"I'd also advise that you consume no more alcohol for at least 20 minutes after."
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Jeremy Sharpe is one of the founding members of Bearfight FC, an amateur team in Wilmington, Delaware. He explains the teams story and ethos, the reason behind the name and what a Bearfight really is, and his hope that a home for Bearfight FC is not far off. Check it out.
Tell me a little about yourself. Who are you, where are you from, and what your role is with Bearfight FC.
I'm Jeremy Sharpe. I am one of the founding members of Bearfight FC and the club president.
I'm from the Philly suburbs via western New York.
How did you come to be a fan of soccer?
As a child, at 5 or 6 years old (I'm now 40), I started playing ice hockey. One of my coaches suggested I play soccer in the off season to help with conditioning and coordination. My parents found a youth soccer club, and I played though high school. There wasn't soccer on tv on US television, but there was indoor soccer to watch and soccer to be played. I almost instantly feel in love with the sport.
I would try to keep track of the US national team, which was damn near impossible until the World Cup came to the states.
What's the story behind the creation of Bearfight FC?
As my stories start more often than not, Justin Lee and I were having a few beers at Stoney's British Pub in Wilmington, Delaware. It's our Winchester. We were discussing the US Open Cup. The USOC Twitter account had tweeted that no amateur club from Delaware had ever entered the USOC. As two guys that had cut our teeth in the late 80's and early 90's DIY punk rock and hardcore scenes, we have this belief that we can accomplish anything and the egos to believe that we were the right people to start a club. We brought in 2 other guys we knew through the Philly soccer supporters scene (Eric Shertz and Mark 'Bolton' Dunfee) to help us. We had no start up capitol and no idea what we were doing.
But we did know that soccer is the greatest sport in the world, and we saw the disconnect between soccer fans and their clubs in the US. We talked about how big money and corporate sponsorships took a sport and made it a business. We wanted to create something different. Something that could connect people directly with every part of a club.
We looked at clubs in Europe like FC United of Manchester (Not Manchester United) and AFC Wimbledon as examples of fans being the owners of their club and having a say. Taking away the plumb card that says only owners and corporate sponsors can dictate your sport and giving to the fans and making a real, grassroots organization. Very DIY. Make a sports club be what it's meant to be: a community, a family. Make it something that every individual can feel is part of who they are.
So, there was boring stuff like paperwork, and we've yet to enter the USOC, but on August 15th, 2013, with no players, very little money, and punk rock attitudes, Justin, Eric, and I announced, at Stoney's pub, that, a month later, Bearfight FC of Wilmington would play their first match in a Pennsylvania amateur league, the Intercounty Soccer League V.
We started a membership drive, $20 per member to be a part of BFFC, sold merchandise with our logo which was created by an amazing artist called Jesse Lorenz, and ran events to raise money. We wanted a club that was supported by a member base that raised money to pay for everything a player for BFFC needed like kits, league fees, field time, etc. So far, 3 years in, our players have been covered. We created a board, got a state non profit number, and made Bearfight FC a reality.
And we are planning to enter the USOC in 2017.
Nothing like a little DIY. First, props to the Winchester/Shaun of the Dead reference. Second, you said Bearfight is actually playing in a Pennsylvania soccer league. Does Delaware not have a league for the team to play in?
Delaware does not. There are a good amount of adult club teams, but they are indoor leagues or pick up/ pub league situations. They aren't registered as recognized leagues. One of our long term goals is to build a competitive adult league in Delaware. We are still without an official home field in Delaware, but though one of our board members, Andrew 'Hammer' Miller, we are working to have that resolved and have a home pitch in Wilmington in 2017.
You mean Bearfight FC will hopefully have it's own Soccer Specific Field in 2017?
Well, we play every match as an away match right now. I don't want to say too much right now, but we found a sports field in Wilmington, DE that is all but abandoned, being used only a few times a year for rugby. It's a city owned field. We are working with the city to see if we can get soccer lines put in, get goals purchased, and help the city transform this old, dilapidated park into our home (shared with the rugby club), and a center for positive community activity in Wilmington.
Awesome! That something a lot more teams, especially on the amateur level, should look to do. Working with the city to create a field that's also accessible to the community. This question might seem redundant, but what does the soccer scene in Delaware look like? You don't hear much about it on the national scene.
There is a good amount of youth soccer, as is the case in a lot of the northeast and tri state area. There are good college programs at the University of Delaware and Wilmington University. There are a few indoor complexes in the city of Wilmington that support small adult and youth leagues. We have met a lot of immigrants, mostly south American and Mexican, that live in Wilmington and the suburbs, that play pick up, but nothing very organized. We are hoping to work with them to establish a USASA adult league. Soccer seems to be a very suburbanite sport in Wilmington at the youth levels. Long term, we hope to establish ourselves in the city proper and grow the game in some of the cities more challenging areas at the youth level.
