Niche might even be a poor word choice. I went to nearly every game in City’s inaugural season and to try and pigeonhole fans into one particular eclectic category would be foolhardy. My dad is 61 years old, has probably never watched a soccer game in his life, and he became a season ticket holder and founding member. His name’s on THE PLAQUE OF GREATNESS. He’s not what you’d call a die-hard fan of the sport. There were hundreds, maybe even thousands, just like him at games last season, cheering right next to guys in kilts and luchador masks, and we can expect more of the same this coming season.
What I mean is it didn’t take long for fans to fall in love with the club. I’d say that’s largely because we won a lot, but also because our players were so much fun to watch, and they genuinely seemed to appreciate what the fans brought to the games. And I think it’s pretty obvious that soccer games at Slugger are different than any other sporting event we’ve ever seen in Louisville. I’m one of the founders of the Coopers and this is obviously the Coopers’ website so take that bias with you, but the Coopers did a lot to get things started in the Preston Street/third base line end of the stadium with drums and organizing chants, etc. Almost instantly you had guys like the Heretics, Dr. Bees and Nearly Nude Spiderman that made things even better. You have Scouse’s House of ex-pats on the Witherspooon Street/right field wall. You have songs and chants for 90 minutes. You have smoke bombs.
Louisville never had that before. I’ve been to football games at Cardinal Stadium and basketball games at the Yum Center, and those are great places for those events, but there’s something different about Louisville City games. It’s not like the club has decades of history and family associations or matriculations that people can use to explain their allegiance. It came out of thin air not even two years ago, but the city decided they loved it and wanted more.
Isn’t that a little strange? Why should people care so much about a soccer team that plays in the US third division? Minor league sports have come and gone in this town for decades. The last top-division sports team that played in the Falls City was the Kentucky Colonels, and that was nearly forty years ago. Since then, we’ve seen lower league franchises like the RiverFrogs and IceHawks (hockey), the StickHorses (indoor lacrosse), the Redbirds (single tear), the Shooters (basketball), and the Fire (arena football).
This is different. Louisville City car magnets are everywhere. My 86 year old grandfather asks me all the time about “how’s the soccer team doing?” As soccer becomes more a part of the country’s sports landscape, it’s become more common in local discussions, too. I have a buddy who’s a big sports fan but never cared about soccer until I took him to a couple of games last year. Now he’s a season ticket holder, went to see England play in EURO 2016 qualifying last winter, and blows my phone up every time Harry Kane scores a goal for Tottenham Hotspur. We’ve got big plans for Slugger in 2016.
Maybe City landed in a perfect storm of sorts which has done so much for its rapid success. The club did itself a lot of favors in hiring Amanda Duffy and James O’Connor, and we’re fortunate both are back to lead the team this season. But those two have some serious expectations to live up to. The USL’s only getting stronger. There are more teams, and more investment. Just look up the road at FC Cincinnati. Wait, don’t do that, it’s probably bad for your eyes. It’s going to be important that City has another strong season to keep the positive momentum going. Or at least sweep the Royal Soccer Gryphons. I’d be okay with that.
I think, though, that there’s reason to believe 2016 can be even better. We supporters are a seasoned bunch now. Other fans outside the supporters’ section have a better idea what they’re looking at. James O’Connor’s put together a really strong roster designed to play some pretty possession-based soccer and score goals. That what we want, and that’s what I think we’ll get. COME ON, CITY!