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Industrial Football, Neoliberalism, and American Soccer: The MLS’ Columbus Crew Have Been Saved . . . For Now

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Facing an impending move to Austin, Texas, it looks as if the Columbus Crew have been saved, and—improbable as it may have seemed—dealt a blow to industrial football in the United States in the process. According to an ESPN story from 12 October 2018, a partnership involving the owners of the NFL’s [American football] Cleveland Browns have entered negotiations with MLS in order to purchase the team. In a Tweet the owners of the Cleveland Browns, Jimmy and Dee Haslam, announced their intention to keep MLS’ first team in Columbus, Ohio.

 

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Strange Bedfellows: NFL To The Rescue? Perhaps Civic Pride In the Real World Is More Important Than Competition In The Business World For the Haslams. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bobbymcmahon/2018/10/15/save-the-crew-how-mission-seemingly-impossible-now-seems-very-possible-for-the-columbus-crew/#6311c67a1f82

 

Understandably, the leaders of the #savethecrew movement were ecstatic at this development which simultaneously struck a blow at both industrial football in the United States, but also the undemocratic nature of progressive politics. Indeed, this victory had seemed so impossible that one of the Crew’s players actually went to celebrate with fans at a local bar after hearing the announcement. Clearly, the Columbus Crew represent a very real element of community in the capital of the Buckeye State . . . right?

 

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Have they #SaveDthecrew? Image Courtesy Of: https://www.massivereport.com/2018/10/12/17968262/misson-accomplished-saved-the-crew-columbus-crew-sc-mls-2018-jimmy-haslam

 

That indeed may be the case, but don’t try to tell that to Silicon Valley who seem to believe that “community” in the here and now—rooted to a specific geographic location with an emotional connection—is passé; it represents an impediment to the complete establishment of a virtual community located in the digital “world” of social media and connected to consumption. After all, exactly one year ago—on 17 October 2017—the Crew’s owner Anthony Precourt had announced his plan to move the team to Austin, Texas.

 

The proposed move—given Mr. Precourt’s background—should not have been surprising to fans. After all, Mr. Precourt is a managing partner at his own investment management and private equity firm . . . based in San Francisco. That’s right; the owner of the Columbus Crew resides in California and—prior to his acquisition of the MLS franchise—had no clear connection to central Ohio or even the Midwestern United States. According to bizjournals.com he has more connections to California (where Stanford University has named an institute after his family), New Hampshire (where he went to graduate school), and Texas (where his father was an oil executive) than he does to Ohio. This last connection is most telling, as it might explain some of the motive for the proposed move to Austin.

 

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Anthony Precourt When He Was a Crew Fan. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2014/02/03/columbus-crew-owner-anthony-precourt-says-club-logo-not-representative-citys

 

As I said earlier, fans should not be surprised that Mr. Precourt should have wanted to move the team he purchased for $68 million in 2013. It seems that from the beginning the new owner had a disdain for the culture of the city which hosted the team he had, ostensibly, “invested” in. In early 2014, Mr. Precourt announced his plans to overhaul the team’s logo which had survived—unchanged—since the league’s inception in 1996. While the original Columbus Crew logo depicted “three stoic construction workers shoulder to shoulder with hard hats, a not-so-subtle nod to the city’s working-class roots” ; Mr. Precourt saw this logo as “outdated”. To justify the re-branding, Mr. Precourt was quoted as saying in 2014 “We want it to represent the Columbus we’ve come to know. I don’t think a construction crew is really representative. [Columbus is] not a blue-collar, manufacturing, industrial town. It’s a smart, young, progressive university town with world-class businesses. It’s a white-collar town”. This re-branding resulted in a spectacularly—in the way that the European Union’s currency is  —bland logo.