Do you think making it into the US Open Cup would go a long way towards making that reality, along with drawing more attention to the team?
It would help. But, even more important is our members, our board, and our players getting involved in our local community. That person to person connection is greater than any on pitch victory we could achieve. Being there to give an adult, child, or community something positive, letting them know we have their back, is far greater victory than any trophy could ever provide.
What does the support for the team look like right now, both from the community at large and the community around the team in particular?
Our support growth is slow but steady. We haven't achieved the member numbers we had hoped for by Year 3, but we have a very loyal, very dedicated group. Since we have yet to have an established home pitch in Wilmington, we have not gotten into the community much more than a few fundraisers for the local children's hospital, but this will all be changing in 2017. The board will be planning community outreach in the city. Getting that pitch secured is step one.
One of our founders, and our former vice president, Justin Lee, once said, 'Anyone who tells you they've never needed help from anyone else is lying'. I always remember that. To me it means that all of us at BFFC has, at some point, relied on the kindness, friendship, and love of another to get us through something. We now have the responsibility to do the same for others and we damn well will pay it forward.
Since you've been around for a few years, what are two big success and two failures you've had since starting the team, and what did you learn from them?
Our first success is that we exist and we've stayed true to our ideals. We, Year Two, had a lower tier pro league approach us about purchasing a franchise. We could have easily shopped BFFC around to big money investors and corporate sponsors, and we knew we could sell it, but it would go against the core spirit of our grassroots mission and ideals. We decided to stay our course.
Our second greatest success is the diversity of our player, coach, and member base. We have people born all over the world that have been part of this club. We have had players born in Columbia, Mexico, Liberia, the United States, England, and all over the world. We had a coach from Denmark. We've had players that have played on their home countries youth national teams, and one that played for the USMNT Senior squad. Our diversity, our inclusion of all people and players, regardless of race, religion, political ideology, sexual preference, etc is, so far, our greatest measure of success.
Two failures... Well, I don't believe that we have failures, just growth opportunities. Our lack of a home pitch in Wilmington is the biggest growth opportunity we have, and that will be sorted soon.
Our second is that we have a, so far, missed opportunity in getting our message out to a bigger audience, not just the Wilmington and Philly area, but to a US soccer fanbase that, we feel, wants to have a direct connect with their sport. That want a club that gives them a voice, that wants to look at the higher level establishment of USA soccer at the pro and semi pro level and say, 'Fuck you, we want to do it our own way.' We saw, for a moment, Nashville FC have success in a similar model until corporate money screwed them out of their club. This club will stay the course, will continue that ideal, and hope you'll join us as members. We aren't just a soccer club, we aim to be that huge middle finger pointed at Don Garber, at Sunil Gulati, and at the establishment in this country that has taken the game, the game we love, and sold it to the highest bidder. This game exists because of the fans. Our second biggest opportunity is growing that message; is proving that the vision of a few people in a pub who love the real sport of soccer can build a community that makes an impact on how this sport operates in the United States.
Lets do an off the wall question that just came into my head. You get a magic wand and control of US Soccer for the day. After being involved in the lower levels, what three things do you change?
First, how we develop players, starting at the youth levels. I watch my nieces and nephews play youth soccer. They aren't getting the coaching and development needed at the lowest levels. Mom and Dad soccer coach aren't cutting it. USA soccer needs to develop proper coaches at all levels to build this sport in the United States.
Second, our 'academys', elite youth programs, and national developmental teams need to be accessible to all players. It appears to be mired in politics and money and not true development. It isn't accessible to all players, just the players with the best connections and most money.
Third, we need to drop the mentality Americans have about our players at all levels. We love the underdog, workhorse player. We seem to value that over skill. We heard all kinds of hype on Jordan Morris, who is a hell of a hard worker, very blue collar, and has value, but overlooked Christian Pulisic, a much more fluent, skilled player, but much less blue collar. We need to realize that soccer is a skill sport and value those skill players over the blue collar guy. I love an underdog as much as the next guy, but soccer is a skill sport. It isn't American football that has a history of blue collar type guys constantly succeeding to be champions. This is soccer, it's skill first.
We should be dominating the world soccer scene, but we've, for years, valued the wrong type of player and sold the game as the safe from injury sport to mom and dad. We need to realize this is a skill sport with contact. We need the skill of a top level NBA point guard, the toughness of an NFL linemen, and the creativity of NHL playmaker to succeed in this sport at the highest level.
