When we think of the South in the fall, many of us automatically think of football. And growing up, Saturdays in the fall were all about that all-American pastime: driving the hour south to Lexington, eating a ton of tailgate food, and probably falling asleep before the fourth quarter, at least when I was really little. But in recent years, my hometown has begun embracing a different kind of football — football you actually play with your feet. I’m talking about America’s sport of the futureS soccer.
Our journey begins in 2013, when a group known as The Coopers was founded to drum up support for soccer in the city of Louisville. They succeeded, and in 2014 Louisville City FC was officially founded. The team played its first season in United Soccer League in 2015, the second tier of soccer in North America, and they were an immediate success, making it to the conference finals in 2015 and 2016. Despite long debates over if/when/how we might bring a professional basketball team to what has long been a basketball town, and grumblings when we brought a soccer team instead, the city has, in the end, embraced our boys in purple.
Soccer has never been America’s sport, even if it’s the biggest sport in literally every other part of the world. But it has experienced an American renaissance of late, not just in Louisville but across the nation. Though I’ve had fights with people who claim that soccer is boring, (and yet America’s past time is…baseball — but I digress), when the World Cup rolls around, suddenly everyone is a fan. And in cities from Seattle and Portland to New York, Major League Soccer teams have developed thriving followings. Soccer’s on the come-up, and for good reason. I’ve always liked it as a sport. It’s fast-paced and low-scoring, so the balance can shift in a second. Soccer players have to have incredible stamina, since only a few substitutions are permitted during a 90-minute game. Plus, it comes with cool chants and scarves.
I got a chance to attend my first LCFC game back in September, and it was everything I hoped it would be. The Momma and I sat in the supporters’ section. Well, actually, to be clear, there’s not a lot of actual sitting in the supporters’ section. The Coopers, they of the initial groundswell campaign, are now the official LCFC supporters’ club. Their match day festivities include tailgating, a march to the match, and post-match drinks at local brewery Against the Grain. And then there’s the singing or chanting, throughout the entirety of the match. The boisterous enthusiasm is infectious (and it especially helps on a crisp fall day when it’s just a little bit chilly out).
So we decked ourselves out in purple and jumped up and down with our hometown compatriots, cheering LCFC to a 1-0 win over the Charleston Battery. The game we went to wasn’t sold out, but a respectable crowd showed up on a Friday evening of a holiday weekend. There were families, kids, people of all ages, but the main thrust of the fans were in their 20s and 30s — the millennials, as it were. Soccer is the sport of the future, and Louisville’s young people hVW found their team (not that Louisville’s millennials don’t have those old alliances, just look at me and Zelda). The most important part about the crowd is how much they love the game. Everyone throws their whole selves into each chant, even if it’s just singing “oooooohhhhoooohhh” in some semblance of a tune. I love going to sporting events, simply for the fact that everyone there is united in their love for something. And no where is love more evident than when you’re chanting with a supporters’ club.
Two months later — last night in fact — Louisville City played in the USL Championship. The supporters’ section was sold out and people were packed into standing room, even though it was 40 degrees out and Lady Gaga was playing a stadium just block away. Sadly, I found myself here in Brooklyn, but I donned my City scarf and tuned in to see if they could pull out a championship win. And after a stressful nail-biter that had me wearing a trench slowly in the floor behind my couch, in front of a record crowd of nearly 14,000, City pulled through! A 1-0 win, with a late goal in the 89th minute and a multitude of amazing saves by goalie Greg Ranjitsingh. The fans stormed the field, and the Cup was ours! In a post game interview, a reporter asked Ranjitsingh, “What does this mean for the city,” and he replied, “Look around.”
Kentucky has always been divided when it comes to sports: blue or red, U of L or UK, basketball or football. And maybe that’s why it’s always been hard to picture a professional basketball or football team thriving here, when people’s college alliances are so deeply rooted for those sports. But that left a space open for a new pastime to come in and stick a cleat in our city’s heart, one that hadn’t already been branded with a fiery allegiance. Maybe that’s the reason people have embraced Louisville City — a new sport, a new team, a new stadium in the future. Come on you boys in purple!