 

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A Campaign That Could Only Have Been Thought Up In A Corporate Boardroom. Here Is a Hint: If You Have to Explain Your Logo In A Full Page, It Probably Isn’t A Good One. Images Courtesy Of: https://www.columbuscrewsc.com/newcrew

 

But the parallels of the Crew’s new logo “inspired” by Mr. Precourt with the Euro—which features “bland, fake architecture that doesn’t exist”–are not misplaced; indeed they are both reflective of neoliberal globalism which looks to create the most inoffensive designs in order to focus the consumer on their consumption and not be distracted by the details of history or locality. In Mr. Precourt’s justification for the team’s new logo, he seems to be focused on disengaging Columbus from its working-class and industrial roots; indeed, he seems almost embarrassed by the city’s background as he looks to underline its “progressive” nature. Even the adjectives used to define the city as “progressive”, like “smart” and “young”, imply that the hypothetical pre-“progressive” Columbus was be just the opposite, “dumb” and “old”. Now, this is clearly no way to view the city that the team you own represents, but it is reflective of a generation of “progressive” politicians all over the world who view half of their citizenry with contempt; the“urban” is favored over the “rural” and the “modern” is favored over “tradition”. This contempt likely played a role in Mr. Precourt’s eventual decision to move the team, but not—of course—before selling the stadium’s name to the highest bidder. It was another play from the neoliberal globalist playbook: Come, See, Exploit, Move on to the next market.

 

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Out With The Old…And In With The New? Images Courtesy of https://www.columbuscrewsc.com/newcrew

 

While Columbus has seemingly avoided the pitfalls of industrial football, it is important to understand that the new deal has its own profit-driven issues. As Sports Illustrated points out, the owner of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns is also the brother of the Tennessee governor Bill Haslam who is close to the owner of MLS’ new expansion team in Nashville, Tennessee. Also, the news of the Crew’s “being saved” was followed almost immediately by headlines like “Does Keeping the Columbus Crew Mean Building a New Stadium?”. Clearly, industry will not cease to profit off sport—even if the team’s “old” stadium is just 19 years old. Try telling a Fulham fan or a Boston Red Sox fan that their team needs a new stadium and see what they say. Still, the case of the Columbus Crew shows why it is important to notice the (all but unavoidable) connections between sport and elite wealth in the era of extreme capitalism. The key to a more equitable future for sports fans lies in resisting the rootless elites who treat sports clubs in the same way that they themselves might see their own lives (as well as the enormous wealth that defines them): rootless, cultureless, and—perhaps ultimately—meaningless aside from the bottom line. At least the Columbus Crew survived this round, and that is something that sports fans can take comfort in for now.

 

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Football Shirts Get Political Again, This Time in The United States

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Almost a month ago, I wrote about a case where a football shirt started a political storm in Germany. Now, it seems, the same is happening in the United States. A few years ago, as I was filling out my Panini album (a must during a World Cup year), I couldn’t help but lament the fact that both Turkey and the United States would not be playing. For the U.S. it is an even bigger failure (given the amount of money invested in football), and the squad will have to settle with appearing in a few pre-tournament warm-up matches. While the U.S. faced France on June 9 2018, a French friend texted me to ask “Why are the U.S. jerseys so hideous?”. I didn’t know what he meant, so I tuned in and took a look. Indeed, the jerseys were a little off…the numbering scheme was, for some reason, colored like a rainbow! The players looked like school children, and—as a shirt enthusiast—I cringed at the design. The problem, of course, is not the fact that the U.S. men’s national football team is supporting gay pride. The United States is a diverse nation, and its gay citizens are just as valuable as its straight citizens. Indeed, the only thing that should matter, in an international football match, is representing your country. In this case, the only thing that should matter is being American. And that is the issue with these shirts: it is an unnecessary distraction and the numbering color scheme represents the ongoing politicization of all spheres of culture—sports included—in the United States of America. It is certainly a slippery slope.

 

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Really? Image Courtesy Of: https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/team-usa-ireland-pride-jerseys-friendly-dublin-484427761.html

 

The politicization of U.S. Soccer brings to mind the furious campaign by former star Eric Wynalda to become president of the U.S. Soccer federation. Mr. Wynalda, in the run up to his campaign, said all the right things. Indeed, he asked the right questions:

 

We have countries like Uruguay with 3.5 million people in the whole country. You have Iceland who’s beating England. They have more active volcanoes than coaches. We here have this massive undertaking. We have 350 million people [in this country] and we can’t figure out how to find 11? Really?

