For a minute there, Galen Riley, a 33-year-old Chattanooga software engineer, was thinking about leaving Chattanooga for greener pastures.
On second thought: Nahhh!
The pasture that clearly means the most to Riley is the soccer pitch at Finley Stadium, where his beloved Chattanooga Football Club soccer team has virtually ruled the Southeast Conference Division of the National Premier Soccer League for the better part of a decade.
Riley, who grew up in Nashville and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, is one of the high-energy capos (Italian for "heads") of the boisterous Chattahooligans, the group of flag-waving, hand-clapping, foot- stomping, drum-pounding, song-singing, yellow-card-waving supporters of Chattanooga FC.
Truth be told, even though they are modeled after the bands of rowdies attached to European "football" teams, the Chattahooligans are more like a group of prone-to-party Eagle Scouts who hold charity events for disabled veterans and have an utter disdain for stadium litter.
Their numbers - which sometimes swell to 1,000 or more at home games - include women in their 80s, small children, American football converts and even some self-described "nerds" who have found community in the scarf-waving traditions of an amateur soccer team.
"Let's face it, Chattanooga will never have an NFL team," says Riley, who leads the 'Hooligans like a symphony conductor with a bullhorn. "What we do is an expression of love for Chattanooga. Soccer is the vehicle for that."'
So here's the deal. Chattanooga FC has at least one more home game, an Independence Day tussle Tuesday with the Georgia Revolution (7:30 p.m. at Finley Stadium).
If you have been to a CFC game before and wonder what it takes to join that mosh pit of blue-clad soccer-billies in Section 109, here's the deep dark secret in three words: Just show up! Same goes for those who have never seen a live soccer game in your life. Just be there! (For first timers: The Hooligans are just a sub-set - maybe 20 percent or so - of the general-admission crowd.)
If you are one of those who like to look before you leap, Riley sat down with the Times Free Press to draft this step-by-step beginner's guide to becoming a Chattahooligan.
TODAY: OK, we are two days out from Game Day. Riley suggests you do a little conditioning work to prepare yourself for standing for a two-hour stretch. The Chattahooligans never sit during a match. Do a few side-straddle hops or a couple of yoga stretches to get yourselves limbered up. There will be lots of overhead hand-clapping on game day.
Also, pamper your vocal cords with a little hot tea mixed with honey. Otherwise you might lose your voice by halftime. (During the match, watch for the bag of cough drops that will inevitably be passed down your row.)
Also, start thinking about your first-timer's wardrobe. For the Independence Day match, start with a blue T-shirt, shorts and (if you can swing it) bring $25 for a CFC scarf, the basic accessory at a match.
MONDAY: The day before the match, visit the group's website, thechattahooligans.com, and look over the digital songbook, a.k.a. the Hooligan Hymnal. The 'Hooligans have about 60 songs and chants in their repertoire. If you are a first-timer on Tuesday, just smile and hum along. Some of the songs - like rock 'n' roll's "Twist and Shout" - are practically American crowd anthems anyway.
TUESDAY: On Game Day, the Chattahooligans start gathering at the First Tennessee Pavilion (adjacent to Finley Stadium) at about 3 p.m. But drop in any time. Tailgating games and general merrymaking continue until shortly before game time.
The food spread is potluck, says Riley, noting that the 'Hooligans usually provide some grub for the group, using money they make from the sale of team merchandise. Most people also bring a favorite dish - or just some chips and dip - for shared snacking.
At 6:45 p.m., the tailgating stops and the Hooligans muster for their march - or, let's call it saunter - into Finley Stadium. The jaunty procession is marked by some spirited, if not exactly synchronized, drumming as well as singing (actually something like a forlorn yodel), punctuated by chants of "C-F-C!"
DURING THE GAME: The Chattahooligans should call themselves the hardest-working fans in American soccer. They literally stand - and sing - for the entire 90-minute game.
In-game rituals include singing "Chattanooga Choo Choo" at the 29-mark in each match - a nod to Track 29 in the song. They also like to taunt the opposing goalkeeper based on his uniform colors - thus a purple-clad keeper becomes "Barney" (the dinosaur) and a fellow in yellow becomes "Traffic Cone." (This proves to be hilarious if you have had a few pregame nips, merely funny if you are sipping Diet Coke.)
If the team wins, most of the players line up in front of the Chattahooligans for a celebratory post-game dance.
POST-GAME: Many of the Chattahooligans wind up at the nearby Chattanooga Brewing Co., where the celebration (or commiseration) can last deep into the summer night. Another Chattahooligan Lager, anyone?
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645.