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Game ready: How to be a soccer fan
From tailgating to chants to bathroom breaks, here's what you need to know to prepare for Charlotte's first-ever home Major League Soccer game
It’s time for Fútbol Friday, The Charlotte Ledger’s weekly newsletter getting you up to speed on Charlotte FC, the city’s new pro soccer team.
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Member of Charlotte FC’s five main fan groups practice their march to Bank of America Stadium Feb. 24 (Photo courtesy of Matt Barbee of Mint City Collective.)
Breaking the Bank: A record crowd expected to pack Bank of America for Charlotte FC’s first ever home game.
The Charlotte FC is poised to break the Major League Soccer attendance record in its first ever game at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday night against the L.A. Galaxy. The team had sold enough tickets to do it as of Thursday morning, when it ticked past 73,500.
By 7:30 p.m. Saturday night, Charlotte FC officials figure they’ll approach the stadium’s capacity of 74,867. And who can blame them? This groundswell of sales in recent weeks has been vindication for a fledgling franchise that endured the onset of a pandemic within months of its introduction, a backlash over ticket pricing and a year delay before its opener.
It’s been 27 months since Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper dropped $325 million to bring MLS to town and ultimately another $50 million to renovate Bank of America Stadium.
Saturday night CLT FC is preparing to take advantage of the spacious new home it shares with the Panthers by outdrawing the 72,548 the Atlanta United had for the L.A. Galaxy in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2019 in a stadium it shares with the Atlanta Falcons.
“It kind of reinforces everything we always thought,” Nick Kelly, Tepper Sports & Entertainment CEO, told the Charlotte Observer, “… which is that this is truly a huge soccer market and that the growing fanbase for the team would show up by the time we hit our first match.”
The real test of that market will come the rest of the regular season, when Bank of America is reconfigured to seat 32,000 exclusively in the lower bowl. But there’s no denying Charlotte is looking more and more like a soccer city. You know how else you can tell? Saturday’s record-breaker is expected on the same night Duke hosts North Carolina in Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
But Charlotte is bigger now than the city that used to shut down whenever the state’s biggest college basketball rivals met. It’s a city with more diverse interests and international flavor. Its enthusiasm for a sport with such a global appeal is proving larger by the day.
Big game for players: Ironically, even some of the Charlotte FC’s best international players, like Polish striker Karol Swiderski, have never played in front of such a large crowd. He said Wednesday the biggest crowd he played in front of with the Polish National team was 56,000 or 58,000.
“This will be an unbelievable feeling for sure,” Swiderski said. “We can’t wait for this game, all the players. We speak all the time about this in the dressing room. This is something special to get 70,000 people behind you.”
As for what it will feel like for those 70,000 to 75,000 in the stands? This Fútbol Friday will set the stage for what you’ll see, hear and do, both inside the stadium and out, on this historic night.
Bank of America Stadium with its new soccer setup. (Photo by Kevin Young of The 5 and 2 Project.)
Outside the stadium: fans invited to tailgate together; BYOB, liquor prohibited
This will not be your usual football tailgate. Rather than tailgating in small groups behind your own cars, Charlotte FC and its fan groups are inviting you to meet up at one big tailgate at 703 McNinch St. (near the intersection with Morehead Street). The lot will be used for partying, not parking, but fans are invited to walk from wherever they park to the tailgate lot.
The tailgate starts at 2 p.m. and with an expected high of 76 degrees Saturday afternoon, it’ll be the perfect day to spend hours hanging out with new soccer-loving friends.
It’s B.Y.O.B. And the beverage you bring needs to be beer, wine or seltzers. Hard liquor is prohibited. The supporters groups will have community coolers set up with ice, if you’d like to toss in your beer. Just be ready to share!
Food scene: The supporters groups will be serving food for free to their paid membership, and for purchase for non-members, but all are invited. This Saturday’s fare is authentic tacos cooked to order. Bojangles, the official tailgate partner of the Charlotte FC, will also be on hand Saturday and giving out free food to the first 300 tailgaters.
The tailgate will be a party but also geared to being family-friendly, with games, music and chants.
After just the right amount of merry-making, it’ll be time to join the supporters groups for their march to the field, starting at 6 p.m. This video is of their dress rehearsal looked like last week. Imagine the energy on an actual game day.
The groups bring their own drummers to lead the entire procession in chants, something they’ll continue to do throughout the game once inside the stadium.
Inside the Stadium: Booze, bathrooms and updates to Bank of America Stadium
Regardless of how many Panthers games you might have been to, the stadium is going to feel different for soccer.
Fan-driven experience: “People can expect an atmosphere that’s going to be driven by the fans, more than anything,” said Shawn McIntosh, the newly-created Chief Fan Officer for the Charlotte FC who serves as a liaison between the team and fans. “They’ll hear the supporters for the entire match.”
