Written by Michael Haffner
In the course of a 90+ minute soccer match, you can never predict what’s going to happen. There is rolling around on the ground. Screams can be heard. Tears can be shed. And that’s not just the players on the field.
The life of a parent never stops. It’s a full-time job that constantly demands your attention, even when you are watching your favorite soccer team. Regardless if you have a babysitter or not, a parent will always have their child on mind. So, why not share in the joy and excitement of a game day experience with them while creating indelible memories that the little one will cherish for a lifetime?
That’s the idea behind what Marc and Gina Winkler have created with No Nap City Ultras. They are here to prove that not only can you be a parent who loves soccer, but you can be a member of the supporter section and feel comfortable and safe to bring your child and experience the beautiful game – even between the kicking and screaming on the field and in the stands.
Cheering and Sleeping on the Job
“The Ultras name started as a joke because everyone tries to be the toughest fans. And we all know that no one is tougher than a kid. They’re unpredictable. In reality, we’re not the tough guys. We’re all about fun.”
That’s Marc, one half of a couple known in the soccer community going back to the St. Louis FC days at the Soccer Park in Fenton. It was there where he served as a security guard for the supporter section and learned a thing or two about supporter culture from The Louligans – another group that will be spotlighted in this series. Marc’s love for soccer started at the age of three years old, learning from his father who was a soccer coach. This would lead him to even train as a teenager with the U.S. Men’s Youth National Team in Florida which was unfortunately cut short by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
It was the knowledge he gained from watching how a supporter section acts as well as the connections he made over the years that finally led him to think about his role as a fan. Especially considering the newfound changes in his life.
“Me and Gina had just recently had a kid. And we realized that our life was going to change. We couldn't travel to every match as easily as before. So, we started thinking about how that changes the aspect of being a supporter when you have a younger child.”
Ultimately, they realized that if they were facing these questions, others would be as well. When other families started to ask if it would be safe to go into the supporter section, they realized they wanted to instill confidence in parents so that they don’t have to be scared. And with that, No Nap City Ultras was born after a casual conversation in the kitchen between Marc and Gina.
“Not only can you do it,” Marc explains, “but the look on a child's face when they watch that first goal or see the crowd going crazy and then hearing them sing the chants on the way home or the next day… that right there makes it all worthwhile.”The first home match of the season was special for every fan, but as a new parent, Marc feared it was going to be a nightmare. “It was late, it was dark, and it was loud. And still, she fell asleep on the march in. I don't know how she did that,” Marc admits with a laugh sharing his daughter Zoey’s first experience.
As you can expect with a child, that nap didn’t last long. Once Fleur De Noise started up inside CITYPARK, Marc’s two-year-old daughter was wide awake for 90+ minutes. “She was chanting S-T-L on the whole way home. It was the time of our life.”
For this match, Marc was lucky. No Nap’s slogan came to fruition: “90+ Minutes If We’re Lucky.”
Forming Memories at Any Age
“We focus on the game day experience to make sure everyone is comfortable at the pregame and have what they need for the game,” explains Marc.
Regardless if you have a ticket for the match or not, you can currently find No Nap with a tent, merch, and other supporters outside Schlafly. They’ve had activities for kids throughout the season, including an old-school game that brings out the kid in everyone. “We have a claw machine that we’ve brought out for special occasions. Kids love it and everybody wins a prize.”
One of those prizes that also serves as the group’s mascot is a stuffed animal named Tiki-Taka – named after the famous soccer style perfected in Spain. The child-like monster has swirly eyes to “represent the wonderous look” that children have when seeing something they love. This mascot and all the merchandise are designed by Gina, who works as a graphic designer by trade. Parents who grew up loving retro video games may also enjoy a pair of their Pac-Man-inspired scarves.
For many, CITY SC tickets for a whole family are hard to come by, which leads to members meeting up at CITY2 matches and gathering at youth soccer matches across the St. Louis area. A members-only Slack channel is also used for members to communicate and connect with a community of like-minded families.
Marc explains that it’s not necessarily about how many members they have, but about quality members that can help one another. “We try and focus on the fact that we can get through anything as parents, and we have a family and a community that can help out. So yes, it's scary. But you can see other people going through the same thing.”
When you think about it, the supporter section is a lot like a new family. There is shouting, tension, and many unknowns, but ultimately, everyone is united by a shared love of the team on the field. It’s one big family that’s just trying to figure out how to live together in our first year in a new home. And that’s what No Nap City Ultras celebrates and encourages: Getting through it together. “I give kudos to every supporter group because we really are doing our best to make everybody feel welcome.” As Marc explains, “Anyone can pick up a flag and show their support.” Because at the end of the day, fandom doesn’t have an age limit. But maybe a nap is necessary every once in a while.