 

Sadly, however, U.S. Soccer would not listen, showing both the corporatization of football in the U.S. as well as the larger world. The mainstream media labeled him an “outsider” (the LA Times) and the New York Times—leaders of media manipulation as they are—chose to highlight his personal financial problems. The LA Times article identifies the main reason Mr. Wynalda has had trouble in the football world:

 

Multiple efforts to become an MLS head coach went nowhere, as his contemporaries with vanilla personalities were awarded positions. U.S. Soccer’s player of the decade in the 1990s, a veteran of three World Cups, became an outsider.

He wouldn’t encounter such obstacles in almost any other country, where strong if not downright defective personalities are accepted as byproducts of the creativity necessary to be a star player [Emphasis Added].

 

As football has become increasingly corporate in the age of industrial football, creative ideas—as is the case in most industries—have been discouraged. This is why Mr. Wynalda’s struggles are not just a “personal trouble”, to borrow the language of American Sociologist C. Wright Mills. Rather, they are representative of wider “social problems”: Industrial society in the United States has become reluctant to open itself to any ideas which challenge the dominant narratives, creating an environment which fosters one-dimensional thought in boardrooms across corporate America and in classrooms throughout the American education system.

 

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Eric Wynalda, A Patriot Who Has Become an Outsider In Our Brave New World. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2016/06/02/us-win-over-colombia-1994-world-cup-announced-were-here-stay

 

Of course, this is not the recipe for a successful country, a peaceful society, or even a functioning football association. We, as a society, have become used to allowing technocrats to shape all facets of our lives. The two candidates Mr. Wynalda ran against, Sunil Gulati and Carlos Cordeiro, were typical technocrats. The former is an economist who teaches at Columbia University; the latter is a former partner at Goldman Sachs. In fact, Mr. Cordeiro said he was the only candidate with  “the skills to help oversee an organization with a 170 person staff, a $110 million budget, a $150 million surplus, and more than four million players, coaches, and referees”. While these are of course important factors to consider, the fact is that these skills have absolutely nothing to do with football but everything to do with business. When profit becomes the main consideration, however, these are the qualities that come to the fore. In an uber-rationalized world—in the Weberian sense—an emotional former footballer like Mr. Wynalda is deemed unacceptable for the position; instead, it is investment bankers and economists who are the ones favored. And that is how we come to an absurd situation where the most important colors of a football shirt are not the national colors of a nation but those on back of the shirts.

 

The decision to allow rainbow colored numbers—in support of Pride month—drew outrage from many. In fact, it even made a footballer for the US Women’s national team abandon her dream of representing her country because her faith did not allow her to wear the “pride” shirt in question. Given this situation, it is easy to see that there is a problem here.

 

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Jaelene Hinkel Chose to Speak Up. Unfortunately, It Cost Her the Opportunity to Represent her Nation. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/team-usa-ireland-pride-jerseys-friendly-dublin-484427761.html

 

While gay pride should certainly be supported—gay individuals are equal citizens of the United States—there are ways to do this and, unfortunately, football shirts are not the place for this. Anything that willfully alienates people—gay or straight, religious or secular, male or female—from the larger community (in this case the nation) should not be supported by anyone who is truly tolerant. It seems that forcing footballers to wear jerseys which support a certain quasi-political message represents an egregious imposition of politics on sports. It is no different from the calls from gay individuals to boycott the fast food restaurant Chick-fil-A ( https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lgbtq-eating-chick-fil-a_us_5b1fb4cee4b09d7a3d770c81 . No one, regardless of their sexual orientation, has a right to tell people where to eat. Encroaching onto people’s personal lives like this is a form of fascism, and cannot be tolerated by anyone who values the liberty and freedom of individual human life.