Instead of cheerleaders or mascots, the energy of the crowd will be determined by the choices of three “capos,” which is Italian for “boss.” (Think drum major.) The capos will stand in front of 3,500 or so fans in the supporters’ section in the lower level behind the East goal.
Continuous action: The other big difference between soccer and football that McIntosh stressed is that a soccer game has continuous action. Each half is 45 minutes of a running clock, with extra time added at the end to compensate for injuries and substitutions.
“There aren’t lulls that take place in other sports,” McIntosh said. “Game action is for 45 minutes straight. How many timeouts do you have in the NFL? Play stops. I’m a huge NBA fan, but at the end of a fourth quarter, there are a lot of stoppages of play.”
Continuous play also begs a question that veteran journalist and Ledger editor Tony Mecia reminded us to ask: When do you go to the bathroom?
“Halftime,” McIntosh said. “Obviously, you don’t want to miss anything. There may only be a couple goals in a match, if that, so the last thing you want to do is get caught in the bathroom when the magic moment happens.”
So what strategy does he recommend?
“Go before, hydrate up, get your drinks and (then go again) at halftime,” McIntosh said. “That 45 minutes goes by pretty quickly. That’s the beauty of a soccer match vs. an NFL match. You can be at an NFL game for three or four hours. (A soccer game is) 90 minutes. It’s two hours in and out.”
Stadium reconfigured: It’s pretty clear team officials had the demands of continuous action in mind when they designed changes to the concourse at Bank of America. The area behind the East goal is more spacious, so people can move around easier and faster. There are five new “grab-no-go” markets and two large bars with more beer taps and better counter access for customers, who can approach from three sides. There are also 360-degree LED screens above the bars showing highlights and live video.
As for the rest of the $50 million renovation, the big things you’ll notice are a new LED Display as you enter the stadium from Mint Street and the player tunnel where the Charlotte FC will run out. It was built at the 50-yard-line, er, midfield line.
Luxury club: What you won’t see unless you’re a lucky premium ticket holder is the Vault — a new luxury club below the stadium where you can dine on Cheerwine-braised bratwurst, then step out to the tunnel to watch players run from the locker room onto the field. As for the look of the new 2,600-square-foot locker room and information about all of the renovations, check out Ashley Mahoney’s story for Axios Charlotte.
Chants: cheat sheets to learn the lyrics
The supporters’ groups have written 17 chants (so far). The chants include lyrics in both English and Spanish with titles like “Banks, Beer and Soccer,” “Dale CLT” and the early favorite for signature chant: “Mighty Black and Blue.”
It’s got to seem intimidating to learn so many chants and cheers, but the supporters’ groups are doing all they can to help fans learn. To study up before Saturday’s game, you can access a recording of the chants on SoundCloud here.
There will also be QR codes at the stadium — both on signs near the supporters’ section and on the video board — that you can scan on your phone to access the words.
On the field: Swiderski is back for debut
The Charlotte FC opened up with a 3-0 loss to DC United last week without starting striker Karol Swiderski, who was back in his native Poland getting a visa, and with Daniel Rios just two days removed from being traded from Nashville.
Even with players like midfielder Titi Ortiz forced into more attacking responsibility, the Charlotte FC matched DC United with 11 shots in a game that wasn’t as lopsided as the score indicated. Ortiz thought he had the franchise’s first goal and a 1-0 lead, but it was called back for offside. Then all the momentum swung DC United’s way on a pair of fortunate goals for Michael Estrada, the first via penalty kick on a questionable handball call and the other off a deflection off defender Christian Fuchs.
But now, with Swiderski back and Rios better acclimated, the CLT FC figure to get better rhythm going offensively. Coach Miguel Angel Ramirez said defender Anton Walkes was feeling much better after missing DC United with a leg injury. Ben Bender had to miss practice time this week with stomach illness but was expected to be back in practice Friday. Ramirez also indicated that Sergio Ruiz did not play against DC United for tactical, not health, reasons.
Quotable: Charlotte’s own Jaylin Lindsey
As exciting as Saturday’s home opener will be for all of the Charlotte FC, it’ll feel that much more special to Jaylin Lindsey. The Charlotte FC defender grew up in Charlotte cheering on Cam Newton and the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. He left in ninth grade to join the academy for Sporting Kansas City of MLS.
Even just going out for warmups, that first walk out before the game starts is I’m sure going to be really loud. It’s going to be one of the most memorable moments probably in my lifetime.
(Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC)
In case you missed it….
ESPN writer and producer Kaila Burns-Heffner wrote a nice comprehensive story looking back over the creation of the Charlotte FC.
Previous editions of Fútbol Friday
You can find previous issues of The Charlotte Ledger’s Fútbol Friday newsletter online, including:
Carroll Walton is a longtime baseball writer with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution now cutting her teeth on soccer and the Charlotte FC just as fans in Charlotte do. She would love to hear from you. E-mail her with questions, suggestions, story ideas and comments!
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