There isn't really a red side of Knoxville. Nor a blue one. Nor a green, purple, or yellow one. Only orange. Lots and lots of orange. Enough orange to make even the proudest Dutch national say, "OK Knoxville, you can tone it down a bit."
If there's a red side of Knoxville, it may very well be the neighborhood surrounding my former high school, Halls, whose school mascot is the Red Devil and holy Fowler my hatred of Manchester United suddenly makes much more sense.
Anyway, knowing my quiet mountain town as I do, I wasn't expecting to find a Knoxville LFC Supporters' Club, but that is exactly what I found.
Had I searched a scant two years earlier, I would have found no such organization, but recent Knoxville transplant Bradford tried to recreate some of the camaraderie found in the famous NYC scene:
"We started it a couple of years ago. I had relocated from Northern New Jersey. I had a wonderful time there and was a member of LFCNYC and it was fantastic. So when I came down here, I wanted to--dare I say--try and replicate [that atmosphere] and get everyone together that shares the passion for Liverpool that you and I do."
We met up for the HJK Helsinki preseason match, streaming live at The Casual Pint in Farragut. The metric football fan must make strange bedfellows in Knoxville in order to survive, and this was certainly the case here. The manager, an Irish national and Manchester United supporter, allows soccer fans of all persuasions to gather in his pub on Saturday and Sunday mornings for beer and soccer.
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I kick of my series on Liverpool supporters' clubs around the world in the heart of Texas. Dallas might be famous for the kind of football you play with your hands, but it's also home for the second oldest LFC club in America.
According to Bradford, supporters of all stripes come out and share the pub, but they're mostly just thankful to have a home. Many local bar owners just didn't "get" the need to open up early for these small but enthusiastic group of supporters, especially during college football season.
"During college football season, SEC is king. Tennessee rules the roost. So, even when we were trying to find a home pub, a lot of the people would not want to talk to us in the sense that it was tough for them to open up at 9:30 when they were going to run all day. The SEC complex of games starts at 3:30 and then they go into the evening, so it was hard to have that. They were so focused on college football."
The Knoxville group might remain an unofficial club for now, but the members--while few in number--are passionate about the Redmen, and their numbers are growing. If you find yourself in Knoxville on a Saturday, you can expect about 20 or so members clad in Red, and even some complimentary taquitos and homemade salsa. Sundays? Well, that's a different story:
"On a Saturday there's much better attendance, you know, in the South with the Sunday morning thing...the church gig, that's a tough thing...It's not the 250 I'm used to at the 11th Street pub in Manhattan, but it's growing."
For those following LFC Knoxville on Twitter, you'll notice a certain 5-0 scoreline from the Liverpool-Arsenal game a couple years back. Turns out, Bradford has an excellent story behind it:
"When I went over [to Anfield] the second time I ran into some Norwegian supporters, a whole Norway club, and they took me in, and one guy said, ‘Bradford, I got to give you my Gerrard kit.' So, he went down to his room and he brought me his customized Gerrard jersey. He gave it to me that day, and I wore it the next day for the Arsenal spanking."
That kit clearly has magical powers, Bradford, and we at TLO need you to start wearing it all the time. Don't let your wife convince you that it needs washing, either!
Joking aside, it was a pleasure, and a big thanks to Bradford for meeting up and talking Liverpool for a couple of hours over a meaningless friendly.