 

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One of the First Lessons of Sport is That the Name on the Front of the Jersey Matters More than the Name on the Back Of the Jersey. The Same Goes For the Colors of the Jersey. If We Truly are “One Nation” and “One Team”, as the Banner Suggests, then We Have No Choice but to Abandon the Divisive Virus of Identity Politics. Image Courtesy Of: https://gaynation.co/outrage-as-us-soccer-team-dons-rainbow-jersey-for-in-support-of-rainbow-community/

 

Perhaps if the US Soccer Federation had spent its time developing the football program—rather than catering to identity politics—the U.S. would have a team to root for in the World Cup. Instead, we see the regressive nature of progressive America as the quality of football suffers when technocrats choose politics over sport. The politicization of football shirts, therefore, clearly shows that authoritarianism knows no political allegiance; it can come as easily from the “left” as it can from the “right”. Divide and rule is the oldest trick in the book, so resist the divisions and stand up for your country!

 

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Memorial Day 2015: Boom Towns, Re-Building Towns, and Ghost Towns BONUS: Austin Aztex Home Shirt 2010

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The Boom Town

Driving into Austin at 10 pm on a Monday night you see lights, lots of lights. They could almost stun you, the driver, who was all but lulled to sleep for over 150 miles on the smooth pitch-black roadway from Houston. But the speed limit was raised from 70 to 75. So that is a plus. In between the neon signs advertising Target, HEB, Super 8 Motel, and Fiesta you head down I-35 as the lights of downtown Austin almost overpower the highway, the cranes that dot the horizon distract you and take your eyes off the road for a few seconds. The small town has become a metropolis overnight, or so it seems.

Austin, Texas, America (as 98.1 KVET says) is indeed America’s fastest growing city—it experienced 12 percent growth from 2010-2013. They say 110 people are moving to Austin every day. But that migration isn’t necessarily positive, as a 2014 Austin American Stateman article explains. Many smaller homes are being demolished to make way for high-end luxury condos, the kind of gentrification—exacerbating the wage gap—that has made people around the United States and the world disgruntled. On the surface, it all makes sense:

“For the sellers, many of whom raised their families in the homes, the demand for lots in their neighborhoods offers an opportunity to cash out at a price that can exceed the value of their property. For the buyers, it’s a chance to live in a central area, near shopping, dining and entertainment, while avoiding the headaches that can come with an older home.”

But some residents quoted in the article beg to differ. Mark Rogers, who holds a PhD in art history from UT Austin and has lived in east Austin for 30 years, says that “It’s kind of like losing memory through the loss of structures…That’s what architecture does – it connects you to your memories and your experiences, and when you have so much change that a whole neighborhood and eventually a city changes, we kind of have collective Alzheimer’s.” Resident Mary Standifer adds “there is a sense that people are gutting the neighborhood, not blending with it or becoming part of it. You want people to move here because they want to join in your neighborhood, not because they want to reinvent it.” Austin developer Ed Wendel went so far as to warn “We are hollowing the middle class out of Austin.” Just like industrial football has pushed the original fans away from the game, so too has gentrification pushed the original residents out of a formerly sleepy city in central Texas that is now home to a Formula One race.

The next morning you wake up road wary and want breakfast tacos. The same 85 cent breakfast tacos you ate so often as a student in a stiflingly hot room, under the sign that read

“The heat you feel / waiting for your meal

is a small price / so maybe think twice

The cost to keep you cool / would be passed on to you

so please refrain / to complain / about no air conditioning”

You want those tacos that filled you up for three dollars and change. But the Tamale House—the one you had discovered long before it was featured in the New York Times— no longer exists. It closed after the owner’s death, may he rest in peace. The neighborhood isn’t even the same anymore. The seedy old service station down the road has become a shiny new In-N-Out Burger, advertising jobs for 10.25 an hour and attracting clientele among Austin’s newest residents from California.

