The International Champions Cup is coming to Charlotte this weekend. European soccer club Arsenal FC will take Fiorentina at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday. It will be the club's first appearance in the Queen City and it's predicted to draw thousands of fans into uptown.
Michael Petko is the president of the Queen City Gooners, a local fan club for Arsenal which is hosting a number of events through the weekend, and he joins WFAE's Nick de la Canal to talk about Charlotte's soccer-filled weekend.
De la Canal: So how big of a deal is it to have Arsenal and Fiorentina playing in Charlotte this weekend?
Petko: I can't speak for Fiorentina fans, but for Arsenal fans it's great. It's amazing. They don't come over very often. So for Charlotte, to get picked was huge.
De la Canal: What kind of events do you guys have planned?
Petko: Well tonight starts off the kickoff tonight at Ri Ra Charlotte. That's our home pub, we meet for all the games here during the season. And basically, we've got a question and answer session with a pretty big Arsenal blogger, also a pretty big YouTube Arsenal account. Robbie Lyle and Andrew Mangum from ARS blog are going to be here for a question and answer series. This is open for everybody to come and listen in and ask questions and then tomorrow from 10 in the morning to about 4 o'clock in the afternoon Ri Ra has actually closed off Tryon street in front of the pub and we're going to have like a big street party, tailgate, band, and food and all kinds of good stuff. And an Arsenal legend is going to come by and sign some stuff.
De la Canal: The Queen City Gooners, your fan club, was founded in 2011. Tell us how it got started.
Petko: Myself and one other guy who's not really involved anymore kind of looked around, and we knew a lot of Arsenal fans that we either played soccer with or just interacted with. And we'd always watch games at home or with family members and that kind of thing. And we kind of looked at each other we're like, well we know a lot of people, you know, there's an organization called Arsenal America out there that allows branches to be formed, and then we got together and found a pub and started there. Pretty meager start but it's grown a lot.
De la Canal: And have you actually seen Arsenal play live before?
Petko: I actually have. I’ve been very fortunate. I went over in 2007 with my dad to watch a game. And then I took my family. We went over a couple of years back and saw them as well.
De la Canal: Is this the first time that they've played in Charlotte as far as you know?
Petko: Oh absolutely yeah. They don't come over very often. There's definitely a market that they do see over here, but they do split time between Asia and other countries during their offseason tours. But yeah. This is the first time, and probably the first time for a long time, that they will be in Charlotte for sure.
De la Canal: Soccer seems to be enjoying a boost in popularity in the U.S. and part of that might be attributed to the U.S. women's soccer team. But it certainly seems to be a way to go before catching up to, say, football. Why do you think that is and do you think that's changing?
Petko: I do think that it’s changing quite a bit. I know it's one of the most popular youth sports for sure. Both my boys play for the local team here at Charlotte Soccer Academy and they're huge. And I know it's huge in the youth area and, you know, with some of the problems that the NFL saw with concussions and that kind of stuff I think a lot of parents are starting to see. And not that you can't get concussions in soccer, obviously, but parents are starting to see the value in the game and starting to understand it a little bit more. There is definitely a long way to go. I do agree with you as far as popularity-wise.
De la Canal: Charlotte may be emerging as a soccer town, you know we have the Gold Cup and now the International Champions Cup for the next five years. Panthers owner David Tepper is also lobbying for a Major League Soccer team. What's your hope for soccer in the Charlotte area moving forward?
Petko: Oh my gosh, that would be amazing. I think if we did do the MLS and brought that here it would be an amazing thing. I think the city will be ready for it. I think we've got a lot of interest in it. It’s a growing city, again having such good youth teams around that could be the youth system very similar to what Atlanta United did. I think it could really catch on and be amazing here in Charlotte.