Chattanooga FC was founded in 2009 by a group of soccer fans in the the city. Since then, they’ve been a shining light in the American lower leagues and an example for many to follow. They’ve set records on the pitch and in the stands and have become one of the most well known soccer names in the US. They’ve done great work, both as a soccer team and as a member of the community. I had the privilege of talking to CFC Co-Founder and President, Sheldon Grizzle.
When was Chattanooga FC founded and what led to this decision?
We were founded in January 2009 after a group of friends came together with the vision of using soccer as a tool to bring the Chattanooga community together. Volkswagen had just announced they were going to build a $1 billion manufacturing facility in the city, so we knew we were about to see an influx of Germans and other Europeans who loved the sport. Chattanooga also had one of the fastest growing Latino populations in the country.
What has been the impact of the club on the Chattanooga area?
Chattanooga desperately needed something to root for back in 2009. The economy was not healthy and we felt like a locally owned soccer team might be the right cure. Since then, over 400,000 people have passed through the gates of Finley Stadium to watch soccer. More importantly, we’ve impacted thousands of kids’ lives through CFC Academy and CFC Foundation. We are fostering a culture that is healthy and holistic in its approach to soccer development.
In addition, our supporters group, The Chattahooligans, have seen eight marriages over the last few years and we are now seeing the first, new generation of Chattanooga FC fans! It’s humbling to know that we are playing a small part in people’s lives.
What players should fans know about and why?
A number of Chattanooga FC players have become local legends: Juan Hernandez is a fan favorite and the first player we announced returning to Chattanooga FC for 2019 after four great seasons in our central midfield; Zeca Ferraz is another fan favorite and sealed his name in Chattanooga FC lore when he scored the match-tying goal against FC Dallas in 2018; Niall McCabe played for us for one season and he is now a core part of Louisville City FC’s dominant run over the last couple years; Chris Ochieng played a number of seasons for us and he is now playing professionally in Kenya as well as getting time with the Kenyan national team.
What kind of work does CFC do to give back to the community?
A core part of who we are is our work through the CFC Foundation. Through CFCF, we have helped direct millions of dollars back into the community through programming, public spaces, and the building of bridges between diverse communities
What was the main goal when founding the team and how does that match up with the team’s main goal now?
Our original mission statement was to build community in Chattanooga through the sport of soccer. This is still our mission and we have restructured our organization as a public benefit corporation to bring our structure in line with our values. What we do and why we do it is not about soccer...soccer is merely the mechanism by which we make our city a better place for all residents.
What are expectations for this season?
As always, we hope to win an NPSL championship and, now, our sights are set on winning the NPSL Founders Cup.
The Chattahooligans are one of the most well known supporters groups in the US. What does their support mean to the club and how important is it?
The Chattahooligans are a huge reason why we’ve been as successful as we have. They are the most passionate and creative group in the country and they have supported us through thick and thin. They help provide an excellent gameday experience for everyone from the most casual fan to the most intense “soccer nerd.”
What does fan ownership mean to the club and how has it felt seeing the response following the announcement?
The supporter ownership campaign is something that we’ve wanted to do almost since our inception, and we’re grateful that we’ve gotten such a tremendous response. We truly did not imagine that we would be over halfway to our goal in just a few weeks. We have owners on every continent except Antarctica and 45 out of 50 states. Please check out owncfc.com to learn how you can join us!
What difficulties have there been during your transition into a pro team?
We have ten years under our belt so we have a lot of experience to draw upon. Everything we are doing now is a natural growth from where we’ve been. With that said, it’s always a challenge doing something you’ve never done before. One of the biggest challenges for us is that we will be competing against clubs with bigger budgets. We have to be innovative and find ways to do more with less. But we are up for the challenge because this is who we are. We fully expect to be very competitive this year, even with less resources than the other clubs.
Fan ownership and Founders Cup were both huge announcements for this year. Is there anything else fans should be looking out for in the coming months?
Of course! It will be a busy few months before our NPSL season starts in May. Over the next couple months we’ll have player signings, exhibition match announcements (in addition to the Comunicaciones announcement last week), and our annual Jersey Reveal Party, which is always a great time for everyone.
What’s the best way for fans to get involved with CFC?
So glad you asked! There are many ways to get involved with what we’re doing:
Become an owner! Visit OWNCFC.com and join our growing ownership group.
Buy a season pass! It is BY FAR the best ROI in sports...especially since the pass includes all exhibition and playoff games.
Become a sponsor. We are always trying to make connections with the corporate community and find creative ways to connect our partners to our passionate supporters.
There are plenty of ways to plug into CFC Academy, Operation Get Active, Chattanooga Sports Ministries, and Highland Park Commons! Consider supporting our youth development initiatives through coaching, refereeing, volunteering, or giving a charitable donation.
Tell your friends about us!