1995 – 1999
The Midnight Riders are an Independent Supporters Association (ISA) associated with the New England Revolution, having been founded in December of 1995 by 15 area soccer fans on the heels of FIFA World Cup 1994 in anticipation of the start of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1996.
Over the course of this first meeting, and two subsequent ones in January and February of 1996, early details of the organization were hashed out and decided upon including the ISA’s name, logo, and a desired location in Foxboro Stadium that could serve as a dedicated supporters section, ultimately to be located behind the North Goal and known as ‘The Fort.’ These meetings also served as an opportunity for club officials and the new group members to become familiar with one another, including then Revolution General Manager Brian O’Donovan and Guy Keeley, a native of Liverpool, England who served as the Riders’ first president.
The original aims and objectives of the Riders were not only to encourage, cultivate, and galvanize support for the New England Revolution, but to also represent the interests of club supporters by establishing and maintaining a productive, working relationship between supporters and club management. Through open and regular communication, it was hoped that the Riders could serve as a vehicle that all New England supporters could use as a means to express their thoughts and concerns to club officials with the aim of making the match-day experience a positive one for all. Such efforts were consistent with similar efforts in 1990’s England where football supporters, concerned about changes to the game, helped to establish ISA’s as a means for supporters to engage their clubs on issues deemed essential to supporting the best interests of football clubs and their supporters, while also working towards measures of accountability for the well-being of both.
The period from 1996 through 1999 was one of growth for the Riders, expanding its membership to over 100 people, securing a regular tailgating location, and working to establish The Fort as a recognized supporters section. The group also sought to expand it’s visibility through the merchandising of scarves and t-shirts, while also working to procure a large banner to be displayed in The Fort at points during the game, the first such ‘tifo’ of its type in the League. There were also organized away trips to the Meadowlands and RFK Stadium, while close to 80 members of the Riders made the trip to Columbus, OH for the Crew Stadium opener in 1999.
In spite of this early success, there were ongoing issues between the Riders and club management that contributed to growing frustration on both sides. While the Riders were granted dedicated tailgate locations, they were often different from season to season. Group members were subject to intimidation by and caught up in unnecessary confrontations with stadium security and local law enforcement officials. Merchandise could not be sold nor could organizational literature distributed on stadium property.
A number of these concerns were expressed and discussed in Pictures of Chairman Mao (POCM), the fanzine “by and for supporters of the New England Revolution” that, while independent of the Riders, was born of four of its members: Guy Keeley, Eric Spurlock, Tom Hill, and Constantine “Red” Foley. Thanks to the efforts of this editorial ‘Gang of Four,’ Revolution supporters were, for five seasons, fortunate to enjoy equal measures of irreverence and sound commentary that were both subversive and sardonic. When the Revolution were getting no column inches in The Boston Globe or the Boston Herald, one could count on POCM to pick up the slack, and then some.
POCM was reaching its peak in popularity when MLS came to Foxboro on November 21, 1999 when the Riders played host to supporters from around the country for MLS Cup, but a series of unfortunate events on that day contributed to both it’s demise and almost that of the Riders themselves. Unbeknownst to the Riders, state and local law enforcement agencies decided to conduct a sting operation on ticket scalpers in the MLS supporters’ tailgate area, resulting in unjustified harassment and the unfortunate, unnecessary arrest of some Riders, including one of the editors of POCM.
2000 – 2002
The demise of POCM coincided with not only a drop in the teams’ fortunes, but considerable changes to the Midnight Riders. While group membership had risen slowly but steadily to just over 200 members by 2000, the team’s poor form and problems in working with the club led to many dedicated members to leave the group and stop attending Revolution matches. There was continued harassment by police and stadium officials at tailgates, further changes to tailgate locations, and open monitoring of tailgates by designated club officials and the Massachusetts State Police. Guy Keeley stepped down as President, POCM ceased production as they could not longer sell copies in the parking lots, and group membership dropped almost by half to just over 100 paid members.
Monty Rodrigues took over as president, and much to his credit, sought to sustain the enthusiasm and momentum generated in the early years of the organization. While better organization was brought to the leadership of the group, moral remained low and membership numbers continued to slide, resembling much like the product on the field. The 2001 season saw Riders membership drop to approximately 75 people this as the Revolution had a dismal season, winning only 7 of 27 games on the year.
However, things began to look up in 2002 starting prior to the season when members of the Riders assisted members of the Revolution front office chaperone season ticket holders on stadium construction tours as the facility approached completion, giving fans some quality one-on-one time with club officials including Craig Tornberg and then general manager Todd Smith. With the new stadium came yet another tailgating location, this one moved to a high visibility spot just outside the gates at the North End of the stadium. In addition, members of the Revolution reached out to members of security that regularly worked the area, establishing good relationships with a number of them. Group membership rose back towards 150, new merchandise was offered, while the Riders continued to sponsor organized away trips and continued charitable endeavors. These changes coincided with a remarkable turnaround on the pitch as the Revolution won the Eastern Conference, saw the arrival of two club mainstays in Taylor Twellman and Steve Ralston, seeing the club through to the MLS Cup final that came within inches of winning before succumbing to the L.A. Galaxy in overtime in front of over 60,000 fans on a sunlit fall day.
2003 – Present
Heading into 2003 the Riders saw a continued increase in membership, and after many years of lobbying and hard work, saw The Fort become the officially recognized supporters section, now in Section 143 of Gillette Stadium. Continued progress came when a number of the Riders sat down with members of the front office and club ownership to discuss ways how to further enhance atmosphere and how better to work together. Tolerance was shown for emerging traditions such as streamer throws in the Fort, and agreements were reached to house group banners at Gillette Stadium.
Over this period the Revolution’s on the field efforts also improved, making it to the MLS Cup Final three straight years from 2005 – 2008, winning the U.S. Open Cup in 2007 and the Superliga trophy in 2008. Members of the Riders were present at each of these matches, from Frisco, TX to Washington, DC.
The Riders have also remained active in their charitable efforts, donating time and funds to a variety of causes. New fundraising efforts such as the golf tournament and the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund walked have pushed total funds raised over the $25,000 mark, with money going to a variety of causes, including: The Jimmy Fund, American Heart Association, CityKicks!, Carrie Holmstrom Trust, and the David Charles Vanole Foundation. Future efforts will hopefully be even more successful, this as the Riders have since incorporated, registering as an IRS 501(c)(3) tax exempt non-profit with full constitution and bylaws.
In addition, the Riders also drafted and signed a mission statement along with the Revolution front office that effectively outlines a mutual code of conduct that will be reviewed on an annual basis. This agreement has laid the groundwork for allowing Tifo displays and large flags into The Fort, which for purposes of the 2010 season, has been expanded to include sections 141, 142, and 143.
As of 2009, The Midnight Riders are now the largest Revolution independent supporters association, consisting of over 400-plus total members that hail from all over New England, elsewhere in the United States, and even a few places overseas. Its membership consists of students, college faculty, musicians, servicemen, lawyers, and more. While the majority of its members call The Fort home, about 30% of the Riders can be found elsewhere in Gillette Stadium.
The organization is in better shape than it has ever been, and is looking to a new generation of supporters to take the reigns of the group and see it towards even greater success.