among the individuals on the bus was the FC Tampa Bay beat writer for the Tampa Tribune.
After several hours of weather delays, the game was eventually postponed until June 29th due to the severe weather in southern Florida. Still the bus trip was a unique and memorable experience for the members of Ralph’s Mob.
"Despite the fact the game was not played, the bus was full and everyone had a great time. This is the best way we know how to show support for the team. When we show up at a venue we sing our songs and the players feel it. When we're not at a game, it is noticeable," said Charles Cole, the group’s Vice President.
Ralphs Mob membership continues to grow. Cole stated that the move of the team’s home games to Al Lang Stadium in St Petersburg has allowed Ralph’s Mob to gain new members on Pinellas County side of Tampa Bay.
The group is very much looking forward to the traditional 4th of July clash with their rivals from Fort Lauderdale at home. Much like the late 1970s and early 1980s, the July 4th means Tampa Bay-Fort Lauderdale in Florida Soccer. You can be sure the mob will be there in full force.