Back in 1978 when I was playing winger for the Huffman High School soccer team in Birmingham, Alabama, I dreamed of one day going pro and putting on a jersey with my name on it. Like Edson Arantes do Nascimento I wore No. 10, but if I wound up being signed by the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League – and they had already retired Pelé’s number – I would’ve understood.
I mean, he had the digits before I did.
If not the Cosmos, the Los Angeles Aztecs might’ve been a nice landing spot (they’d need someone to replace Ft. Lauderdale-bound George Best), or even the Memphis Rogues – a club in a city that would be within reasonable driving distance if my parents decided to come to the Liberty Bowl and watch me play.
Sadly, I ended up turning pro in 1979 (and by “turning pro” I mean I gave up soccer to work part-time unloading 18-wheelers at a tire company) and those dreams faded. A team-issued number became a non-issue.
But my name will, in fact, be on the pitch at Laney College Football Stadium in Oakland tonight when Chattanooga Football Club starts its National Independent Soccer Association spring season. I won’t be wearing the shirt it’s written on, but quality athletes like Raymond Lee and Kyle Carr will.
How is this possible?
Because Chattanooga FC is taking the phrase “Play for the name on the front of the jersey, not on the back” to a whole new level when they make their professional debut against the Oakland Roots. The NISA club will be repping the names on the front of the jersey, back of the jersey, sleeve of the jersey … all over the jersey.
The unique kit is adorned with the monikers of more than 3,000 supporter-owners, a tangible tribute to those of us who invested in the club. And that’s a pretty cool gesture.
Being the association football tycoon that I am, Chattanooga FC isn’t the only professional club I have a stake in. I also own a share of both Celtic FC and Manchester United.
Being a part of “The Bhoys” means that each year I receive the annual accounts and auditors’ report, the strategic report and the directors’ report from Glasgow via email.
My piece of Man U is even more impressive considering every January I get a cashier’s check for nine cents.
Obviously, those are mostly “Hey, look at me!” stocks.
I proudly hang the certificates in my Fan Cave, but it’s with the knowledge that they represent barely a drip in the ocean of association football.
The CFC investment, on the other hand, is important to me, and important to the thousands of other supporters who decided to take a leap of faith. We all have a passion for the Beautiful Game, and we got to plant a seed that helps it grow in a community-first way.
To that end, Chattanooga FC are trailblazers. And even though I live 250 miles away from Finley Stadium – and other investors might live 2,500 miles away – we still get to claim them as “our team” because they are.
So regardless of this evening’s result, I’m proud to be part of the Chattanooga family.
Front of the jersey, back of the jersey … CFC is playing for all the names.
And one of them is mine.