But that isn’t all that’s gone from Austin. A cursory look around will tell you that. The great Omlettry building with its mural is slated for destruction. Fran’s Hamburgers, which you once tasted out of pure curiosity, is gone only to make way for that mass-produced (yet “local”) taco chain Torchy’s. Austin Eater has a long list of other Austin dining institutions that are being cleared out in order to make way for shiny new restaurants; even one former Tex-Mex place is becoming (again) luxury apartments. You can only suppose that rents are getting harder to afford…or maybe it is just greed, a desire to “cash-out” while the getting is good.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://austin.eater.com/2015/5/18/8621885/the-omelettry-s-iconic-burnet-building-will-be-demolished-next-week

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Image Courtesy Of: http://austin.eater.com/2015/1/22/7871571/check-out-the-destruction-of-old-fran-s-hamburgers

So that is the boom-town of Austin, Texas, America. You leave more than a little disappointed. You’ve spent three years of your life here but it feels as if those that moved here last week feel more at home in the city than you do. But you comfort yourself with a visit to the old House Park and the old Austin Aztex jersey you own—the one that moved to Orlando and became MLS’ Orlando City FC. Who knows how much longer House Park will house a team, given the recent flooding…then again, cities can recover from floods.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/Crysta_Lee/status/603064428251086848/photo/1

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The Re-Building Town

You walk down Tulane Avenue, the terminus (or beginning, depending on how you look at it) of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61. Looking around tells you that New Orleans is a seedy place. Young men staggering around in wife beaters on the second floor balconies of cheap motels stop to stare at you, the newcomer who is so conspicuously out of place. You look away, focusing on the cracks of the uneven sidewalks trying not to fall on your face. One intersection reminds you of an eastern European city, the lush green park in the median dominated by the statue of a hero from a bygone era—in this case it is Jefferson Davis.

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Underneath the I-10 underpass is an above ground cemetery, one that survived the horrors of Katrina when the flood waters came through. Across the street is an abandoned University of New Orleans building, graffiti covering those areas a person can reach. Soon the seediness gives way to debauchery. Blonde girls taking part in bachelorette parties sport t-shirts reading “that’s what she said” while drinking grenades, young men on the prowl wearing identical button downs are drinking Bud Lights, while older couples take in the scene while sipping cocktails. It seems as if everyone from 20 to 60 is strolling down Bourbon Street in an alcohol-fueled haze. Its on the parallel side streets of the iconic French quarter where you really get a feel for this unique American city that feels more like Europe, the French architecture and overhanging balconies provide you with endless stimulation as long as you don’t step in the puddles of vomit when distracted. Its only ten o’clock but the night is just getting started.

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It is nice to get out of the touristic quarters and spend some time in other areas of the city. You visit the Southern Art Museum and take in some “culture” all the while ignoring the two girls who stumble up the stairs with drinks in hand. Classy is all that you can think. After that you head to the Louisiana Superdome, the massive American football stadium that housed survivors during Katrina. The roads that were flooded then have since been rebuilt, leaving no traces of the destruction. Walking along the historic tram line (which also reminds you of eastern Europe) on Saint Charles Avenue you head towards Tulane University, the wide green boulevard tells you that this is a more affluent side of the city. Its seediness remains where empty Budweiser bottles lie in the gutter but its nothing you can’t get over. The kind owners of the Blind Pelican even offer you a signed shirt, there you learn that New Orleans is back among the fifty largest U.S. cities for the first time since hurricane Katrina. So it is possible for cities to come back from the worst of disasters. It doesn’t surprise you; the city has a unique charm to it despite everything.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/hurricane-katrina-superdome/

 

The Ghost Town

Just off I-40 near Hickory North Carolina exists a peculiar site on the side of a two lane back road—a small village that has become a ghost town. Henry River Mill Village was once a small textile village before the mill closed, now it is up for sale for over 1 million dollars. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, you think, and indeed everything is cyclical. The boom comes, the bust comes, and then the rebuilding comes. If Austin is at the height of its cycle and New Orleans is trying to come around, then the crumbling houses of Henry River Mill Village are at the bottom of their cycle, burst by the industrial revolution, but they might cost someone a pretty penny someday. You can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of a ghost town being resuscitated by Hollywood but then again, this is America. Everything can happen. Your mind spins as you walk along between the shattered houses, but you can’t feel the shattered dreams in this atmosphere. It is the golden hour just before sunset on a late Spring day and the chirping of birds is all you hear, dotted by the occasional sounds of a passing car. You want to lie down on the grass and take it all in. But you don’t. You need to keep moving. You head back to your car parked in front of the abandoned company store that advertises pastries from another time.

