The game clock has ticked just over nine minutes and the Memphis 901 supporters have gone silent.
Two days prior, a gunman walked into a residential Memphis grocery store and opened fire on dozens of innocent shoppers inside. The tragic shooting is all too common in the U.S. but one that no one in the area would have predicted. The Kroger store where the horrific events took place is situated in a quiet suburb on the outskirts of the city. Most of the midday shoppers present that day were older residents picking up food when the store wasn’t too busy.
The details from that day are still being pieced together, but as of the night of the Memphis 901 match, one victim has been announced dead and more than a dozen others injured.
The moment of silence at the 9:01 mark (denoting the city’s 901 area code) is meant to honor the survivors and remember the Memphian who passed away from the shooting.
At least one of the survivors who sustained a gunshot wound is in attendance. Not to be recognized for her heroism but because for her, Memphis 901 matches provide a sense of normalcy. As she explained, it’s what she would be doing any other Saturday night – sitting alongside her fellow Memphis 901 fans and Bluff City Mafia supporters.
“Memphis is all about Memphis”
The somber moment on this warm Saturday evening is a brief reminder about the role supporter groups can play in a community.
Here in Tennessee’s second-largest city, Bluff City Mafia is the independent supporter group for Memphis 901 FC. The group was founded in 2018 after it was announced that a new pro team would be joining the USL Championship.
Right way, the Bluff City Mafia leaders knew they had something special.
“Memphis has always had an underground soccer community,” shared Molly Weldele, one of the capos for Bluff City Mafia. “With Memphis 901, we now have a way to bring that passion into the spotlight.”
That first year, Memphis 901 drew an average of 6,623 fans to AutoZone Park in downtown Memphis, a total that catapulted the club to the top 25% among all USL teams in 2019. And while success at the ticket office is certainly a point of pride, the Bluff City Mafia supporters are quick to highlight the overwhelming sense of camaraderie across the city.
“Memphis is all about Memphis,” shared Alex Hall, one of the founding members of Bluff City Mafia. “No matter what, we support our people and we support our teams.”
Everyone who dons the navy and red of Memphis 901 sticks together, explains Alex.
Tonight, they are caring for one of their own after the tragedy that took place just days prior. Similarly, the Bluff City Mafia supporters are quick to rally behind members battling cancer or facing family hardship.
For Memphis’ soccer fans, this is what the community and the sport is all about.
Matchdays in Memphis
On matchdays, the energy starts to build two blocks from the stadium at an Irish pub named the Brass Door. As game time approaches, fans finish their pints and gather outside to begin the march to the match.
Led by bagpipers, the songs of the Bluff City Mafia start to fill the alleyways of downtown Memphis as the supporters make their way closer and closer to the stadium. The procession draws the attention of everyone within earshot. Families enjoying dinner and couples out for a date night pull out their phones to record video of the boisterous crowd as they march by.
Inside the stadium, flanked by drums and symbols, the supporters take to their positions on the west side of AutoZone Park. The capos for the match hop up onto the dugout (a convenient, built-in capo stand for any team playing in a baseball-first venue) and lead the crowd in the first song of the night.
“Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, – oh – oh – oh – oh! We got BBQ stains on our shirts…”
Molly is among those first up on the dugout. A role she takes quite a bit of pride in, especially knowing how it all started.
“I remember going to the first ever match and seeing two men up there capoing on the dugout,” recalled Molly. “I was mad there weren’t any women so I took it upon myself to change that.”
In that moment, Molly jumped up on the dugout and started singing and yelling until she could scream no more. Now, she is a staple at every Memphis 901 match and one of the most vocal leaders of Bluff City Mafia.
“It has been incredible to watch this city embrace soccer like it has,” beamed Molly. We are a melting pot of cultures here in Memphis and this sport has helped bring so many people together.”