The L.A. Galaxy season opened under pouring rain, but that did nothing to dim the spirits of the L.A. Riot Squad, 300 of the city's most boisterous sports fans.
“We are here! We are here! We love your women and drink your beer!” they chanted from their corner of the Home Depot Center. “It's good to be back! It's good to be back! Hey, the Galaxy!”
For Dan Schuette, better known as “Shooter,” it was especially good to be back: He missed much of the 2010 season getting treatment for throat cancer.
Schuette, 43, had part of his jaw removed and lost 60 pounds during chemotherapy. He returned last year to a hero's welcome. There were “Team Shooter” T-shirts and a team picture on the field with the Galaxy.
At the home opener, fans came up, squeezed his arm and said how happy they were to see him back.
Cancer has changed him in one very big way. Before, he would drink a dozen beers a night. “Every weekend would be a bender, really,” he says.
Now, his doctor has advised him to cut way back. “Beer's a big part of the Riot Squad. It's a different dynamic for me now.”
Alcohol is etched into the group's motto: “Veni, Imbibi, Vici.” (I came, I drank, I conquered.) Typically there is a pregame tailgate, plus more drinking during the game and after.
Schuette's friends like to tell about the time he spent the night in his car after closing down the Red Car Brewery in Torrance. Then there was the time he fell out of the stands at the Oakland Coliseum and landed on the scoreboard, 12 feet below.
The Riot Squad is the oldest and rowdiest Galaxy supporters group, formed a decade ago when the team played at the Rose Bowl. Like their European counterparts, they stand throughout the game and keep up a steady stream of bawdy songs and chants.
A newer group, the Angel City Brigade, formed about three years ago and quickly grew to rival the Riot Squad in size, if not in attitude.
Michael Hovance, an ACB fan, sums up the difference: “We're nicer”
It was a Riot Squad member who taunted David Beckham in 2009, provoking him to try to come into the stands. The Riot Squad also has clashed with Galaxy management, which — in the interest of creating a family-friendly environment — has encouraged the club to tone down the chants.
One year, the Galaxy ordered the Riot Squad to eliminate the words “fuck,” “shit” and “ass” from its repertoire. The group responded by chanting “Fuck! Shit! Ass!”
As one of the veterans, Schuette has worked to smooth over such differences. On the road, he coordinates tailgates with opponents' supporters groups. He says there is now a “detente” between the Riot Squad and ACB, and they coordinate their chants as a sign of mutual respect.
The groups never got anywhere close to Bill Buford–level thuggery, but the Riot Squad has kept its edge. When a Galaxy goal was waved off during the home opener, the chants started up: “A rope! A tree! Hang the referee!”
Shooter was as outraged as anyone, but later acknowledged he couldn't really see the play and the Galaxy may well have been offside.
“This is L.A!” they chanted, under sheets of rain. “Our city and home! Los Angeles!”