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All These Roads That Lead to Nowhere in Particular

You’ve been driving for 12 days and over 4000 miles. You only have about 500 left and you want to go for a walk. You need to stretch those legs. Ahead of you, on pavement dotted by sprouts of grass, you read “This way to Hell”. You snicker, even if you are sure that someone, somewhere, thinks Hell is in Pennsylvania. “Death Ahead. Turn Back”. “Yeah, ok,” you think, looking at a lone cross sticking in the grass as if for guidance. The birds are chirping, the sun beats down, and there is no one in sight. There are no cars to hear. On either side of you trees reach to the heavens along the highway to Hell. Besides the birds, all you can hear is your Nikes beating against the crumbling pavement. You walk the (dotted) line like Johnny Cash. Its like a death march, one and half miles in a straight line under the sun. You shouldn’t have worn a dark blue shirt. But you did. Then you see what you wanted to see. No, it is not the “Hail Satan” poking through the bushes. It is the wide black expanse cut into the mountainside, Rays Hill Tunnel, where scenes from the movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s great novel The Road was filmed.

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Some portions, like the tunnel operator’s room, feel like they are straight out of a horror film. Other portions, like the walls, are dotted with graffiti. Some are eulogies to lost love, most are so vulgur they make you almost ashamed to be reading them. But you do, as you feel the cool moist air of the tunnel fall all around you. But you can’t relax here. The feeling is too odd, too uncomfortable, too chilling. That feeling might be called reality: The reality that nothing is permanent, not nature (this was, after all, an unspoiled mountain side before the Pennsylvania turnpike) and not any man made structure (nature is slowly reclaiming what was taken from it, busting through the concrete). So while we build cities by destroying what we built as in Austin or build cities in the wake of nature’s wrath as in New Orleans it is important to recognize that none of it is permanent. We are all temporary in the histories of our cities, of our countries, and of our world.

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Before the Graffiti:

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Images Courtesy of: http://www.briantroutman.com/highways/abandonedpaturnpike/

 

So, on Memorial Day Weekend, I urge readers in the United States to celebrate the beginning of summer and remember the fallen soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the United States of America so that we may live in this country, an ever-changing country full of all kinds of cities and towns. To readers outside of the U.S., I urge you to celebrate the beginning of summer and get out and explore lesser-known parts of your countries–you never know what might be out there.

Happy Memorial Day and Have a Great Summer!

 

NOTE: All Images Property of the Author (thisisfootballislife.wordpress.com) Unless Otherwise Stated.

Chattanooga FC US Open Cup 2013 Shirt, Number 14 Matchworn

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This Chattanooga FC shirt is a size medium from Diadora. The fabric is standard; what makes this shirt stand out are the extra details. The sponsor is Volkswagen, a nod to the large Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga—the same plant that has come under fire recently regarding the attempted unionization of its workers (Please see: http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/tennessee-volkswagen-chattanooga-union and http://timesfreepress.com/news/2014/apr/05/chattanooga-naacp-supports-workers-rights-volkswag/).  The back has a the Memorial sponsor for Memorial Healthcare Systems and a nice number 14 in yellow.

On the left sleeve is a “2010 2012 NPSL Southeast Champions” embroidery in recognition of the team’s championship seasons in America’s fourth tier National Premier Soccer League. On the right sleeve is an NPSL heat transfer, while the US Open Cup badge is heat pressed onto the front of the shirt—Chattanooga FC lost in the first round of the 2013 competition to the Carolina Dynamo 4-1 on Penalties after a 4-4 draw; this shirt was worn in the match according to Chattanooga FC when I purchased the shirt online (a visit to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Finley Stadium Davenport Field in the summer did not, unfortunately, produce a shirt).

 

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A Shot of the Shirt Worn by Chattanooga FC Players in Action