For many of us the distance and cost is prohibitive and we'll be awaiting news of the game in the early hours of the morning here in England, but for others it will be a chance to see the Clarets in action.
Members of our message board will be there, and one regular poster who uses the name of Rigsbyscat (I wonder which European capital he used to live in) it is almost as short a journey from home as it is for me when I go to the Turf.
Rigsbyscat will be hosting a few other US based Clarets and he's also instigated a link up with opposition fan Jarrett Campbell. Jarrett is the founder of the Carolina Railhawks Independent Supporters Club (a man after my own heart), a group called the Triangle Soccer Fanatics, and he's been in contact with us to pass on some information about our opposition so over to Jarrett.
We're excited about your visit to Cary, NC this summer and I'll try to answer any questions you have about our club, the match, etc.
A great place to start is our fan site - click HERE to see that. There you'll find daily updates on what's happening with all of our club sides and some video highlights to give you an idea of what play is like here in the States. There is also a page on the club at Wikipedia which I help maintain. It will answer most of your questions about the club's brief history.
I am also one of the aforementioned fans that named the club. A mate and I won a contest the club was having to name the team. RailHawks wasn't my first choice for the club (I wanted something more traditional), but it was a unique name that I thought was marketable enough in a very crowded pro sports industry in the United States to win the contest...and sure enough, I'm now the owner of 2 season tickets for life as a result of winning the contest. Click HERE to see the full story behind the name.
We play at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. Again, Wikipedia is a great resource to learn more about this wonderful ground.
I may be a bit biased, but I believe it is one of the best soccer parks in America, outside our first division (Major League Soccer). Of particular note, the United States National Team conducted their pre-World Cup training camps at the facility prior to both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday have both used the facility as a summer training sites in recent years.
The RailHawks are in the United Soccer Leagues First Division (USL-1). While there is no promotion and relegation between Major League Soccer (MLS) and USL-1 or USL-2, most people consider MLS to be our First Division and USL-1 to be our Second Division in this country. The talent gap between the two leagues is very small, with the exception of 1-3 players per MLS team where some high priced internationals are playing in MLS (think David Beckham, Claudio Lopez, and Juan Pablo Angel).
In our first season we made it to the semi finals of the US Open Cup, our equivalent to the FA Cup. We beat a Major League Soccer team (Chicago Fire) in the 3rd Round and then lost in extra time in the semi final to New England Revolution, a team that went on to win the Open Cup and to go to the MLS Cup final (league title game). In the League, we made the USL-1 playoffs and were eliminated by Seattle, the team that eventually won the USL-1 championship. So we were eliminated from both competitions by the eventual champions. Very respectable for our first season I think.
I'm sure many of you are questioning the decision to play our PDL team (U23 side). I'll explain a little about the PDL system in the USA. PDL stands for Premier Development League and it is an amateur league made up mostly of university age players. These players' primary "club" is their university side, but due to NCAA regulations that balance student life with athletics, they cannot play/practice year-round together. It is one of the quirks of the US system that hurts our ability to develop great soccer players, but nevertheless, that's the way it is.
Our university soccer system is very strong and many players that could be playing professionally in lower division sides in the US and Europe will go to college instead and get a degree, while getting their education paid for by playing sports. In order to maintain their eligibility to play for their university side for 4 years, they may not sign a professional contract during their playing time at university. That's where the PDL comes in. For the summer months when they are not in school, players from various universities come together to play in the PDL for their local clubs. Since PDL is an amateur league, the players do not forfeit their university eligibility.
Our U23 team is a virtual Select XI from the local university sides. The Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina has a fine tradition for college soccer and our team has a very strong roster. Last year, 8 of the players from our U23 side signed professional contracts as soon as they graduated from University. This season, Burnley will be facing a side with no fewer than 5 players from last year's NCAA National Championship team (Wake Forest University) along with quite a few top players from other local universities like Duke, University of North Carolina, North Carolina State, and Clemson. One player to watch in particular is Michael Videira. He graduated from Duke University this spring and was drafted by an MLS side but refused to sign a contract with them due to the long terms (5 years they wanted). Instead, he decided to wait until the international transfer window opened for the summer and find a European side to play for. So to keep himself available for a Bosman transfer rather than locking himself into a long term contract at lower pay, he decided to play for our PDL team until he could negotiate a contract he likes. Hopefully he will still be with us when you come but he could sign a deal at any day.
I actually believe that many of our PDL team members have more raw talent than our senior side, but just haven't been exposed to the professional environment long enough to refine that talent. Last year, our U23s played our senior side in an exhibition match that ended 1-0 to our senior side in a very close match.
Our supporters club would love to host any of you that travel to the USA to see Burnley play in North Carolina. If you're coming to the match, drop me a line and we'll plan to meet up before or after the match at a local pub. We can also probably help you out with some travel plans if necessary as one of our club members is a travel agent and we can get you some good hotel deals in the area through a rate we have negotiated for travelling supporters.
Tickets will be available on match day, cash or credit cards. The stadium seats 7,000 and our PDL team usually draws less than 500 per match so I do not foresee any problem whatsoever acquiring tickets at the last moment. In fact, the ticket manager told they have no plans to sell tickets in the South end (where our supporters usually gather) because they don't feel they'll need those seats.
As for where to sit, it will be very informal and people can move around to sit together as they like. Because the distances between clubs make away travel cost and time prohibitive, we don't segregate supporters or have a designated away section. For most of our league matches, it's remarkable if 5 away supporters show up in the stands. I'm sure the Claret-and-Blue clad faithful will find each other very quickly.
As far as pre-match and post-match activities. We do usually go to the Hibernian Pub in Cary post-match. Attendance is really dependent upon what night of the week it is and how the team did. For instance, a loss on a weeknight will not get many supporters out after the match. The team does try and get many of the players to come out after the match to the pub so it's usually a bit fun to socialize with the lads and joke about all the shots they missed.
Pre-match, our tradition is more aligned with the American tradition of tailgating. If you're not familiar with Tailgating, it's basically arriving in the carpark a few hours before kickoff, bringing a cooler full of beer, and some food. Big tailgates even bring a gas or charcoal grill and cook food right there in parking lot. Again, it really depends upon which night of the week it is as to how many of our supporters come out. For some weekend matches, we'll get 20-30 people together having a nice little party. For weeknight matches (like the Burnley game), many of us are coming from jobs and trying to commute across the Triangle to get to the match by kickoff so there is not much pre-match activity those nights. I would expect very little before the Burnley match.
I hope you guys will come out to the Hibernian afterwards though. I will try to print up some maps that we can pass around at the game. It's always fun to chat with other football supporters about their teams and every now and then, we might find a local who is interested in joining our club to support the RailHawks in addition to their primary allegiance.
For those of you at home I believe we are going to be able to get the game stream lived on the internet for you guys (no promises quite yet). It will either be free, or a minimal charge (about £3).
Do you have any other questions? If so fire away.