BY JOHN P. CHANDLER
Did you miss it?
You might have missed it. My brother refuses to call soccer a sport. Instead, he jokingly refers to it as a “pastime” or “activity.”
However, on March 5th of this year, a crowd of 74,479 screaming fans disagreed with my brother and gathered in Bank of America stadium – not to cheer on the NFL Panthers, but the MLS Charlotte FC in its debut home game. (For newcomers, “FC” stands for “Football Club.”) No big deal, you say. It was the largest crowd in the league’s history and a lot larger than most Panthers’ crowds, too.
Having attended both Panthers and Charlotte FC games, I can attest that they are entirely different experiences (even though they share a stadium, and an owner, David Tepper). A raucous “supporters’ section” fills the end zone with constant drumming, chanting, and dancing. There is no need for artificial speakers cranking out deafening pump-up-the-crowd noise, because the soccer fan base is engaged, diverse, and loud.
In case you “missed it,” and want to check out what has the attention of about 30,000 of your neighbors several times a month for most of the year, then here are a few talking points about Charlotte FC:
– The team slogans include, “For the Crown!” and “Minted,” both references to their home town (the Queen City and Mint City – look those two up if you don’t know).
– Who’s Ally? That big name on the front of the jersey is not a girlfriend but represents Ally Bank, principal sponsor of the club.
– Where are Charlotte FC players from? Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Ghana, Poland Spain … as well as Burlington, High Point, and Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s the most popular game in the world, and Charlotte FC, like other soccer (or “futbol”) clubs attract international players and fans of many nations.
– What’s the future of the club? By the time we went to press, Charlotte FC still has a toe in the door for the playoffs. Even if they don’t make it in their inaugural season, they have a billionaire owner, a passionate fan base, and a solid core of players – a recipe for long-term success.
-There are a variety of “supporter” (fans) groups for the club with each focused on creating the best possible atmosphere for each game. The largest supporter group, Mint City Collective, even has a chapter dedicated for the Lake Norman area. Supporter groups and chapters perform community service and engagement, watch road games in a communal space, and form bonds with other Charlotte FC fans in their local area.
Charlotte is a pro sports town. If you’ve followed the NFL Panthers and/or the NBA Hornets but have missed Charlotte FC … you might want to remedy that.
See you next month when we’ll talk about soccer at its highest level – the World Cup.