Oh when the ‘Hawks go marching in,
Oh when the ‘Hawks go marching in,
Lord how I want to be in that number,
When the ‘Hawks go marching in.
If you've ever attended a Carolina RailHawks game, you’re already familiar with the Triangle Soccer Fanatics (TSF). You’ve heard their chants and the bang of their bass drum. You've seen the flags, banners, posters
and tifo. And you've watched the orange smoke envelope the 309 Depot, named for the section at WakeMed Soccer Park that the RailHawks’ supporters group calls home throughout the season.
wants to hear from you. This week, the group officially announced its reorganization
as Triangle Soccer Fanatics Inc., a 501(c) nonprofit organization. The club will be run by a board of directors comprising five elected officers, two at-large board members chosen by lottery from the paid membership base, and two advisory members from outside the organization. The corporate officers and board members receive no compensation and serve as volunteers.
[Note: David Fellerath, former culture editor at INDY Week
, is one of TSF's advisory board members.]
In addition to a revamped mission statement and formalized structure, TSF also revealed a new paid membership plan
for area residents eager to collaborate with fellow fans of the Beautiful Game. The three tiers of membership include a standard membership ($25 annually) that provides a wealth of TSF and RailHawks merchandise plus voting privileges within the organization. A founding membership ($100, available only during the RailHawks’ 2014 spring season) supplies all the standard membership benefits plus a TSF jersey, pint glass and inclusion in a TSF team photo with the RailHawks. And, there’s a youth membership ($15 annually) that provides many of the standard membership merchandise, sans any voting rights.
When Jarrett Campbell started TSF in 2002, it began simply as a Yahoo Groups mailing list for area folks wanting to congregate at local watering holes and watch soccer on TV with like-minded fans.
“I had moved to Raleigh for a job from Austin, TX and had no relations or friends here,” Campbell recalls. “We came here and didn't know anybody, and I was looking to connect with people who were as passionate about soccer as I am.”
The group’s first gathering took place in January 2003, when a grand total of five people gathered to watch a televised friendly between the U.S. and Canada. That general composition continued until 2006, when the FIFA World Cup increased local interest in soccer and, by extension, TSF. Campbell began to charge membership and offer some basic benefits, which about 25 people took advantage of.
When the Carolina RailHawks announced their formation in 2006 and began play in 2007, the members of TSF decided to convert the organization into a supporters group for the RailHawks. With Campbell essentially leading the group as an independent contractor, TSF remained unchanged until 2010, when it decided to dispense with official membership and fees.
“It was a lack of time on my part to devote to it, and a lack of people ready to step up and take it on,” Campbell says. “And the fact that it was never formalized into a corporation, there wasn't really anything lost by stepping away.”
Over the next several years, TSF went into what Campbell describes as “organic mode.” People would show up to tailgate prior to RailHawks matches and then sit in the supporters section to cheer on the team. Occasionally, a few orange-clad fans would travel to away matches. That routine persisted for the ensuing four seasons, even as the number of regular participants grew.
Then last October, Campbell was invited to Atlanta for a one-day meeting of representatives from the other supporters groups in the North American Soccer League (NASL). The experienced opened Campbell’s eyes and reenergized his ambitions about what TSF could and should be. The reps traded information about the construct of their clubs. While some operated under an informal structure like TSF, others are more formalized like the Crocketteers
in San Antonio, Ralph’s Mob
in Tampa, Flight 19
in Fort Lauderdale and the Borough Boys
in New York City.
“I looked around at how the other supporters clubs were functioning, and frankly I was a little jealous of what some of the other clubs had accomplished,” Campbell admits. “I decided that if I wanted to take this to the next level, I needed more help from the membership, I needed leaders to step up and we needed to formalize the organization.”
So, last January Campbell recruited a small circle of devotees to meet every two weeks and hash out their vision for a new TSF. The result is the relaunch announced this week.
[Sung to the tune of “Yellow Submarine”]
We all cheer for an orange football team,
An orange football team,
An orange football team.
For Campbell, there are three principal advantages to TSF’s new composition.
“The first advantage is institutionalizing the group,” he begins. “People can look at it and see this isn’t just a guy with a PayPal account. That lends an air of authority to the organization.”
The second advantage is financial. “In order to do some of the ambitious things we want to do, we need operating capital,” Campbell continues. “By building a membership base that’s on a pay basis, it will give us some operating funds to do some different things that we couldn't do before.”
These things include game day materials like banners, drums, tifo and other paraphernalia that can’t be donated. TSF also hopes to improve tailgating and in-game operations, such as erecting a capo stand.
The third big reason is liability concerns, particularly as it applies to travel for road games. “One of the goals of the club is organizing trips to away matches,” Campbell explains. “From a liability standpoint, there was some concern over who is responsible when you take a bunch of people on a bus for a road trip. Incorporating transfers potential liability from the individual to the corporation.”
Campbell stresses that nonmembers of TSF remain welcome to tailgate, sit with the supporters at the game and even participate in activities. But, along with voting rights, only members can participate in certain activities, like discounted seating for away travel and a planned end-of-season Feed-the-Team dinner.
Indeed, TSF members aren't even required to sit in the 309 Depot during RailHawks games. Amy Garner, TSF’s new board secretary and founding member, will retain her season ticket in section 105, positioned directly behind the away team’s bench, her preferred perch for enjoying the histrionics of visiting managers.
Campbell says the RailHawks’ organization supports and has cooperated with TSF in implementing these changes. For example, TSF pregame tailgating for 2014 will now take place in lot C behind the east grandstands. The team has also promised TSF permit parking in the lot, which doesn't include the parking fee but does provide designated space near the stadium.
RailHawks President Curt Johnson is ebullient about the new TSF.
“I think we could look back to right now in 10 years and say this was absolutely the key thing that happened to take our organization to the next level,” Johnson says. “There are so many fans in their 30s and 40s who are soccer passionate and want to become involved, whether it’s socially, in-game, watch parties, whatever the case may be. I think this new version of TSF will foster that, along with our reinvigorated relationship with TSF.”
Johnson sees the fruit of that reinvigorate relationship already growing.
“Now as opposed to us interacting once, twice or three times a year in meetings and sharing information on our website, now we have a regular dialogue,” Johnson explains. “They’ll have a formal board that we’ll interact with, so that’s a very tangible way to get things done.
“It takes time and energy, and there are more people than ever within that group who are committed to making TSF the best it can be, and there are more people in our organization who are focused on it … [and] talk daily about how we can assist them and build off what they’re doing.”
While Campbell embraces the collaboration with the RailHawks, the Triangle’s lone pro soccer team, he emphasizes that TSF’s activities and community outreach will not always be dependent on the RailHawks. The two organizations share a common vision, but these changes reinforce that TSF remains financially and administratively independent.
“The RailHawks are our local team, and that’s who we support,” Campbell declares. “Triangle Soccer Fanatics has been around since before the RailHawks, and if the RailHawks were to move on for whatever reason, TSF would still be around to support soccer in this area.”
[Sung to the tune of “I've Been Working on the Railroad”]
We’ve been cheering for the
RailHawks, all the live long day.
We’ve been cheering for the
RailHawks, when they're home or
Can’t you hear our whistles blowin’,
see our flags up in the sky.
Can’t you hear the fans a’ shoutin’,
RailHawks ‘til we die!