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A Family Affair: Soccer and our kids

(Photo: Michelle Healy)

 

by Matt Chantry

Who is looking forward to tifos, chants, beer, drums and general fun in the Mint City Collective's supporters section in Bank of America Stadium in 2021? My guess is that applies to most of our fair group. However, there are plenty of us Collective members who are going to be a little removed from the in-stadium rowdiness as we make our Charlotte FC/Town/Athletic support a family affair. That’s what I’d like to explore today.

First some background on myself if you don’t know me. I’m Matt (MCC member number 21!), and I’m a transplant to Charlotte (like many of you), but I come from a little further afield – London, England.

I came across the pond back in 2011 and settled in Charlotte with my native Charlottean wife back in 2015. I’m a gigantic Fulham fan (as those in Slack will attest to) having watched them since 1991, and I’ve seen them play in all of the top four divisions in English soccer – including seeing them be positioned 91st of 92 teams in the English professional pyramid and lose to the 92nd team!

And our support of Fulham is indeed a family affair. My dad has been going to matches for 60 years and even persuaded his parents to move from southwest England to London so he could go to more matches! He’s been dragging myself and my siblings along since we could walk and talk, and now there is a little section of six Chantry season tickets at Craven Cottage. Four generations of our family have attended matches over the decades.

It drives my non-sporty mum batty as we all talk soccer all the time. I lost track of my dad at Craven Cottage when I was six years old and been into the Cottage itself; myself and my nephews have been mascots (holding the hands of players as they march out); we’ve seen them play across Europe; and I flew across the Atlantic for 24 hours for a playoff final at Wembley. All of that, the team, the trips, the conversations, make me feel close to my family even as I live an ocean away.

Most of my family memories revolve around soccer fandom. My dad even had a pair of lucky Fulham socks that he had to wear on matchdays, and he swore that they got us promoted in 2018. He ended up setting fire to those same socks when we got relegated back again in 2019 – no joke!

So it was extremely emotional for me to visit Craven Cottage again last month: I took my 3-year-old son to his first ever game. Short of graduations, weddings, and his birth, this is probably the biggest father-son moment we'll get to share: introducing him to the hallowed turf. We even got to celebrate a literal last-minute winner together.

Being English, I’ve got a pretty strong, stiff upper lip, but I welled up a little in the moment with him. The joy he got celebrating it with the rest of his family and seeing how happy it made him will live long in my memory. I’ll proudly show any of you the video of him shouting Mitro, Mitro, Mitro and pointing at him.

That moment is one that I (and countless others) cannot wait to replicate here in Charlotte. Our family has season ticket deposits down for five seats: myself, my wife, our two kids and one on the way this June! Celebrating the team's announcement in December, I considered a future of sitting with my kids and having the chance to do with them what I did with my dad.

This is a chance to start a lifelong tradition with them. Where we go before matches, getting new jerseys each year, following their favorite players, starting silly superstitions about what to wear to make the team win. It’s a chance to start something new and be a big part of who we are as a family. A Charlottean family.

Moving away from the UK, from my family there, and from Fulham was one of the toughest things I have ever done. I was sad to be missing out on those moments every other weekend all season with my family. But this new team gives us a new opportunity.

And I know that story won’t be unique. There are thousands of Charlotte families who will have the change to build something similar.

I will attend the occasional match in the supporters' section to get rowdy with the chanters and the flag-wavers and the tifo-lifters, but the most important thing for me is the deep emotional connection that soccer and a team can give to the families of a city. Seeing the ball hit the net for the first time in 2021, cheering for last-minute winners, and yes, sports-hating on our rivals together – these are the memories that this new Charlotte MLS team has given me the chance to create with my family. Thank you.

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