So, if you’re looking for the hottest ticket in town and the most fun of any Florida sporting event, come with us to the Purple Palace!
For those still a little bewildered at the idea of the USA and ‘our’ version of football, let us explain. Major League Soccer (or MLS) has been around since 1996 and, after a few hiccups, is now a top-flight sporting league in its own right and increasingly popular.
Three years ago, little Orlando City proved their worth enough to join the MLS ranks, and we have been on a wild roller-coaster ride ever since. Last year they opened their new, purpose-built Stadium – holding 25,500 per game – and the soccer revolution has now reached overdrive, with Game Day one of the most eagerly-anticipated on the weekly calendar.
American sports events are typically a day out for the whole family, but that has reached new heights with the arrival of the Lions and their uber-passionate fan-base. If you’re looking for loud, Orlando City Stadium is definitely the place to be, and it is amazing how the city as a whole has embraced this culture and taken on the identity of super-fans.
The team’s purple colours have genuinely become the colour of this city, and there is no doubting how much of an event that Saturday evening (or Sunday, or, occasionally, Wednesday) has become. The mixture of American entertainment savvy and a European-style fan passion has created a unique environment that is outrageous fun to be part of (and we should know, as we have season tickets!).
If that’s the good news, the bad news is that games often sell out, so it really pays in this instance to buy before you arrive, especially as Attraction Tickets Direct have their own dedicated ticket section for Orlando City, on this link.We can’t stress that enough – this is a great opportunity to experience something rare in Florida, but don’t leave it until you get here.
So, if that is the big-picture excitement, what can you expect of Game Day with the Lions?
Well, just to start with, the pre-game atmosphere starts early. Like really early. If the game is at 7 or 7.30 in the evening (as most are, because playing in the afternoon heat is not a desirable option), the fans will start congregating at lunchtime. Seriously. With the heart of Church Street’s bars and restaurants just a few blocks from the stadium, this is Party Central for 5-6 hours beforehand – and a good few afterwards with the right result!
There is plenty of choice for a good meal or just a few beers, with this downtown hub now positively full of just about every pub and diner known to man. It starts with the Lion’s Pride Soccer Pub & Grill, a huge venue dedicated to all things Orlando City, with multiple TV screens, a great beer selection and even its own merchandise section.
As a quick aside, it is worth noting that the club’s own shop is only open from inside the stadium on match days, and there can often be a queue to get in. This is not where you want to spend your pre-game time, so make sure you have bought all the necessary gear beforehand, either at the Lion’s Pride or from the stadium on a non-game day.
As another quick aside, it is important, nay vital, to wear purple for the game. Not for nothing has this been dubbed the Purple Palace, and you don’t want to be seen as an ‘outsider’ when surrounded by 25,000 City fans! In all seriousness, no-one will mind if you wear your Arsenal/Chelsea/Man Utd shirt, but it is just good manners (and seriously cool) to have a shirt of the right colour for your visit.
Parking is usually straightforward, especially as the stadium is so close to all the multi-storey car parks in downtown. If you head for any of the parking lots just off Orange Avenue, there are at least six to choose from, and then it is just a 15-minute walk to City’s ground from there. Or you can opt to park in any of the makeshift car parks that spring up in the neighbouring areas to the west of the stadium, which are even closer. They cost from $20-$30 in cash, and are perfectly safe to use on game day.
As well as the Lion’s Pride, the other great sources of fan gatherings in Church Street are Harry Buffalo, Hamburger Mary’s, The Rusty Spoon, Ceviche, Schumann’s Jager House (a German bierkeller type pub), Shannon’s Irish Pub, Kres Chophouse, Graffiti Junktion and Latitudes Rooftop Tiki Bar. All serve food, but you’ll get the best dining experiences at Ceviche, The Rusty Spoon and Kres.
For a concentrated fan experience (as it’s the home of the Iron Lion Firm), you can also try the Harp & Celt pub on nearby Magnolia Avenue. The Wall Street Cantina, just off Orange Avenue, is another great source of pre-game revelry.
If you park on the west of the stadium, you will see more of the tailgate parties that are part and parcel of most American sports events. These are set up in all the parking areas closest to the stadium and you’re welcome to wander around, soak up the atmosphere and talk to the fans. The other key establishment to watch out for here is the Broken Cauldron brewery, a great place for a few beers as it is the pre-game home of The Ruckus fan group, who stage a flare-filled March to the Match 75 minutes before kick-off. This is a real Orlando City ritual and definitely worth catching if you can.
For more party-style entertainment, the section of Church Street alongside the stadium is closed to traffic for the Publix street party, with games, live music and other events to keep everyone amused for 3-4 hours before kick-off.
Finally, there is The Game. It pays to be inside the stadium about an hour before kick-off so you can have a good wander around (and the whole of the ground-level concourse is open to fans), check out the different food and beverage options (our recommendation – the Cuban Bowl kiosk on the east of the concourse) and find your seat in plenty of time. It is a convivial, family-friendly atmosphere, and the prelude to 90 minutes of non-stop sound and fury like you’ve never heard at a British match.
The two main fan groups have their own standing-only section behind the North goal, and they maintain a full-on drum-and-cheerleading section throughout the game. It has to be heard to be believed, and is just one more reason why you should choose an Orlando City game as part of your holiday.
As a last word on the subject (before you head off to buy your tickets!), be sure to review the stadium’s A-Z of game-day requirements, including their Clear Bag policy, on this link.
Oh, and if you want to come by and say Hello, we’re in Section 104, upper deck, behind the goal! PS: You can also buy our new book, Defying Expectations, all about the Orlando City story, on Amazon on this link!
Check out the video below for a preview of what you can expect at an Orlando City Soccer game...
Video Credit- Orlando City SC
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