Adam Dukes wasn't searching for a new documentary film project the first time he attended a Chattanooga Football Club game at Finley Stadium several years ago. Having recently moved here from Atlanta, he really just wanted to find a cheap entertainment option for a family night out with his wife and their young children.
But once there, "I was blown away," he recalled earlier this week. "The level of play. The uniqueness of the fans. The Chattahooligans. This was an amateur team and there were thousands of people cheering them. The fandom was at another level. It was very impressive."
It has remained so impressive to Dukes as the CFC has morphed from amateur to professional, to being owned — at least in part — by the community, which now has 1,890 level C shareholders at $125 a pop, that his Super Chief production company has made a documentary about the team's unorthodox beginning, its fans and its players.
Airing Thursday night on PBS (WTCI, Comcast HD 440; EPB channel 305) at 8:30 — or immediately following President Biden's address to the nation — "No Matter What: The Rise of the Chattanooga Football Club" will begin a six-part run, the remaining five episodes to begin at 8 p.m. for five straight Thursdays following this one.
"The first professional soccer team to be owned by fans," said Dukes. "Really cool. It's nice to see a pro team that doesn't feed the franchise model of corporate sports."
When Tim Kelly — now involved in an April 13 runoff with Kim White for mayor — Krue Brock, Marshall Brock, Paul Rustand, Sean McDaniel, Daryl Heald, Hamilton Brock, Thomas Clark and Sheldon Grizzle formed the CFC in 2009, Kelly admits, "I had no earthly idea what to expect. It's really magical how it came together. We owe it all to the spirit of Chattanooga."
Maybe that spirit for soccer was always in this town or maybe it was perfect timing, or "lightning in a bottle," as Kelly calls it.
But whatever it was, nothing has embodied the spirit of CFC soccer like the Chattahooligans, that sometimes rowdy, always boisterous and outrageously loyal cheering section that fills up Finley's Section 109 every home game.
"My wife and I plan our entire year around CFC games, vacations, everything," noted longtime Hooligan Andrew "Breezy" Bresee, who's expected to be a part of the documentary.
"The second game I ever went to, it rained. Hard. Most of the fans headed for the concourse. But the Hooligans just moved closer to the field and got louder. It was that night that I decided I'd found my people. Some people find that connection through church or school. But for me, it was the CFC. I'm not sure we'd still be in Chattanooga if not for the CFC."
Bill Elliott is the CFC's technical director, which in soccer terms means he's the club's general manager. He, too, marvels at the fan base, especially since the 1986 Hixson High School graduate and soccer player remembers that "You couldn't even watch a pro game on television back then.
"It was unthinkable at that time that we would one day have a professional team here in Chattanooga that would bring thousands of people together."
And while Elliott believes the quality of the soccer is certainly a draw, he believes it's as much about fellowship as futbol.
"I think it's a Chattanooga thing, to be honest," Elliott, 53, said on Tuesday. "CFC is an extension of so many people who are proud to be from Chattanooga. Even if you don't like soccer all that much, it's a great entertainment option. You can enjoy the food trucks, mingle with friends. And watching the Chattahooligans is entertaining all by itself."
CFC has become so big that Elliott said, "I've been recognized as being affiliated with CFC outside the United States. It's a grassroots story that's exploded."
This is no doubt much of what attracted Dukes and his crack team of Jonny Ginese, his business partner at Super Chief, along with co-workers Eric Hayes, Josh Mckague, Hal Whitman and Adam Wigren to make the documentary in the middle of a pandemic that all but canceled the 2020 season.
Instead, they had to settle for two weeks in Detroit as the CFC's National Independent Soccer Association staged an eight-team tournament in a bubble.
"I've seen a couple of trailers (previews)," said Richard Dixon, the 31-year-old from Jamaica who joined the club last year. "I think it's going to be great. You'll get to see behind the scenes of what goes on. It shows everything it took to get through our first professional season."
And if Dixon stays healthy enough to play three or four more seasons for CFC, this city and its fans will be a huge reason why.
"These fans are incredible," he said. "They drop off gifts at our homes. Board members take us out to dinner. They make you feel like family. I've never been around anything like this before. I just hope we can bring a championship home to this great city."
If that happens, expect Dukes and his film crew to have their cameras ready to document it all. They could even call it "Championship Soccer: It's a Chattanooga thing."
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.