The ‘Baud, Charleston Battery’s Home Stadium
Every now and then, you find something great and fabulous in the most unexpected of places. Something that takes you by surprise, grabs your heartstrings and doesn’t want to let go. That something for soccer fans is the home of the Charleston Battery; Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina.
Anyone who has visited the 5100 seat stadium nestled near the tidal creeks, pine and oak trees, and seen the pristine pitch would be impressed by the stadium. Those that are fortunate to walk on field will tell you it is like a putting green from a world-class golf course. And those that know anything about the history of soccer will be in awe by enormous collection of soccer memorabilia from around the world housed in the stadium’s Three Lion’s Pub that is unlike anything else in North America, if not the planet.
The 5100 seat stadium is modeled after smaller stadiums in England and is located in the picturesque island town of Daniel Island about 15 minutes from downtown Charleston, SC,. Blackbaud stadium, opened in April of 1999, was the first privately funded professional soccer-specific stadium built in the United States. But the Battery haven’t always been so fortunate to call such a jewel home.
Prior to the move to Blackbaud, the club played its home matches at Stoney Field, a mix use field that was more was named “Stoney” for a reason.
The Battery first began to explore the possibility of building its own stadium around 1996. Team owner and founder of Blackbaud Software, Tony Baker, made the dream become a reality. Deciding to finance the stadium entirely with private funds and already owning the land that the software company’s headquarters was built on, the Battery had the spot for its future home.
“When you consider the ‘soccer landscape’ back in 1997 and 1998, when the project was being finalized, it was a remarkably bold move!” according to Charleston Battery president, Andrew Bell. The future of soccer in the US was in a very precarious spot. Major League Soccer was then in its second year and teams were playing in NFL stadiums. Other lower division soccer teams were playing in high school stadiums.
Blackbaud Stadium opened in April of 1999, a month before MLS Columbus Crew’s stadium. Battery fan Jeff Uyak remembers the move to Blackbaud to Stoney Field. ”I thought I died and gone to heaven compared to Stoney Field.”
“I bought season tickets prior to the construction of the stadium and have occupied the same seats ever since,” said Phil Bees. ”We rarely miss a game and frequently travel to away matches. The stadium has been terrific and it is reinforced every time we travel.”
Completed for a reported $5.6 million, the most impressive part of the stadium has to be the Three Lions Pub. At more than 5000 square feet, the Three Lions Pub houses one of the largest and most impressive collection of soccer memorabilia in North America. Scores of autographed jerseys, dozens of match balls, hundreds of scarves and other items impress even the most traveled and experience fans and players. The 40 or so foot long bar is covered in British pennies, there is a table made from a turnstile from Anfield , and the stain glass windows create a warm setting to grab a pint. The good folks at Vancouver Whitecaps TV compiled a fantastic piece on the stadium during their recent stay in Charleston for the Carolina Challenge cup and is well worth watching.
Dan Conover, of the fantastic CHS Soccer blog covering soccer in Charleston, is a recent fan of the game, but after experiencing some US and Portland Timber matches, it didn’t take him long to put his full support behind the local team.
“Blackbaud Stadium is one of the great under-appreciated gems of North American soccer, and I suspect one of the reasons I fell so hard for the Battery was simply the experience of walking into this low-key footy palace for the first time.” Dan explains.
“It was the opening match of the Carolina Challenge Cup, a cold evening in February, and here’s the buzzing crowd in a classic European-style stadium, and I just wanted to soak up every detail. To be a soccer fan in the Southeast is to be something of an outsider, but when you go to Blackbaud Stadium and soccer is at the forefront of everything they do, you feel like the Bee Girl in that Blind Melon music video when she finds the place where all the other Bee People are grooving.”
And Dan is right. Blackbaud stadium gives fans something that you can’t find many places; a sense of community, a sense of home. When you walk past the cannons that stand in front of the entrance you know you are going into some place special. It’s where the much hyped Freddy Adu scored his first professional goal. Where one spring night Carlos Valderrama was seen sitting in the “cheap seats” after he retired. Where local legends are made and hundreds of other stories are shared in the stands and at the pub.
“The stadium has been the site of so many incredible soccer moments it’s really hard to imagine a Charleston without it.” Andrew Bell said. ”We are all incredibly proud of our facility here at the Charleston Battery and are also very aware of its place in the timeline of the sport in the modern era.”