American Outlaws of Bloomington-Normal co-founders Eric Vogel (left) and Christian Kang are hoping to attract enough members to become an official chapter. (Photo by Eric Stock/WJBC)
By Eric Stock
NORMAL - Bloomington-Normal's new outlaws are actually friendly.
In fact, that's the term their favorite sport uses for exhibition games.
Christian Kang and Eric Vogel play along with the stereotype of soccer as a thuggish sport while stressing their fledgling group is all about fun and camaraderie.
"It's about coming out and supporting soccer. This is not a hooliganism thing, looking to start fights or anything that would come to mind with the culture," Kang said.
Kang and Vogel have teamed to form a Bloomington-Normal chapter of the American Outlaws, a supporters' group for the United States men's national soccer team which is preparing for World Cup qualifying.
The Outlaws, distinguishable by their red t-shirts and American Flag bandannas, travel in groups to watch U.S. soccer at friendly watering holes and, when possible, in person. There are about 80 chapters nationwide, mostly in larger cities.
The local chapter, which is still a few members short of official designation, will gather at Pub II in Normal for the U.S. men's soccer, starting with a Jan. 29 'friendly' against Canada.
"Pub II is, for a sports fan, just a great venue. It was great for the World Cup last time, the place was packed," Kang said.
The Outlaws also secure travel discounts for trips to Mexico City, Panama City and Jamaica, where the U.S. team has World Cup qualifying matches this year.
These soccer fanatics say they need to organize to let others know they aren't alone in Bloomington-Normal.
"A lot of people follow soccer, it's just a problem of awareness and getting that awareness out there," Kang said. "Everybody knows where to go for Monday Night Football, that's an entrenched part of our society," Kang said.
Vogel said soccer already has a strong fan base in part because of the Prairie City Soccer League.
"It amazes me when I talk to people at work about my passion for soccer and a lot of parents a little older than me have really gotten into soccer because of their kids wanting to know more about it," Vogel said.
Vogel said the group includes members from various walks of life, all bound by a passion for what's been called 'the beautiful game.'
"It's almost kind of a geekish mentality," Vogel said.
Vogel said he was concerned initially about any perceived association with the American Outlaws Motorcycle Club, but said that hasn't been an issue.
"Even though we cover our faces and have this Wild West mentality of being outlaws, we're a very friendly group."