“It’s still early – we have time to grab a bite to eat,” I thought to myself.
It’s been raining all week. Typical Alabama spring weather. But today is the first day the sun has been out in full force, emphatically assuring those in the Magic City that summer is just around the corner. But tonight, James Spann has forecasted a hint of a cool breeze, so I make sure I grab a light jacket and my oldest Hammers scarf, you know – the yellow one – before leaving the house.
Since moving back to Birmingham from Nashville a few years ago, I have frequented my favorite Music City chicken joint, Hattie B’s. I was so glad when they opened up in Lakeview. It’s a slice of Nashville without all of the pretentious hipsters. And even better – I don’t have to wait in a line halfway down the street just to grab a bite of that sweet, spicy poultry. And furthermore, I can grab a nice Cahaba Blonde with my food. The perfect Birmingham accent to Nashville Hot Chicken.
Traffic wasn’t too bad headed downtown for a game night. However, with Chattanooga FC in town, there were a lot more Tennessee license plates trying to navigate Red Mountain Expressway. Ha – good luck. They will never learn!
The Chattahooligans are famous for following their team on away games, and the short 3-hour drive down I-59 wasn’t going to keep them away from this match. I could tell that there would be more of them around this year compared to the last few seasons.
By the time the car dropped us off on 7th Avenue and 29th, I could feel the game day electricity in the air. Inisfree already had their doors wide open and patrons dressed in the red and yellow of the Birmingham Hammers were scurrying about all over the place. Music was coming from somewhere, maybe Oasis – we couldn’t tell though. On the other end of the street in an open parking lot, what looked like 500 or so Chattahooligans were eating, singing, dancing, and playing the drums. They were having a festive old time but chose to remain segregated from the 4,500 or so Hammers fans milling about. Smart move.
Our plan was Hattie B’s for a quick bite and then a meetup with the Magic City Brigade outside of Babalus for the march to the stadium. It’s not a long march, just 6 blocks. You can just see the stadium lights peaking over the treetops from there.
As the sun was setting, my friends and I looked around in amazement. Red and Yellow smoke engulfed the air around us. A drum line was keeping a methodical beat as the Brigade began the short 10-minute walk to Birmingham’s brand new soccer facility: Hammers Park.
“Hey, isn’t this the stadium that Oak Mountain will play in if they make the state championship game again next year,” some teenager asked behind us.
“Indeed it is… and that big BUSA soccer tournament held every year will hold its final matches on this field as well,” some random guy shouted.
But for tonight, the Birmingham Hammers were opening this brand new facility by hosting their NPSL rival from the Scenic City.
Hammers Park is not all that big – just about 5,000 seats arranged in a horseshoe configuration. It’s got more of a neighborhood feel to it when compared to the big stadium on the Northside of town. The open end of the stadium allows visitors in the facility to have a view of downtown Birmingham while watching the game. A simplistic scoreboard and a statue of Vulcan juggling a soccer ball that lights up brightly every time the home team scores are the only things blocking the view. The architects that designed this place knew what they were doing.
I passed my ticket to the lady at the gate and made my way to the supporters section on the other side of the stadium behind the goal. The general admission seats were already filling up quickly. When I sat down, there was a guy wearing a Birmingham Barons hat. He told me that he had never been to a soccer game, but could not believe how exciting the atmosphere was. Nothing like attending a baseball game.
I laughed with him and started talking about some of my favorite games I’ve been to: The USA opening match of the World Cup in South Africa. The MLS Cup Final between the Galaxy and RSL. I told him about the time I flew to Spain and watched El Classico. And as I looked around the grounds at the stadium slowly filling up as the players were warming up, a smile came to my face. Birmingham, my beloved hometown, had finally become a part of the global soccer community.
Well done Birmingham. Well done!