Name: Galen Riley
Hometown: Antioch, Tenn.
Profession: Software engineer; Chattanooga Football Club supporter
It's unclear whether Galen Riley has always had a "screamy face" or if it is the result of seven years of hurling his voice as a rallying cry for Chattanooga Football Club supporters — which now number some 600 "Chattahooligans." Dressed in a fitted button-down, slender pants outfitting the rest of his 5-foot-6 frame, it's hard to imagine him leading the raucous group — though he is quick to point out that there is no leader. He just happens to stand up front, he says, a conductor of sorts for those frenzied fans.
With a new pro soccer team in town and CFC going pro, it's an exciting time to be a fan, says Riley, and you can count on the Chattahooligans to be on the sidelines whipping up the crowd at CFC games. Though it's not all just for sport.
I wasn't a soccer fan. I wasn't a sports fan. I got dragged to a game by a friend and thought, "Those people over there look kinda fun. I'm gonna hang out with them."
It's a community first. The majority [of Chattahooligans] are CFC fans, not necessarily soccer fans. They're excited to celebrate the city and this thing we built together; soccer is just the vessel for it.
I personally believe that everybody has a duty to be a holistically interesting person. I work with a lot of numbers and paperwork with my day job, so outside of my day job my hobbies are completely different. I make costumes and occasionally do burlesque performances — I do a really good Dr. Frank-N-Furter act.
Not every software engineer is particularly outgoing, including me. I jumped into the soccer thing as a way to force myself to be more sociable.
It's a character that I put on. I still have terrible social anxiety.
We have a bunch of experts that are really loud and know everything in the back [of the section]. They drive the sound forward. They make most of the decisions; I just sort of serve a visual communications role.
Last year a lifetime goal got checked: Maestro [Kayoko] Dan was up on the front row directing with me.
We have up to 10 [drums]. There's a tambourine section. We had three trumpets last time. We have two tubas, and we have a bassoon just for fun. You can't really hear it that much, but when you see Staci up there jamming, it just brings you joy.
I'm pretty sure we're the only [soccer] support group with a bassoon.
The songs change week to week. ... We have an app now that I built last year. I think it's got about 60 songs in it right now. Nobody else has anything remotely like this.
I think the main reason for Chattanooga Football Club's success and the fan club's success is nobody told us we weren't supposed to care about minor league soccer, especially lower-division amateur football. It got big before anybody realized they weren't supposed to care. Then, if you already care about something ...
We have the highest attendance in the league. In 2015 — we haven't done the numbers since — we had the highest soccer attendance per capita in America.
It's a virtuous cycle: We [CFC] have a reputation for taking care of the players and having a good stadium experience, so better players come to Chattanooga because of that. Better players tend to win more than average, and fans would rather see a team winning than losing, so more fans come out. Then we win more and more people show up.
One of the neat things about lower-division, small-city sports is there's not a wall whatsoever between the fans and the players. They just let [the fans] on the field to sign autographs, then [the players] shower and come right across the street to Chattanooga Brewing. ... They're greeted by a throng of supporters and sit down at a table and talk about whatever.
We're using the phrase community-first soccer team because those relationships exist.
On Sundays there's a [Chattahooligans] group chat that's incredibly busy — this went well, this didn't; we need to move one drummer to this side. We just tune it constantly. Nothing is scripted at all except that we sing "Chattanooga Choo Choo" at 29 on the clock.
We went through five digits' worth of throat lozenges from Ricola last year.
It's a calisthenic experience. You're jumping, swinging your arms over your head, swinging a scarf around. I usually run about 20,000 [steps] on match day. On an average day I'm at 10,000.
We've got a bunch of dorks: food dorks that do the tailgate stuff; soccer dorks and organization dorks that help run the section; music dorks. People meet at our tailgates that would not cross paths otherwise. They get married and have babies and then say, "Make me a new youth logo."
It's exhausting and expensive ... but if we can bring a ton of happiness and a unique experience to a ton of people, it's worth it.
As with many of the club’s traditions, Pride Raiser was a happy “accident,” Riley says. The annual June challenge raises money for LGBT charities by having people pledge money for each goal scored. Launched in Chattanooga and Detroit in 2017, the initiative will expand to 40 cities this month, he says.
“I figured my budget would be $100 and a couple people would match me and we’d raise $300 total,” Riley says of that first year. “The team scored way more goals than I thought. … A friend in Detroit asked, ‘Hey, can I copy you?’
“We raised $12,000 in seven cities. Last year, we raised $50,000 in 30 cities.”
Visit prideraiser.org to learn more.