Black and Gold

The District 9 Ultras support LAFC from BMO Stadium’s Section 105. (Luke Netzley/Staff)

From the billowing smoke to the roaring songs, BMO Stadium’s north end is an influential symphony of sight and sound, known to tilt the balance of victory and defeat. It’s an atmosphere that Jose “Rey” Salcedo revels in.

Salcedo, a founding member of LAFC supporters’ group District 9 Ultras, described a game day as far more than what happens on the pitch. 

“I have had the pleasure to invite many, many people that have never been to a soccer game, and I usually take the time before they walk in the stadium to tell them, ‘Hey, your life is about to change,’” he said. “As soon as they walk into the tunnel and they see the drums, the flags and everybody … (they) fall in love.”

District 9 Ultras was born from the ashes of Chivas USA, the former MLS club that shared a stadium with LA Galaxy for over nine years. The team was a subsidiary of Mexican side C.D. Guadalajara, who were originally named Club Union, and Salcedo was a member of a supporters’ group called Union Ultras. Chivas USA eventually folded in 2014, and LAFC was established that year.

“We were named Union Ultras to symbolize and pay respects to Guadalajara, but this was a totally different ballgame,” Salcedo described.

The group’s new name, District 9 Ultras, was inspired by the location of LAFC’s stadium, built in Los Angeles’ 9th District. Their crest depicts a top hat and skull, representing each supporter’s loyalty until death.

“We’ve been working countless hours and putting in so much effort since ‘day zero,’” Salcedo recalled. “Going back to the early days, I remember when we would go out to the bars. Because one of our slogans was ‘one by one,’ we were going bar by bar inviting people to the new project.

“They would ask us, ‘So when are you guys playing?’ We’re like, ‘Oh, we’re playing in three years.’ ‘You guys are (expletive) crazy. … You guys don’t even have colors. You don’t even have a crest, and you already believe in this?’ I was like, ‘Hey, you have to believe the project.’”

The group has since witnessed their team lift the MLS Cup in what has been regarded as one of the most thrilling finals in league history. It was a day that Salcedo said he will never forget.

“We committed everything, not only us but our families … so to us it was very special,” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling for you to know that you were part of that; you were part of that goal that happened … because you were singing your lungs out and you were encouraging the players to keep on pushing and not give up. 

“(Before the game,) there’s a guy that was asking me, ‘How do you feel?’ I told him, ‘Look, tomorrow we’re going to cash in a big check. Out of all those three years of hard work, you’re going to see it tomorrow in the stands, in the north end. … (Then) magic just happened.”

Today, the District 9 Ultras supporters’ group stands as one of the guiding lights for LAFC’s fan culture. Salcedo called it a family.

“Every time somebody walks in … you’re always going to get a handshake. And if you drink, you’re going to get a beer. If you’re not drinking, you’re going to get a water, you know? You’re going to get a warm welcome,” Salcedo said. “It is just about the community, about having a good time and having that feeling of belonging. A lot of us and a lot of people there are immigrants. I’m an immigrant, and when you come to this country, you don’t have family and there’s nothing for you to rely on other than just work and go home, work and go home.

“Almost 99% of the people that were born across the border, they love soccer and they grew up with it. For them to have the same feeling like when they were in their hometown, to come in here and just buy a $35 ticket, go inside the stadium, get a beer and have a good time … that’s priceless.”

The District 9 Ultras community also extends to their tailgates and away days, when buses full of LAFC fans will travel to another city to support their team. Salcedo said it’s “the best feeling ever” when all of the groups in the 3252, LAFC’s supporters union, sing together in unison to drown out an opposing team’s home support.

“Every single group in the 3252 operates different, but at the end of the day we all come together because our main goal is for LAFC,” he described. “Everybody has their different ideas; that’s what makes the 3252 great, because we all come together and not everybody thinks the same. … All those ideas keep us afloat, keeps everybody moving and always being hungry to be the best (fans) in MLS.”

Despite the animosity shown between the opposing sets of fans during a match, Salcedo explained that, after the full-time whistle blows, every supporter is united in their passion for the game, regardless of their club. This unity has helped inspire local, national and global community service events.

“We work with different supporter groups from rival teams, and we have done amazing things,” Salcedo said. “We have worked with Colorado, we have worked with San Jose, we have worked with Utah, and we’ve done community activations.”

Ahead of LAFC’s CONCACAF Champions League game against Costa Rican club LDA Alajuelense, the District 9 Ultras participated in a clubwide effort with human rights nonprofit Global Diplomatic to provide beds, toys, food and a game day ticket for 31 girls living in an orphanage. 

“It’s about sharing that love,” Salcedo said. “It’s about saying, ‘Look, we can be rivals for 90 minutes, but our communities need so much that we can help each other out.’”

Salcedo has witnessed and felt the transformational power of the sport and said that there is not a single hour that passes that he doesn’t think about soccer.

“We live and we bleed this,” Salcedo explained. “It does two things to you: either brings a smile to your face when you win, or it makes you walk away when you lose. I think that’s what makes football something very special, because it generates those emotions, and when you have hundreds of people that feel the same way as you and everybody’s pulling the weight to the same side, you know you’re making an impact.

“We have had guys that have been in the rock bottom, and we’ve helped lift them up, and we continue doing that work through them because we all go through different stuff in life. But that’s the sense of community that the 3252 has.”

Salcedo hopes that this impact and the legacy of his work with District 9 Ultras will last for generations and inspire others to pursue their passions and seek community, starting with the youth.

“A lot of our kids growing up, they’re lacking of identity and not feeling that they belong in the world, and that’s very sad,” Salcedo said. “Unfortunately, that’s the world that we’re living in right now, … and football, it gives you a sense of belonging, a sense of something to look forward to. Even if you have a bad day on a Wednesday, you know that it’s almost Friday and Saturday you’re going to go to the stadium; you’re going to see your buddies, you’re going to go hang out, and you’re going to forget about everything for four or five hours. 

“We push you, shoulder to shoulder, and we try to grow and move forward because we want to leave a legacy here in Los Angeles, a legacy of really embracing our colors, the black and gold, and the community, and for our kids to one day say, ‘My dad was part of it. My uncle was here when this started. We had season tickets since every everything started.’ All those things give you pride. … When you are passionate about something, there’s a lot of things that you can gain.”

LAFC vs. Houston Dynamo

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 29

WHERE: BMO Stadium, 3939 S. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles

COST: Tickets start at $55