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Local Beer, Local Soccer - “Beer in the Land of the Bear: Beer and Soccer Culture in Alabama.”

Good People Brewing Co. showing their soccer love.

By David VanLandingham

Historic Legion Field is best known for its college football history. This stadium in Birmingham, Alabama used to be home to the Iron Bowl, an annual clash between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Tigers of Auburn University. This field saw Joe Namath run through the mud and Bo Jackson go over the top. Few know that the stadium attendance record was set for a futbol match and not a football game.

During the first round of the 1996 Summer Olympics soccer tournament, 83,810 fans entered Legion Field to see a group of scrappy yanks take on mighty Argentina. Fans were shocked to see Claudio Reyna give the Americans a lead in the first minute. The United States put up a valiant effort for ninety minutes. Unfortunately, the Argentines proved to be too strong and took the match by a final score of 3-1.

While Alabama might still love football over futbol, a legacy has been established in this state and the state of soccer is strong in Alabama. Birmingham continued to host both the US Men and Women’s national teams until 2003, when the city replaced Legion Field’s natural grass with artificial turf. Legion Field was effectively dropped as a potential venue for future games. While this didn’t help the sport, it definitely did not kill soccer in the state.

Alabama is the birthplace of both Cat Reddick, former national player for the US Women’s team, and Philadelphia Union forward Chandler Hoffman. Hoffman is the first Alabama native taken in the MLS Superdraft. He played college soccer at UCLA where he had an opportunity to come back to Alabama and play one game when Hoover, AL hosted the 2011 Men’s College Cup.

Reddick and Hoffman grew up in a state with an international population thanks to automobile manufacturing, a port city, and a renowned medical school. These factors, among others, have made it a common occurrence to see pick up games where balls are at a person’s foot as opposed to tossed through the air. These pick up soccer games are almost always attended by footballers of multiple nationalities. In fact, it is a fairly rare occurrence to see a game attended by players from only one country.

Combine an international population with the growing popularity of youth soccer and it is apparent why the American Outlaws have begun to take hold of Alabama. Two chapters are currently forming in Birmingham and Mobile. As they garner members, the lone active in the state has welcomed members across the state with open arms. Huntsville is the only current chapter in Alabama and it has been holding strong since June of 2011.

Everyone knows proper American Outlaw chapters cannot exist without good beer. Alabama has that covered. With seven breweries in Alabama, the availability of a good craft brew is not hard to find.

Alabama is known for it’s backward beer laws. Until 2009, beer could not have more than a 6% alcohol volume and it was not until May 16, 2012 that beer could be purchased in containers bigger than 16 ounces. Home brewing is still technically illegal in the state and there are various restrictions on limiting the availability of Brew Pubs.

These laws have not stopped the concerned beer drinkers of Alabama from taking action. Free the Hops, a non-profit advocacy organization started in 20--, has the lead the charge of better beer coming to Alabamians. Their constant phone calls and non-stop advocacy have changed the beer scene in Alabama dramatically over the past few years. Through their tireless efforts, beer drinkers have a much better selection today than they did four years ago and Alabama now has gourmet beer festivals for brewers from all over the world to show off their beverages. As Jason Malone, co-owner and Brewer of Good People Brewing Company puts it, “Case studies should be written on the successful advocacy of Free the Hops.”

While Alabama might not be the bastion for soccer or beer, many of its citizens are looking to change that. Free the Hops and the local breweries are tirelessly fighting to get better beer in this state. The American Outlaws are spreading the “Unite and Strengthen” message every time someone, somewhere steps onto a pitch. There might be a long way to go before everyone enjoys futbol instead of football, but ya’ll are always welcome to come and visit. Until that day, this writer has a date with some Good People.

About David

David VanLandingham is based out of Birmingham, AL and works down the street from one of the Alabama breweries, the Avondale Brewing Company. He played soccer for years until he determined he was a better supporter than a midfielder. He can still be found in the occasional pick up game or adult league. For more information on Alabama breweries, Free the Hops, or the American Outlaws in Alabama please contact him at dwvanlan@gmail.com. He is currently helping to form the Birmingham American Outlaws chapter, but he happily will get you in touch with Mobile or Huntsville.

Tags: Beer, Local Soccer Local Beer

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