Top cover photo from Ray Soldano.
I have a confession: I am a Chattahooligan, and I was not a soccer fan before Chattanooga FC.
Before I moved to Chattanooga (in 2015 for my job), I had been to exactly one soccer match in my life, in college, because it was free and my friend had a crush on one of the players. My first CFC match was July 4, 2015, three days after I moved to the Scenic City. I was out of my element and a little overwhelmed at the difference in culture; this certainly wasn’t the football I was used to.
I sat with my soon-to-be new coworkers and watched the guys on the field and cheered when they scored; if I’m being honest, I didn’t know when or why else to cheer in soccer. I looked over at the people in section 109--clad in navy and sky, waving enormous flags, chanting what I could only assume were soccer-themed Gregorian chants intertwined with witty trash talk--and wondered, why?
Later that night, I texted my mom: “I went to a soccer match today. They have their own hype crew. I think they’re called the Chattahooligans or something like that. They were weird, but fabulous. And the best trash talkers I’ve ever heard.”
The following week, I was back at Finley Stadium with my coworkers, standing in the very back of section 109, watching the madness unfold, both in the stands and on the field.
The moment I knew I’d become a Chattahooligan was at the match following the July 16 shootings. I remember hearing the capos instructing everyone to sing “The Marine’s Hymn” and “Anchors Aweigh,” in honor of the Fallen Five.
“If you don’t know the words, look ‘em up. You all have smartphones.”
That’s exactly what everyone did, and it was beautiful. I stood in the back of 109 and cried.
The rest, as they say, is history. I met a handful of people at the 2016 open tryouts who convinced me to come to a tailgate when the season started. I gave it a chance, and now, you can guess what my Saturdays are devoted to from mid-May until August. That “why” I wondered a few months prior became very clear.
Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes in section 109 (or at any other Chattahooligan event, for that matter) can attest that the Chattahooligan culture is not something you can experience anywhere else. They welcome anyone with open arms, whether you’ve followed soccer for five minutes or five decades, whether your kids play or if you’ve never watched a soccer match in your life. As long as you’re willing to sing and cheer for the Boys in Blue, you’re good.
CFC and the Chattahooligans can truly make soccer lovers out of anyone.
I know I’m not the only one. Many Chattahooligans have had similar experiences that brought them to love CFC, our supporter group and soccer in general.
Supporter Shelly Ayers grew up playing soccer, but admitted that she never really followed it otherwise. But in 2010, an invitation to a CFC match from an at-the-time coworker and friend inspired her to change her mind.
“It was an instant connection,” she described. “It was life-changing at that point, because it was such a small group.” Since then, Shelly has become more and more involved each season, earning the nickname “Hooligan Mom” to some. She says it’s great to have such a “natural, authentic, fluid group of people who come together to support the community.”
Another supporter Donny Stiefel admits that he was a “crossover” Chattahooligan. He attended a few early CFC matches with his at-the-time girlfriend and observed the small group of Chattahooligans from afar.
“We thought, ‘Well, that looks more fun than just sitting and waiting for something to happen,’” Donny said. “That would be awesome to sing and be crazy the entire time.” So they moved from their stadium seats into section 109 to join the fun, and Donny hasn’t left 109 since.
Over the years, the support system for the CFC has kept growing and growing, thanks largely to the Chattahooligans and the community they create. The CFC continues to grow as a club because of the fan support, and that in turn is a huge reason why many of the players come back year after year.
The Chattahooligans have grown more and more each season, thanks to supporters like Shelly and Donny (and countless others) who take chances, and to those who make those first Chattahooligan experiences so memorable. Chattahooligan tailgates are an integral part of the CFC experience. It’s okay to be nervous about your first tailgate; I certainly was. But the tailgate is the perfect place to start. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you’re new, either. Many of us have been in that same position and are more than happy to take you under our wing.
I am living proof that you can know nothing about soccer and come to love it by the end of the summer. I am a proud Chattahooligan and soccer supporter because of the wonderful people who welcomed me to the community. Our arms are open and we hope you’ll come and join us at the pavilion and in section 109.