As the Carolina RailHawks struggle on the field and the team looks for a potential buyer, the most diehard of fans are growing restless.
Triangle Soccer Fanatics, a renowned supporters group, has been the chieftain of protests against Traffic USA’s involvement – or lack thereof – in the RailHawks since before May’s indictments.
“(Traffic) bailed us out five years ago, but they’ve maintained the status quo for five years while … we’ve stayed stagnant while the rest of the country’s soccer teams grow,” TSF president Jarrett Campbell said. “We really need someone to invest in the team that is committed to the local RDU community and has a vision for soccer here.”
Despite an exhilarating 2-0 win over the Atlanta Silverbacks, fans won’t be satisfied until real changes are made off the pitch.
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“You throw the indictments in, and (Traffic) can’t even provide the meager resources they were providing before,” avid fan Jeff Woodhead, 36, said. “You can’t say we’re a small market, the Triangle has 2 million people ... and yet Traffic never put the budget together to market us. We should be filling this stadium every game.”
Team President Curt Johnson has been running operations since Traffic’s involvement was revoked by NASL. Johnson is optimistic that an ownership swap is imminent.
“We have dialogue going with quite a few groups,” Johnson said. “We have a mix of prospective owners, some are local, but some are as far away as Europe or South America.”
“My hope is … the same as what the fans want … to find a world-class owner who will help move the organization forward … and we want it as soon as possible.”
However, it seems unanimous that a local investor is what the fans have been yearning for.
“Anyone but Traffic would be an improvement, but I am weary of it if there’s no local contribution. You could get the disaster they’ve had in Fort Lauderdale this year where … Ronaldo and South American investors have made a mockery of it,” Woodhead said.
Regardless of who takes helm at ownership for the RailHawks, Campbell acknowledged he would like to see a fan ownership system put into place similar to “Rangers First,” a fan initiated group in Scotland.
Nacho Novo, who made a name for himself as a striker for the Glasgow Rangers, is one of the members of the group who has bought shares in the club.
“When you see the uniting of fans, that’s how it should be, and that’s what Rangers has been doing,” Novo said. “It’s been working; it’s been doing really well … I support them 100 percent.”
Whether it be players or supporters, the importance of a defining local presence is essential.
“Soccer, at its core, is a community sport,” Campbell said. “The right resources and the people have to be put in place for it to work.”