The Carolina Panthers aren’t going to make the playoffs. Let’s face it: It’s essentially a lost season.
So how can Panthers fans drown their sorrows of a disappointing season, you ask? I have just the remedy: Start watching soccer! I know, I know, some say soccer is boring. But give it a try. I only jumped on the English Premier League bandwagon in 2010 when the owners of my hometown Boston Red Sox bought the legendary Liverpool club. So I’m a bit of a novice. But interest in the EPL is growing.
I have learned there are some serious soccer fans and supporter clubs in the QC. Let’s begin at the mecca of international soccer in Charlotte: Brevard Court, directly across from Romare Bearden Park in Uptown.
I spent my first few days in town watching Copa America and Euro 2016 matches here. Monday, the day after Christmas, would be a great day to go watch some matches. It’s Boxing Day, a national holiday in England. These bars will be hopping from 10 a.m. until mid afternoon with supporters cheering on whatever team they follow.
Two in particular, Valhalla Pub & Eatery on the corner and Courtyard Hooligans a few doors down, are the bellwethers. Valhalla hosts the Liverpool Reds Supporters Club, which meets for all home matches, regardless of the time of day. Most matches are played on the weekends, with the occasional match played during the week. Sort of like the NFL.
Levi Anthes helps organize the Reds Supporters Club. “We are all just a bunch of Liverpool fans,” he said. “It wasn’t until three to four years ago that we got our OLSC (Official Licensed Supports Club) recognition.”
Because of the time difference, English soccer matches start as early at 7 a.m. on the weekends. For Valhalla general manager Jennifer Kurilko, the extra business is always welcome. “They bring business at hours we wouldn’t normally see action,” he said.
Ryan Gibson runs Queen City Bavarians, the local supporter group for German club Bayern Munich. Gibson lives in Clover, S.C., but travels to Charlotte on the weekends to watch matches at Courtyard Hooligans with other fans.
“When I first went to Hooligans, the first thing they ask you is who do you support?” he said. “Since I support Bayern and it’s mostly English team fans, I decided to start the Queen City Bavarians.”
Gibson said he has the distinction, thanks to losing an eye to Ocular Melanoma, of being the only Bayern Munich fan in the world to be approved by the club to have its logo on his ocular prosthetic eye.
When Bayern Munich played Inter Milan in the International Champions Cup in Charlotte earlier this year, Gibson was given the honor of roaming the sidelines in the pre-match.
“Flipping the coin, getting to be on the sidelines, that was pretty cool,” he said.
Brandon Simmerlink runs the Queen City Gooners club. The club meets at Ri Ra on North Tryon Street and supports Arsenal, also of the English Premier League.
Simmerlink said sometimes he sees people just walk off the street and become involved.
“A lot of people see our Aresnal America sign in the window, or our QC Gooners flag in the window, he said. “We get a lot of people walking down the street saying, ‘Hey we were walking down the street and saw this is an Arsenal pub, we’re gonna come and watch the game.’ So it’s like, the more the merrier, come in, have fun. I popped in during the Arsenal vs. Manchester City match and it was a full house at 11 a.m. on a Saturday.
There has been buzz recently over the possibility of Charlotte landing an Major League Soccer franchise. These local supporters clubs might cheer for opposing teams overseas, but they can all get behind is the prospect of having a Charlotte MLS team.
“I would say a few years ago, the fandom was a little on the quieter end,” Simmerlink said. “But as the sport gets bigger, and events like the (CONCACAF) Gold Cup matches and International Cup with big names like Chelsea and Bayern Munich coming through here, it’s really starting to get that word out. We are all Arsenal fans in here, but we’re also Charlotteans, we are all soccer fans, we’re all in this together. It’s a great sport, and it would be great in have a team to call our own.”
Feature photo: Mark Hames. Photos: Jonathan Lee; Courtesy of Ryan Gibson