But, ultimately, this vision, this idea, this experiment that is Bearfight FC, does not succeed just on me, or just my ideas. It succeeds only when many people, with many different ideas and ideals, come together, join us, have their say, and build something unique. This is not my club, this isn't the board's club, this isn't coach Todd's club, or BFFC captain's club, this is YOUR club, this is OUR collective club. We succeed when all of you, from wherever you are from, from whatever background you are from, supporting whatever club(s) or national teams you support, join in and have a say, have a voice, and join us to help grow the truest form of this game we love. Memberships are always available here, https://bearfight-fc.ticketleap.com/bearfight-fc-2016-2017-season-membership/. I'm always available to talk or answer questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
I'm curious about the name. Bearfight. I like it, but what is the story behind it?
Okay, the Bearfight is an alcoholic drink, or, more specifically, a combo of 2 drinks. A car bomb and jager bomb. Back in 2010, a few of us started doing these before Philly Union matches. A few grew and grew, and this off shoot group of supporters formed called the Bearfight Brigade. From there, Justin, Eric, and I took that passion of the group and used it to start Bearfight FC.
Well before we go any further, what is the full recipe for a Bearfight, for those who might want to enjoy this, say, this weekend?
Car bomb: Half a can of Guinness with a shot of 1/2 Irish cream, 1/2 Irish whisky.
Jager bomb, 1/2 can of monster (we are Philly fans so we refuse to consume red bull) with a shot a jagermeister. Drop the whisky and Irish cream shot in the Guinness and chug. Do the same with the jager bomb.
So claim they in a few minutes it will feel like two bears fighting in your stomach.
I'd also advise that you consume no more alcohol for at least 20 minutes after.
These days, Bearfight, in its FC form, means something very different. The little supporter group, the Bearfight Brigade, spoke of giving every voice a say, everyone a seat at the table, so to speak. BFFC has taken that ideal, scaled back the drinking and tomfoolery, upped the DIY punk attitude, and opened our figurative door to anyone that wants to be a part of this
Now, since you guys are actually only the second team I've seen from Delaware in US soccer, what exactly is the state like, and how would you describe Wilmington to an outsider?
Delaware is a state that is such a dichotomy. The northern part of the state is pharmaceutical companies, restaurants, and malls. Southern, or Lower Delaware, as they call it, is very rural.
Wilmington is a city full of potential that has fallen on tough times and lost its way. Crime has gone up over the last decade and there doesn't seem to be a lot of support to fix the current issues. But, like everywhere, the city is populated by great people. Maybe they feel forgotten or ignored. Maybe they are seeing a lot of darkness and not enough light. I'm not sure, but I know that if we can get in there and help people reinvest in themselves and in the community, this is a city with tremendous potential to be awesome.
Do you think soccer is something that can help with that by giving people in the city something to rally around?
Yes, I absolutely do. Sports, music, art, these things matter in a society. They are a springboard to a sense of community. They have the power to connect and uplift people.
Let's dive into this a little, since all three of these things, when done right, can be done together. Are there any plans to use Bearfight FC as a potential platform for bringing the other two to people's attention?
By three things, I assume you mean music, arts, and sport?
Yes, those three.
Officially, there is no plan as of yet. That said, I've got some ideas kicking around in the back of my head for the future.
Any ideas you can share, or is this just too much of a 'down the road' kind of topic?
Too much down the road. We have some very talented musicians, artists, performers, and athletes involved in various roles in this club. I'm excited at the prospect of bringing that all together some day.
It's still cool to see you thinking about this even if it isn't something that will be happening right away. What league exactly is the club competing in right now, and how would you describe the level of competition?
We are in the Intercounty Soccer League in eastern Pennsylvania. It is, in my opinion, more competitive than an adult pub league. The top of the table clubs are always in competition for the USOC amateur slots in this region. It's taken us to the home of storied amateur clubs like the Ukrainians (former USOC winners), German- Hungarians, and local Philly legend club Lighthouse. We strive to have the kind of programs these clubs have in their communities.
Does Vereinigung Erzgebrige play in your league?
They did. We went to their home last season. Very impressive program, even more impressive facility. There was a piece of the Berlin Wall at the entrance to their facility. It was awe inspiring to walk up and see a piece of the wall. It was humbling. The result, heavily in their favor, was humbling in a very different way.
I interviewed them awhile back. I'd love to visit their facility sometime. Since you play against a lot ethnic clubs with legitimate clubhouses and facilities, how has that influenced what you want your own facilities to be like one day?
Someday, we'd love to buy a piece of land in or around Wilmington. Bear, Delaware seems like the logical choice, although I'd love something in the heart of the city. Someday, we will have a facility that rivals any of those clubs. When we went to the Ukkies the first time, Justin Lee and I were allowed to go in their ballroom that also houses their trophies. I saw their USOC trophies and it gave me goosebumps. It inspires all of us to keep grinding.
There are a lot of old clubs like Ukrainians with mind boggling trophy rooms. One team I interviewed, Yemen Elite, in Buffalo, NY, actually bought a small building and turned it into a community center as well as club house. Something like that might work out for you when the time comes. Since you look like you're getting ready to move into a new era of the clubs history, where do you hope to have Bearfight FC five years from now?
