Brick by Brick

The story behind the brick foundation the Brickyard Battalion continues to build
Published May 10, 2017

By: Trey Higdon

Across the globe, soccer supporters participate in traditions that symbolize their connection to their beloved clubs.

Liverpool FC, Borussia Dortmund, and Celtic FC fans sing the popular supporter anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”; FC Barcelona supporters jab a visiting Real Madrid fans with the wildly popular “Madridista qui no boti, Eh! Eh!” (“You’re a Madridista fan if you don’t jump, Eh! Eh!”); Portland Timbers’ “Timber Joey” slices off a slab from a log for each goal a Timber’s player scores, and more. The Brickyard Battalion and other affiliated groups bring several of their own traditions to Indy Eleven’s culture – from chants to scarves and even the captain’s armband on match day, but there’s one tradition that some fans might overlook: Bricks.

In 2014, prior to Indy Eleven’s inaugural match, early and founding members of the Brickyard Battalion began to lay the foundation of what the supporters could do to cultivate soccer culture in the Circle City. Over time, Johnny Baker, one of the “Founding Eight” of the Brickyard Battalion and Michael Obremski, Founder of Battery 37, developed the idea to present bricks to players each time they scored a goal and to goalkeepers, for each match they kept a clean sheet.  Such was the birth of the Brick-by-Brick program.

“Obviously, we’re the ‘Brickyard Battalion’ or the ‘Yard of Bricks’”, said Baker. “Because it started out with eight [members], then it grew to 20 real quick, then 50, then a couple hundred, it was the whole ‘brick by brick’ and before you knew it, we were something. It went off that and we just thought ‘Hey, we need to start our own traditions. We love a lot of what the other soccer supporter culture, so let’s do something that’s about us.’”

At first glance, many would consider bricks to be an unconventional choice in the way of symbolic objects; heavy, bulky, rectangular stones, but the idea behind the bricks also forces an understanding the relationship the city of Indianapolis has with another sport: IndyCar racing.

“With the whole connection to the IMS, and you know Indianapolis is kind of known as the ‘Racing Capital of the World’… It really made sense,” Obremski explained. “We decided we would give them out for a goal and for clean sheets. We’re really building soccer history in Indianapolis and we’re building it brick by brick, and all of these moments are the bricks that kind of build up this whole thing.”

The search for symbolism behind the brick extends beyond a solely sports-related connection, but the connection between characteristics of both bricks and Indianapolis as a whole.

“Indianapolis is a tough city, you know? So bricks and them being gritty and tough, it just really sort of fit to me,” Baker proclaimed.

Brick-by-Brick officially began during the third home match in Indy Eleven’s history and has been a continuing tradition since then. Over the past three season, Obremski has taken on the sole task of procuring and preparing by mean of engraving each brick for distribution to the “Boys in Blue”. Each brick carries a unique history behind it with the majority of the bricks being over 100 years old and having a connection to the city.

“I’ve spent a large portion of time just tracking down bricks, because you need a very specific kind,” Obremski details. “I do all the carving myself. I have a Dremel at home; I have my little workshop set up in the garage, so all of the bricks that have gone out in the last three seasons and that will go out in the foreseeable future have all come from my hands. It’s pretty much a one man operation. There’s not a whole lot of glory in it, but it’s something that’s really cool to do.”

As Indy Eleven continues its fourth season, the crafting of each individual brick has primarily been a one-man operation, but as bricks continued to find the hands of players, fans began to take notice. In recent seasons, Bart Taylor, fellow BYB member and capo, has joined Obremski on the pitch at the end of matches to help spread the wealth of red stones to the players who have earned such accolades. The allure of the locality of the brick’s symbolism caught Taylor’s attention, but working to grow the tradition of showing appreciation to the players for their accomplishments on the pitch became the hook to keep him continuing passing out bricks.

“It’s definitely something that brings a very local feel to it,” Taylor said. “It’s just another thread that ties the club to the community. It’s a wonderful thing. This is something that certainly symbolic of the community and it’s obviously a show of appreciation from the supporters. Once a few players really embraced it, it really became something that is special and I hope it continues to be something or to grow, even.”

Eleven frontman Justin Braun has added to his collection this season with his NASL Player of the Month of April performance, which has led him to the top of the NASL leading individual goals list with three goals. Collecting bricks may have become the new norm for the “Boys in Blue” veteran, but the notion doesn’t go unappreciated.

“I think it’s cool when supporters groups do something like that [handing out bricks] for the players to show their appreciation and [us] trying to give that back to them with our performance on the field,” Braun noted. “Without them, we’re not here. It’s very appreciated.”

At the end of the day, the hours of arduous work that goes behind finding, personalizing and distributing each brick becomes more than just a symbol of appreciation for goals for those involved with Brick-by-Brick; it further builds the relationship between the fans and the players and builds the legacies the players leave the club.

“It helps me build a legacy for the players. I mean, they make so many memories for us,” Obremski noted. “Eamon’s hat-trick against the Carolina Railhawks last year or Kristian’s [Nicht] very first shutout; Mike Ambersley’s first goal—they’re all memories that we get, but I feel like not only one of the things that the players get is a reminder of their own legacies through the eyes of the fans …This is an opportunity for me to give back to the team. It’s a chance for me to give back to the team when they give so much to us.”