From its name to the design of its stadium, Orlando City has taken a lot of inspiration from English soccer. But there’s another tradition in English soccer that should be adopted by the Lions: naming parts of the stadium after important figures in the club’s history. Specifically, the north end of Orlando City’s stadium, commonly referred to as “The Wall,” should be named after one specific person.
On Oct. 25, 2010, Phil Rawlins purchased the rights to a USL Pro team in Orlando from Steve Donner, the Lions’ first CEO and current owner of the Orlando Titans, an indoor lacrosse team. With Donner and a group of committed investors, Rawlins brought professional soccer back to Central Florida for the first time since 1997. Through innovative marketing and a commitment to the fans, Rawlins built a club in a city that most considered unable to support professional sports and his club would reach attendance figures previously unseen in American soccer’s third division.
When Rawlins initially came to Orlando, he set out to reach a goal of having an MLS team in The City Beautiful that would be playing in its own stadium downtown. The opening of Orlando City Stadium saw Rawlins fulfill the promise he made to the Central Florida community when he arrived — a goal many felt would be impossible to achieve. But it wasn’t just the stadium that Rawlins championed.
One of the most famous atmospheres in global soccer is in Dortmund, Germany. Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund plays its games in Signal Iduna Park and in front of the Yellow Wall, which occupies the südtribüne, or south bank. This 25,000 capacity free-standing grandstand is the largest in Europe and has been the envy of clubs around the world. While not as large as the südtribüne, considering that the entire stadium holds just 500 more fans than the Yellow Wall itself, Rawlins wanted to create a stand reminiscent of the famous Dortmund structure.
When Orlando City joined MLS in 2015, playing at the Citrus Bowl, the south end of the stadium was dubbed “The Wall.” Inhabited by the club’s supporters groups, Rawlins looked to create a miniature version of Dortmund’s famed end. But that wasn’t the end of the plan. When designing the new downtown stadium, the renowned architecture firm Populous was given a request unique in American sports: a safe-standing section.
While popular in Germany, safe-standing is unknown to most of the American public. As the name implies, the goal is to create a part of the stadium absent of seats where fans can safely stand for the entirety of a game. The design even went as far as to include cup holders for each of the 3,811 occupants. Following the stadium’s first home game, the section garnered rave reviews from observers nationwide. We’ve even written about the experience, here.
The Wall is a fine description for those that occupy that end of the stadium but the end itself needs a fitting name. There are three ways most parts of a stadium are named: after the side of the stadium, after the nearest street, or after an important figure. The club could name the end the “North End” as it is located on the north end of the stadium or “Central End” as it is located adjacent to Central Boulevard. But it would be far better to name it after the man who is responsible for its existence.
Lacking the personal finances to be the majority owner of an MLS club, Rawlins sold the majority stake in the team to Brazilian Flavio Augusto Da Silva. Due to personal issues, he also recently surrendered control of the day-to-day operations to CEO Alex Leitao. While he is still the club’s “life-president” and on the board of directors, these moves have lessened Rawlins’ impact within the club. Naming the most popular part of the stadium after the man who founded the club and is responsible for what thousands of Orlando City fans enjoy each week would be a fitting tribute. It’s the least they could do considering what Rawlins has given to the Central Florida community.
Naming the north end of Orlando City Stadium the Phil Rawlins End would be a great way to honor the man most responsible for Orlando City and a move that would be universally applauded. With the club’s entrance into MLS, many people have jumped on board as fans. Many have certainly learned the history of the club, but others may be unaware of exactly how important Rawlins is to soccer in Central Florida. Orlando City Stadium will be around long after Rawlins, and naming this popular part of the stadium after him will ensure that his impact and dedication to soccer in the area is never forgotten.