On the pitch, 5 years from now, our senior club will always be in the USOC amateur qualifying discussion. We will be making waves in The Amateur Cup every year. We will have a youth club. I hope we are discussing the idea of purchasing land to build a facility. Off the pitch, we will have a positive community presence in Wilmington. We want our four core values (Loyalty. Inclusion. Family. Pride) to be an integral part, and associated with not just Bearfight FC, but the city of Wilmington. Membership wise, we hope to have a large member base comprised of soccer fans all across the United States, and all over the country that, like us, believes in the true grassroots meaning of the sport and is sick of our culture being auctioned off to the highest bidder and out of the hands of the true supporters and lovers of the sport. We want US soccer to look at us and be a scared of the movement we have built.
If someone where to come up to you and ask you about becoming a member of Bearfight, how would you describe membership to them?
Bearfight FC is not my club, it's our club. It's for everyone. As we grow, we will be introducing elections for the board members, members at large positions, and real programs that make every member know that they have a say in this clubs future. We will encourage and aid in members reaching out and being involved in their local communities. We won't be just a sports club, just a soccer club, but an organization that is aware of it's responsibility to the communities where it's members reside.
We will work to put programs in place to help members start their own BFFC clubs in their communities. We will look at prospects like financial feasibility of buying into lower tier leagues like NPSL and USL. And we will not sell our club and our members out to the highest bidder. We will keep our ideals intact. We will live our values statement of 'Loyalty. Inclusion. Family. Pride.' and 'Live Like Shertz'. We will succeed both on and off the pitch. This is our shared passion and we will achieve it together.
Are you hoping to do something similar to the German '50+1' model with the club?
I love that model. Every league in the world should operate under that model. The club we most strive emulate, and that we most identify with, is FC United of Manchester. Fully owned and operated by members. A real community.
Art Credit: Jesse Lorenz
Solid group. May be having some issues, but it makes it easier for teams like them to do things a little different to avoid the same, I guess you could say, 'mistakes.' Ready for some more rapid fire questions?
What's your favorite league and/or team to watch for fun?
Favorite players, one past, one present.
Past, I have 2 Americans. First, the first player to wear the captains armband in Philly, and the second player to wear the captains armband for Bearfight, a man I call a brother, Danny Califf. Second, the best women's soccer player ever, Abbey Wambach.
Present ... Gylfi Sigurdsson
Sigurdsson! There's an underrated player. What are your two favorite beers to drink when watching a game?
If I'm spending a few bucks, anything made by Victory Brewing or Dogfish Head. If my budget is limited, Natty Boh. And underrated is an understatement for Gylfi. He was the heart, soul, and anchor of the Icelandic team the world feel in love with in the Euros.
Do you have any books, soccer related or not, that you recommend to people?
I'll just tell you what books are in the room I'm in. Everywhere We Go by Dougie and Eddy Brimson, Terrace Legends by Cass Pennant and Martin King, Fever Pitch by Bruce Hornby, Profiles in Courage by John F Kennedy, Good Afternoon, The Name's Bill Gardner, and Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
Good Afternoon, The Name's Bill Gardner is written by Bill Gardner and Cass Pennant
Interesting. Would you rather go to the AFC Nations Cup, Euros, or World Cup?
Can I just go to all 3?
If you have the money, sure. Why not? Last question and I'll let you go. What would you like to say to the people about why they should get out there and support lower level soccer by attending games, buying memberships, and getting involved?
It's the sport in its truest form. The players are only there for their love of the game. This is the world's game. It has the ability, in its most pure form, to strengthen families, form relationships, change communities, and the world. But it's only possible to do all these things if we are all a part of it.
Before we end, I just want to say that BFFC and myself, personally, owe a great debt of gratitude to our members. Keep believing in this. Personally, BFFC's board, Big Kev, Hammer, Sarah, and Ami, you cats inspire me. Our coach, Kieran Todd, you are a leader of men and a brother. Justin, one of our founding members, you helped lay the foundation. Your passion for life is awesome. Eric Shertz, the heart and soul of BFFC. Founding member that left us way too young. You represent the best in all of us. May we continue to forge this in your image. Having your son, Gabe, playing for us is a source of pride I can never explain.
And my wife, my love, my rock, Kimber. You are the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. You inspire me to keep grinding, you believe in me, and you keep my feet on the ground while encouraging me to keep my head in the clouds and dreaming big. Our BFFC family will continue to grow and succeed.
That's a great close. Jeremy, thanks again for taking the time to help make this happen. Remember, if you are enjoying the weekly content coming out on AP you can Follow AP on Twitter, or Like AP on Facebook. And if you want make sure you never miss an interview, and want to read articles before everyone else, click here and sign up for the Newsletter. You'll be the first to know when articles are released and learn about other exciting content down the road.
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