There’s something special brewing in Louisville.
In a city (and state) historically known for its college sports, soccer is quickly becoming a unifying force.
From the Louisville Coopers and Lavender Legion, to the LouCity Ladies and so many more, the fans of Racing Louisville FC and Louisville City FC are some of the most passionate you will find.
They are also a big reason why professional soccer is a reality in a state where most other professional sports have failed.
The Early Days
Before Louisville City FC ever kicked a ball. Before there were talks of Orlando City moving its team to Louisville. Before any of that, the Louisville Coopers were in existence.
In 2013, a group of local soccer fans came together with a simple idea – bring a professional team to Louisville. They were already watching international matches at Molly Malone’s Irish Pub so they knew there was an appetite. They just had to work out the ‘how.’
“It was about as grassroots as you can get,” shared Herman Quinn, President of the Louisville Coopers. “Back then, it all started with a dream. There was no formal structure, we were just a small group of people who loved soccer and wanted to bring something special to our community.”
Armed with a will and a tenacity to get things done, the group reached out to anyone with deep pockets who they could find. Slowly, the buzz grew and more leaders in Louisville started to buy in. One year later, the collective of fans struck gold when a potential ownership group invited the heads of USL’s Orlando City Soccer Club to meet with the Louisville Coopers.
From there, the rest is history. After meeting with the Louisville Coopers, the Orlando City owners realized that Louisville had a vibrant fanbase already in place. Soon after, they moved their club from Florida to Kentucky and established roots with the Louisville Coopers and the supporter groups that would follow.
But even then, few could have imagined the success they would have at the beginning.
When the club first joined the USL Championship in 2015, they were playing at Louisville Slugger Field, a stadium built primarily for baseball. So it would have been no surprise if Louisville City FC struggled to sell tickets. Let’s be honest, not everyone wants to watch soccer on a retrofitted baseball diamond.
Fortunately, the Louisville Coopers and local community knew better. They were hungry for professional soccer and were committed to its success no matter what.
In the club’s first year, Louisville City averaged near-sellout crowds for every match. And since then, the club has remained in the top five for USL annual attendance. That success is also a big reason why Louisville was selected as an NWSL expansion city over many larger cities in the U.S.
“We needed professional sports here in Louisville and because of our diverse population, soccer is the only one that made sense,” shared Robin Pryor, Vice President of the Lavender Legion. “We all may come from different backgrounds or different parts of the state, but there’s this unspeakable bond and energy at matches in Louisville.”
Just ask Louisville’s John Harper about that energy.
John didn’t play soccer growing up nor did he know much about the game. He attended his first Louisville match after his wife, Katie, insisted that they catch a match. Little did he know that would change his life (or at least his weekends) for the rest of his life.
“We bought two seats that were near the supporters section and I just remember watching the Louisville Coopers from afar and thinking that looked fun,” recalled John. “My wife and I looked at each other and knew we were in the wrong spot.”
The next match they bought tickets in the supporters end and ever since, the two have become integral parts of the supporter culture in Louisville. When they’re not screaming their lungs out on the capo stand, the two are coordinating all the tifo development for the Louisville Coopers and leading the marches to the stadium.
As John and Katie explain it, they found a new community through soccer and have met lifelong friends thanks to Louisville City and Racing Louisville.
“It’s all about family.”
Louisville and its supporters have come a long way since the early days at Slugger Field. Today, Racing Louisville and Louisville City have a new soccer-specific stadium in the Butchertown neighborhood just east of downtown, and the supporters are growing exponentially each year.
Everyone from the ownership to the players to the supporters recognizes that they are an essential part of growing soccer in Kentucky.
While many clubs in the U.S. have one or two main supporters groups, Louisville boasts six. And that doesn’t even account for the unofficial ones such as the LouCity Tailgaters.
At Lynn Family Stadium, the supporter groups can be found all across the stadium, from the steeped east end (named “Estopinal End” for the club’s late founder Wayne Estopinal) to the standing-only section next to the river.
The Louisville Coopers are the oldest among the supporter groups and bring the noise in the east end of the stadium for both Louisville City and Racing Louisville matches. They get their name from the coopers who helped build the region’s thriving bourbon industry, and that’s also why so many of their drums sit atop bourbon barrels.
The Lavender Legion, named for the team’s colors, is a group that was created specifically to support the NWSL’s Racing Louisville. Through their leadership in Louisville and hard-working board members, they cultivating women’s soccer in the community.
The LouCity Ladies are a women’s-only group focused on making soccer a more welcoming sport for all genders. Their all-women, trans-women, and femme membership focuses on community engagement as much as they do in-stadium energy.
Scouse’s House, a group affectionately named after Liverpudlian and founder Michael ‘Scouse’ Bromilow, calls the river side of Lynn Family Stadium home.
As Scouse explained it, “I come from a culture where we support our team on both ends of the pitch, not just one. That’s why Scouse’s House makes noise on the west end of the stadium. No matter what half it is, no goalie is safe.”
The Louisville Ledgehogs are equal parts social club and supporter group. While their peers occupy the two endlines of the field, the Ledgehogs hold court at the ‘ledge tables’ near midfield and enjoy the laid-back, social atmosphere of matches.
Together, along with the Black Sheep supporters, the LouCity Tailgaters, and a host of other passionate purple-clad fans, Louisville is one collective family.
“It’s difficult to put into words what makes Louisville special,” Pryor shared with Beautiful Game Network. “We have a sense of family without being family. I really think our physical geographic location has afforded us this eclectic mix of regional people with a touch of southern charm.”
Thanks to the success of Louisville City FC and now emergence of NWSL’s Racing Louisville, this city is buzzing about pro soccer. Everywhere you go, businesses, homes and bars are decked out with the teams’ purple colors and on gameday, the entire scene around the stadium takes on a different energy.
It’s no coincidence that they call home Lynn Family Stadium either. Ask any supporter you meet and each one will tell you – regardless of which group they associate with, they are all part of one Louisville soccer community.
For years, these supporters have put Louisville on the map and the new Lynn Family Stadium solidifies its position as one of the country’s next soccer meccas.