A Sea of One Knoxville Jerseys

The bus was rented. The plans were made. The only question was – would anyone show up? 

In just a few hours, One Knoxville SC was set to take the field for the first home game ever. The club had already made waves nationally with its popular brand design, but it was anyone’s guess whether that buzz would translate to the stadium. 

“We booked this bus to take us to the stadium but you never know what to expect,” said Kevin Carnes, one of the leaders of The Scruffs supporters group. “All week I was wondering what we would do if only a few people showed up.”

As blue and orange-clad locals streamed into Barley’s Taproom in the old town area of Knoxville, it became evident that Kevin wouldn’t have to worry much longer. As game time approached, it was clear that something special was happening in Knoxville.

One Knoxville fans

Kevin, who recently moved with his wife Susan to be closer to their son and granddaughter in Knoxville, compared the anxious excitement to what he experienced years ago in Nashville. 

Back when Nashville was just starting out in the lower leagues of U.S. soccer, Kevin and Susan were among a small group of supporters trying to grow the sport in the Tennessee capital. He recalled those early days and how special it was to build something unique and representative of the community. 

“We were just a few dozen supporters bonding around our USL club,” joked Kevin.

No one could have predicted what happened in just a handful of years. Before Nashville became one of the leading soccer cities in the U.S., it was simply a passionate group of soccer lovers laying the foundation for success step by step. 

That’s what Kevin loved the most. And that’s why he is so excited about the feeling around Knoxville at the moment. 

Inside Barley’s, you could see the foundation being laid with every handshake, clink of a pint glass, and timid-yet-loud chant among the new friends. Lifelong Knoxville residents and soccer supporters alike could be heard swapping stories about why they decided to buy tickets for the first match. 

“You know, we had professional soccer here before, but I never really bought into that at the time,” shared Roland, one of the many Knoxville residents who came to Barley’s to be part of history. “As someone who grew up here, the fact that the club has made themselves part of the community from day one is a big point of pride and why I’m so excited about this team.”

That community aspect is big for everyone you talk to in Knoxville. It is also the reason why the club decided to play its first match at the Austin-East High School. 

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that Knoxville has a rich soccer history, all stemming from the success of its high school programs. Despite being a fraction of the size of Memphis and Nashville, Knoxville’s schools have a long track record of winning soccer trophies. Last year, the Austin-East boy’s team completed a “David vs. Goliath” playoff run by winning the state championship. On its own, the victory was a point of pride for the community. But when you know what it took to get there, the achievement was all the more significant. 

Over the course of the season, five Austin-East students were tragically killed as a result of gun violence. The boy’s soccer team became a way for the Knoxville community to find hope amid unimaginable grief

So as One Knoxville took the field at Austin-East High School for its home opener, the event was a reminder of the resilience and closeness of Knoxville as a whole. 

When the supporter bus pulled up to Austin-East an hour before the match, the question of whether anyone would show up was no longer a concern. It now became, could anyone else show up? 

The parking lot was already full and there were One Knoxville jerseys everywhere you looked. Seriously. I have never witnessed so many team jerseys being worn for a first-year team. Let alone for a home opener. 

Kim and Fallon enjoying a few drinks before heading into Austin-East High School stadium for the home opener.

“The entire community is here for this,” said Kim and Fallon, two supporters who arrived early in a camper van to tailgate right by the stadium entrance. “All week, we had people who didn’t even like soccer asking one another, ‘Are you going to the game on Saturday?” 

For the thousands of fans in attendance, the One Knoxville home opener was a historic moment that couldn’t be missed. And while the scoreline wasn’t what they had hoped for, the significance of the moment was far more important for the Knoxville community. 

One Knoxville supporters