Hell Is Real Derby: Columbus Crew And FC Cincinnati Fans Ready For Latest Clash

August 22, 2023

Welcome to our ‘TipicOH’ series, where we highlight the people and innovations behind our amazing partners in Ohio.

These dudes are hardcore. They chant, they march, they organize – they can even prevent a soccer team from leaving town.

Morgan Hughes, Chris Marshall and Jonah Colina are a different breed of soccer fan, a different breed of sports fan. The pride and passion they have for their team and their cities are inextricably linked, one unable to exist without the other.

But for now, they are mortal enemies – at least for a few days. On Sunday, Aug. 20, Ohio’s two Major League Soccer teams will battle again this season, with FC Cincinnati traveling about an hour and a half to duke it out with the Columbus Crew.

The match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET, and if you’re so inclined, click here to log in – or sign up – with Tipico Sportsbook to place a wager.

And this is not just a regional meet-up. These teams are good. FC Cincy has the best record in the league at 15-6-2, and the Crew are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference at 10-6-7. In their earlier meeting in Cincinnati, FCC defeated the Crew 3-2.

In the past two seasons, the Crew have won twice, lost once and tied twice against their Ohio rivals.

Yes, “Hell Is Real,” at least this week.


‘Laughing, Crying, Choking’

Hughes remembers that day in 2018 when he learned the Crew would not be relocating to Austin, Texas, a year after the former owner had announced his intention to move the team.

“There was about a 30-second period there where I don’t think I remembered to breathe,” Hughes told WBUR-TV during a 2019 interview. “I went inside and I sat on my living room floor and I just — I just lost it emotionally. I choked on my own tears, I coughed, and then I started the cycle all over again, you know, laughing, crying, choking.”

Two days later, the official announcement was made at Land-Grant Brewery in Columbus – read our feature story here – with Hughes leading the event.

It was the culmination of a year of relentless organizing and galvanizing that Hughes had launched with his “Save the Crew” movement to keep the team in Columbus.

“After 24 hours, I thought someone with power would do something, because it wasn’t right,” Hughes says of the day he heard the Crew was going to move. “But when I realized that no one was going to be stepping up, I knew it had to be me.”

Which brings us to the slogan for this week’s slugfest. Hughes helped come up with “Hell Is Real” from a billboard on the I-71 freeway between Columbus and Cincinnati with the same words.

The home-and-away series between Cincinnati and the Crew is now known as the “Hell Is Real Derby” — Hughes calls it “our greatest contribution to soccer.”

Hughes’ small business, Supporter Supply, sells a wide array of Crew merch, and he also creates tifos – those huge fan banners you see at soccer games – for match days.

Hughes predicts Crew success on Saturday “they have a mental block against us” – but says he doesn’t have much animosity built up yet against the cross-state rival.

“A lot of their fans used to be Crew fans,” Hughes says. “It’s hard for me to hate them when they used to be us. They’re precious babies that just started.”

‘We Take It Very Personally’

Jonah Colina doesn’t do podcasts anymore, but he did for several years – his weekly contribution to the rabid fandom that surrounds FC Cincinnati. He and his brother co-hosted “Knifey Lion Radio,” discussing all things FCC, and for their 100th episode, they interviewed Lizz Summers, the VP of communications for the team.

Now, he is a member of The Pride, one of the groups that creates tifos and organizes away game trips and ticket sales, among other supporter activities. He and his other Pride SG members also kick off the three-quarter-mile march that wends its way to TQL Stadium, picking up other supporter groups along the way.

Jonah has been there since the beginning of professional soccer in Cincinnati – a 2-1 victory over the Charlotte Independence on April 9, 2016. That was when FCC was in the United Soccer League, where they played for three seasons before joining MLS as an expansion team for the 2019 season.

“Because we never believed that we would have a MLS team, when it happened it snowballed. We weren’t supposed to be here, so we’re grateful to have a team. We take it very personally as a reflection of the city. We built this up from nothing as a USL team.”

‘Fell In Love With Cincinnati’

For Chris Marshall, passion for FCC is passion for Cincy. Supporting and promoting his soccer team goes hand in hand with the city he moved to in the 1980s.

“I fell in love with Cincinnati,” Chris says. “We had a low self-esteem. Cincy is one of those cities that gets its heart broken. We’ve had no champions. Entire generations have never seen a winner.”

The Cincinnati Reds did win the World Series in 1975, ’76 and ’90, but the Bengals have lost three Super Bowls and FC Cincinnati were the worst team in the MLS during their first three seasons.

No matter. Marshall quickly realized the zeal that Cincy had for its new MLS team.

“We were one of the worst teams, but thousands of people kept coming to the games,” Marshall says. “We are belligerently positive.

“We make fun of ourselves, but if outsiders do, we’ll blow up on everyone.”

Marshall, a hospice chaplain and philosophy professor at Cincinnati State University, helps host a party of supporters along the march route on match days as president of Norden SG, which he founded in 2017 and which now has over 400 members.

The Cincy-Crew rivalry is all in fun in the long run – “we definitely hate each other for two hours and then have a beer after the game” – but these fans are thinking more about wins, not suds.

“Last year, when Columbus tied us in the last minute, there was a lot of tension,” Chris says.

Marshall also envisions a great future for FCC.

“We continue to grow,” he says. “We’ve always had positive support even when we were losing. Tickets are getting harder to get. People are still coming for the first time, and we have to do education about soccer and how different it is than other sports.”

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Alex Valdes
Alex Valdes is Web Content Manager at Tipico North America. He has written, edited and performed user and site analysis at MoneyTalksNews, NBC Sports, MSN, Bing, MSNBC, as well as newspapers and magazines.