May 9, 2013

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Springtime at Finley Stadium, and the smell of soccer is in the air again. On Saturday, May 11, 7:30 p.m., a large crowd will gather to watch the boys in blue and white race up and down the pitch chasing a round white ball. But first the crowd will be treated to a rowdy parade of dozens of people filing into the stadium. They’ll settle into one end of the stadium, where they will accompany the match with a variety of hoots, hollers, songs, chants, drumming and blasts on vuvuzelas.

Clearly, these people are having way too much fun.

Meet the Chattahooligans, superfans of both the Chattanooga Football Club and Chattanooga itself. Bill Bolen has been there from the beginning. “I became involved once I heard there would be a team in Chattanooga,” Bolen says. “I wanted to make sure the team had a vocal supporters’ group. I got together with a few friends I thought might be interested, we formed a group and chose a name, ‘The Chattahooligans.’ Then we started to spread the word about the group and the team.”

In Europe, as sports fans know, the “hooligans,” particularly the English ones, are not regarded as a positive force in the game of football. But as Bolen explains it, the whole idea behind the Chattahooligans has always been team support and a party atmosphere. “For me, that's the most fun way to watch a sporting event, jumping up and down, cheering on the home team, waving flags, jeering the visiting team,” he says. The jeering, which can escalate to harassment in Europe, is all good-natured here, he says—although it can have an effect. “There was a game against Atlanta, where we had a good, loud crowd and set as a goal to get under the skin of the Atlanta coach,” he says. “I think we did our job. He eventually was ejected from the sideline.” 

Bolen brought in friend and improv theatre colleague Kevin Bartolomucci, who, as an enormous man in a Viking outfit, is hard to miss at CFC matches.

Unlike Bolen, “I am not a sports fan at all,” Bartolomucci says. But after attending a US vs. Paraguay, and then a US vs. Canada match, he began to see the appeal of both soccer and soccer fandom. “It was all positive energy,” he says. “At the Canada game, the US fans began chanting, ‘Where’s our syrup?’ I feed off that crowd energy.”

Now, he says, “I take great pride in being an original Chattahooligan,” and has discovered that soccer is “nonstop action, which makes it fun to watch.”

Bolen, Bartolomucci and others use their improv skills to create songs and chants on the spot to match what is happening on the field. “Once the group sang ‘Darth Vader’s Theme’ for over a minute…and if someone gets ejected, they get to hear ‘Hit the Road, Jack,’” says Bartolomucci. “Once we get started, we do not shut up.”

Chattahooligan Galen Riley, like many Americans, was a diehard American football fan who began to pay more attention to soccer during the run-up to the World Cup and the Olympics. In summer 2009, he attended a CFC match, only to notice a group of “crazy people having a lot more fun than I was.”

Riley meandered over to see what they were up to and is now a confirmed convert to Chattahooliganism. “We are intentionally not violent or vulgar. What we like to say is that we are incredibly rowdy but proudly PC,” he says, explaining that the group sees itself as promoting Chattanooga as well as the CFC. Membership, which basically just means showing up and sitting with the group, has grown exponentially, and “at the last home game, there were about 250 people sitting with us,” he says, of which more than a third are women.


May 9, 2013

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