Like the increasingly shrinking but still majority of Americans, I know next to nothing about soccer. I know that a bunch of guys run back and forth on a field and kick a ball better than I can. I know that it has a passing similarity to sports like football (American, that is) or basketball, featuring one team trying to get a ball into a goal in opposition of another. I recall some years back that the United States made the World Cup, which in and of itself was huge, and that somehow a tie game in one of their opening matches with a score of zero to zero was a big deal, which seems like the most foreign concept to me, at least in comparison to more mainstream American sports.
So I never really gave soccer much of the chance that the rest of the world has, and I have very little knowledge of the overall narrative of the sport. But as it turns out, when attending a Louisville City Football Club game, none of that matters.
Speaking before the match on July 9 with Team President Amanda Duffy, I was assured that this was an experience unlike any other. What I have come to expect from any sporting event is a measured kind of excitement, where the energy kind of comes and goes in waves. Suffice it to say the crowd engagement here is unparalleled, at least in my virgin experience.
She adds, â€œHaving been to games across the United Soccer League at other stadiums, I can say this is truly unique. I personally feel that it is one of if not the best environment in the USL to watch a soccer game.â€
The supporters there are legion. I attended with an old friend who is more invested in this sport than Iâ€™ve ever been in any other. When I arrived at his house for the bicycle ride down to Slugger Field, my buddy was decked out in his finest yellow and purple paraphernalia, replete with a fashion-forward winter scarf dedicated to the Heretics, a subset of the LCFC fan groups.
We started our night at the Slugger Field-adjacent Against the Grain, which one of the prominent founders of the Heretics helped start. The brewery in fact offers a smoked ale called the Beiritic, so named for their ownerâ€™s affiliation with Louisville City. The fandom is deep.
Waiting there, Iâ€™m told all about the varieties of soccer conferences in America, which are comparable to Triple AAA and pro-baseball, or college and pro-basketball, etc. Iâ€™m told all about the history of the Heretics and the Coopers, the primary fan groups in attendance. Specifically, I learn about their pre-game ritual of drinking at Troll Pub on Washington Street and marching to the field where the Heretics meet up and go in together. They even have a special section roped off for them, and it quickly becomes clear why.
Of course, we joined the parade. There were huge drums set in barrels just as coopers would do. There were costumes of various stripes, including a bright purple mohawk wig that I was assured belonged to the loudest whistler in history, a fact that I can attest to after the match. Oh, and there were smoke bombs. So many smoke bombs.
The game clock never stops, so going in, I know that I only have to endure 90 minutes if this isnâ€™t my thing; although by that point, the spectacle was undeniable. As soon as the players took the stage, the chants began and were undeniably awesome. There are variations on popular songs such as â€œLouisville City, Youâ€™re So Fineâ€ set to the tune of â€œMickey,â€ Muhammad Ali-themed cries and a chant of, â€œWhen I say cancer, you say research,â€ which is led by the Heretics. Itâ€™s simultaneously bizarre and awesome to behold.
Fellow writer and friend Jose Neil Donis explains of his experience, â€œLouisville City games are cool because as a spectator, you become player No. 12. You can get so engaged that the two hours become an experience, not just something you come to watch at the stadium. Your team fills you with pride in the same way that your child would if he became part of a team playing at an international level. Your team becomes part of you â€“ you cry, you laugh and you celebrate with your team.â€
He adds, â€œAs a Latino immigrant, watching the games is also a nostalgic experience.â€
Spectator Michael Lewis echoes, â€œSoccer, in general, has a very different atmosphere than other sports â€“ in no small part due to the party atmosphere created by supporters groups, and we have one of the best support groups in the nation. On top of that, we have a team that is one of the best in the nation, one that can hold its own against teams in the higher leagues. And unlike the NFL games Iâ€™ve been to, trash talk between fans is almost non-existent and is in good humor when it does happen. Soccer, for whatever reason, lends itself to a higher level of sportsmanship between teams and between fans. Also, itâ€™s way more exciting than baseball.â€
Thatâ€™s definitely true. The game never slowed down. The beer flowed. People chanted and hollered throughout the whole game but never in an overtly competitive or negative way. This was high energy but low posturing of any variety, which made the night fly by. Everyone was friendly, and by that, I mean literally every single person I met. The players even stay to meet the fans after the game and remain until theyâ€™ve spoken to everyone who wants to chat. Oh, and the game itself was pretty exciting too.
Itâ€™s really no wonder LCFC is such a growing part of our cultural tapestry in Louisville.
For a complete listing of upcoming LCFC games, visit louisvillecityfc.com.
Written by SYDÂ BISHOP
Photos by TIM VALENTINO