AFC Ann Arbor: “They’re About What They Say They’re About”

It’s all in the little stories.

Ronnie received her season tickets the same day her husband passed away.

Alexis has a slew of tattoos and jokes that very few have meaning aside from the team crest on her right arm.

Emily yells “Death!” at the beginning of every match (more on that later).

Each story you hear, from the funniest to the most heartfelt, paints a picture of why AFC Ann Arbor represents something bigger than soccer.

Founded in 2014, AFC Ann Arbor is one of the many soccer clubs in Michigan that has grown steadily over the years. The club’s first-ever match drew more than 2,000 fans and since then they’ve slowly built a following across Ann Arbor. Yet growth in attendance isn’t necessarily the first thing you’ll hear when talking to season ticket holders and staff members alike.

Sure, everyone wants to keep growing the number of butts in seats. But when we visited the club earlier this year, the first thing that came up was always related to the ‘why’ and the club’s purpose.

“Anything that you see the club advocate for is not just empty words,” shared Alexis, one of the members of the Main Street Hooligans supporters group. “AFC Ann Arbor is about what they say they’re about. They back everything up with action.”

For example, the club made the conscious decision not to sell alcohol at games in recognition of the handful of loyal supporters who are recovering alcoholics.

The club also became one of the first to sign on as an Anti Racist Soccer Club, a distinction that comes with ten requirements, including the commitment to invest club resources into the community to further equity, increase racial and ethnic representation at every level of the club, and educate the community about racism and anti-racist behaviors, among other actions.

Shared Bilal, Chairperson of AFC Ann Arbor. “We want to be a reflection of this region. And that means creating space for supporters from all backgrounds to feel at home with AFC Ann Arbor.”

As a result, AFC Ann Arbor has opened the door for a supporter culture that is truly one-of-a-kind.

I mean, where else will you find a supporter group reciting poetry to kick off each match?

That’s right, the chant of “Death! Death! Death!” is something that was first conjured up by Emily of the Main Street Hooligans and now occurs at the start of all women’s and men’s matches.

Emily (picture in the middle) leads the AFC Ann Arbor squad into battle each game with her speech from Lord of the Rings

As she explains, AFC Ann Arbor once wore a dark blue kit with a white tree on the chest, imagery that was all too similar to the White Tree of Gondor from the Lord of the Rings series. Thinking about how she could blend two of her passions, Emily Topham decided that every game she would recite the famous speech that was delivered as a rallying cry before the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in the Tolkein series.

Ride now, ride now, ride!
Ride for the ruin and the world’s ending!
Death! Death! Death!

It’s not just the matchdays that bring out the best in supporters either.

When players on AFC Ann Arbor needed financial assistance to try out at the local scouting combine, the Main Street Hooligans were quick to start a fundraising campaign to make that happen.

“We know players will ultimately move on from our club,” commented Main Street Hooligan Brian Hinz. “But it’s important for them to know that they’ll always be part of our family. Even after they’re gone we will continue to support them however we can.”

AFC Ann Arbor