By Ryan Bailey

Although it is known as a town of transplants, a large proportion of Charlotte FC’s fanbase are native Charlotteans who have watched the beautiful game grow in their city

CHARLOTTE — As a growing corporate hub, with an agreeable climate and a high quality standard of living, Charlotte has become an attractive prospect for transplants.

In fact, the majority of those who walk the streets of the Queen City hail from elsewhere: Census data reveals that 59 percent of Charlotte residents are not native North Carolinians. An average of around 120 people moved to the city every day between 2018 and 2019.

Natives may be outnumbered, but those who were born and raised in the area are forming the backbone of a community welcoming Charlotte FC with open arms.

“I’m beyond excited for MLS in Charlotte,” says Scott Rawls, who grew up in Ballantyne and now leads the Matthews chapter of the Mint City Collective supporters’ group.

“Growing up supporting the Panthers, Hornets, and Knights, it is great to be able to welcome MLS to the city—and to be a part of it from the start,” he says. “Since the official announcement last December, it has been incredible to see the support that has already grown around the team.”

Rawls admits that football was always his favorite sport growing up in South Charlotte, but a keen interest in the Premier League and the arrival of MLS has brought the beautiful game to the forefront of his sporting affections.

“One thing I’m really looking forward to is the gameday experience, whether at home or away,” says Rawls. “Being in or around the city on a Panthers gameday is a great experience, and we had a blast supporting the Academy teams at the recent matches at Bank of America Stadium. I look forward to seeing that type of atmosphere for soccer on a regular basis.”

Like Rawls, many prominent members of Charlotte’s growing soccer community are natives looking forward to bringing their long-held passion for the Panthers to Charlotte FC.

Chris Harmon, born and raised in Charlotte, is now the Lake Norman chapter lead for both the Roaring Riot—the Carolina Panthers fan group—and the Mint City Collective. Harmon recently complemented the large Panthers tattoo on his right arm with a CLT FC motif.

“I’m relatively new to the soccer scene,” says Harmon. “I really fell in love with the sport three years ago when my son started playing. I was instantly hooked.

“I’m very excited for the arrival of MLS. It’s awesome to have another pro sports team in my hometown.”

The Mint City Collective supporters’ group demonstrated its credentials for creating an atmosphere at Bank of America Stadium during the Halloween Academy matches against Atlanta United.

“The energy that the fans brought really raised our game,” said U17 defender Bryce Swinehart. “Our energy, our press, our intensity, our communication—everything was sparked by them.”

Harmon is enthused by the prospect of Charlotte FC featuring local talent in its inaugural senior roster, and notes the opportunity that the club has to bring people together from all walks of life.

“Local players are always a cool story, and it’s great to see local talent develop from a young age,” Harmon said. “For me, it’s about seeing the team entrenched in the community and bringing everyone together.

“Soccer gives us the opportunity to truly celebrate our diversity.”

Professional soccer has been a fixture in Charlotte since 1981, but enthusiasm for the sport has not always been at its current levels. “I remember being picked on in school for being a soccer player,” says Kendall Jackson, a Mint City Collective Chapter Coordinator who works as a Varsity head soccer coach at Central Cabarrus High School.

“This area always had a big football and baseball scene, so the soccer players always felt different. Now, there is a huge support for soccer. It’s really an exciting time.”

Those who have lived their entire lives in Charlotte have seen the city dramatically change. The Uptown skyline has received regular new additions as corporate migration brings thousands of professionals to the Queen City. A lively social scene has blossomed, thanks to a raft of revered breweries and chic restaurants. And a traditional sports town that boasts NFL, NBA and Triple-A franchises will soon add a top-tier club playing the world’s most popular sport.

“As someone who has played and watched soccer in the Charlotte area my entire life, finally having the chance to actually attend big-time matches, right here in my own backyard, will be something special,” says Jackson. “Honestly, the best part of the sport is seeing all the different cultures and people that this game brings together. It will be great seeing everyone come together to support Charlotte.

“It’s hard to put into words how excited I am for MLS in Charlotte. It’s pretty much a dream come true.”