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Three years in, Charlotte FC fandom proves it is still in a league of its own

In a few minutes, CJ Farris and his father, Alan, will brave the whipping winds in the raucous supporters section of Bank of America Stadium — a hotspot for boisterous drums and beer showers and songs that don’t seem to end.

But for now, they’re taking refuge in the warmer stadium concourse, eating pizza.

The father and son have sat in the same seats for three seasons. CJ’s a lifelong Charlottean; Alan moved here 30 years ago. There was something magical about that first season home opener — the one where 74,000-plus packed Bank of America Stadium with a joy this city hadn’t seen on such a scale before, mixing and melding supporter traditions from all over the world and creating something new.

But there was something special about this one, too.

“We just sat down, and it was too cold,” Alan said. He then pointed to his son. “And he said, ‘Here we are again.’”

As if to say:

This pastime, which was a mere idea four years ago, is still part of our lives.

Charlotte FC players gather in a huddle after a defeating New York City FC, 1-0, during the home opener at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on February 24, 2024.
Charlotte FC players gather in a huddle after a defeating New York City FC, 1-0, during the home opener at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on February 24, 2024.

The fandom surrounding Charlotte FC, which took a 1-0 victory in manager Dean Smith’s MLS debut, has reached an interesting point in its maturation. The team is no longer the novel thing it once was. Last year’s home opener was just over 69,000, and this year’s was just over 62,000. Only a handful of players remain from the original roster, and the team is on its third coach in three seasons.

And yet, traditions have endured. Hometown favorite players still occupy an important part of the community’s heart. Charlotte FC’s home opener is still an event that has a grip on this city. The team’s fandom has proven, still, that it is in a league of its own.

Charlotte FC’s head coach Dean Smith waves to fans after a victory against New York City FC, 1-0, after the home opener at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on February 24, 2024.
Charlotte FC’s head coach Dean Smith waves to fans after a victory against New York City FC, 1-0, after the home opener at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on February 24, 2024.

“I sense the same sorta vibe,” Alan said of this year’s pregame crowd compared to that of March 5, 2022.

His son chimed in: “Each year, you see more jerseys around. You see more stickers on cars. And you can kinda feel the popularity growing in the city.”

Siobhan Klass and her husband, Rob, certainly agree.

The two have been soccer fans for a long time but got hooked on Charlotte FC after the stunning summer 2022 exhibition victory in penalties over Chelsea. The win helped, the two said with a laugh, but it was the atmosphere that kept them coming back.

Charlotte FC players are escorted onto the pitch by child mascots before their match against New York City FC at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on February 24, 2024.
Charlotte FC players are escorted onto the pitch by child mascots before their match against New York City FC at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on February 24, 2024.

“I mean, when you look around, everyone here is truly Charlotte FC fans,” said Siobhan, wrapped in a Queen City blue scarf and beanie.

Her husband took a look at the throngs of people moving through the concourse: “There’s a lot of love for this team.”

Charlotte Hornets legend Muggsy Bogues walks the sideline at Charlotte FC’s match against New York City FC at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on February 24, 2024.
Charlotte Hornets legend Muggsy Bogues walks the sideline at Charlotte FC’s match against New York City FC at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on February 24, 2024.

Before breaking for their seats and doing what Charlotte fans do — having beer tossed on you after Adilson Malanda’s eighth-minute goal, booing the residing referee into oblivion in the 42nd and 62nd minutes over questionable handball calls, jumping up and down in excitement and relief and possibility all at once when the final whistle blew — Alan and CJ Farris had one last message to offer.

“The national news organizations putting us down low in the power rankings might be a little mistaken,” Alan said with a smile.

“We’re hoping,” his son added — just like everyone else in this special fan base, all of whom, this year, seem to have something real to hope for.