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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / William Disk, left, speaks with Chattanooga FC part owner Ron Burkett as he holds a special edition gold CFC jersey's at the team's merchandise shop in Finley Stadium on Wednesday night.

Jamion Williams has been there since the beginning for the Chattanooga Football Club.

He's seen all of the on-field success for Chattanooga FC, which was founded in 2009 and last year made the transition from amateur club to professional team: the National Premier Soccer League postseason runs, the U.S. Open Cup victories, the Steinbrecher Cup title. Williams, along with the rest of the club's super fan group known as the Chattahooligans, have been in attendance for most of the accomplishments because — well, that's what they do.

Road matches? You can find them there are at many of those, too.

With the National Independent Soccer Association schedule winding down for 2021, CFC was far away from the friendly confines of Finley Stadium on Saturday, taking a 2-0 loss to Detroit City FC at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck, Michigan. Detroit, the reigning NISA champion, strengthened its position atop the fall season standings by improving to 13-1-2. CFC (5-9-2), which had won two of its past three matches heading to Michigan, is eighth in the 10-team league table.

Even if the teams are far apart in the current standings, the match continues to have relevance between the supporter groups due to Detroit's recent dominance in both the NPSL as well as the NISA.

"I think our fan base refers to them as frenemies," CFC coach Peter Fuller said in June. "I think there's a good camaraderie between the two groups, and I think that we're kindred spirits, for sure. I think we both went outside the box — both independent soccer clubs, not franchises — so I think there's so much camaraderie that the two of us have obviously.

"When we were NPSL and we were in separate divisions and really never played each other, it wasn't a big deal. Now we're both professional clubs, I think it's put a little strain on the whole frenemies thing."

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Chattanooga FC merchandise a hit with fans

CFC's schedule is down to two matches: next Saturday's 7:30 p.m. match against the Michigan Stars FC at Finley and a Nov. 20 meeting with Stumptown AC in Matthews, North Carolina.

The results haven't been there this season for Fuller's team, but for CFC, it's about more than that. Ask anyone, and they will speak about the community aspect provided by the club and its supporters.

Need evidence? The club honored Olivier LeMaitre, its former chief financial officer and vice president of sales who died last month, with a minute of applause in the 56th minute of Wednesday's 2-0 home win over Chicago House AC.

In 2019, CFC allowed the public to buy stock in the team, and during another recent home match, the club debuted a jersey with each of the 3,268 owners' names printed on the gold long-sleeved shirt. Earlier that evening, the club had decided to sell a Marvel-themed jersey with individual players' names and jersey numbers printed on the back, which caused an influx of sales in the CFC merchandise shop located inside Finley.

Replicas of the jerseys with the owners' names also went on sale that day, which caused another rush into the shop.

When the dust settled, the club had experienced its second-largest night of merchandise sales in history. The only better night was when Major League Soccer's Atlanta United FC played a match at Finley and sold merchandise.

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Chattahooligan fan group member Jamion Williams bangs his drum as he cheers on Chattanooga FC during a home match against Appalachian FC on July 7 at Finley Stadium.

"In my mind, the merch is just a sign of something else that's a lot bigger than the merch," Williams said Wednesday night. "That's the community that's been built around the team. The team is the thing that we're here to support, but the general mission of Chattanooga FC is to use this sport and use this team as a driver for relational change, and for relationship building among the entire community in Chattanooga.

"Those things that happen in the merch booth, all those things are really just signals of how important this community is to that broader mission, and to me that's really special, because people really don't 100% of the time know how they want to support this team and how they want to support that mission, and the merchandise gives them an easy and tactile way to introduce themselves into that."

In time, CFC may be able to replicate the sort of on-field success that has made it one of the top independent brands in the country when it comes to soccer. There's no reason to believe it won't.

And there's going to be a community behind the club the entire way.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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