"So you want all our secrets, huh?"
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Hello faithful AP readers! Got a good one for you today. Guerrilla FC is part soccer team, part brand, all funky fresh. You've probably seen their killer uniforms already, and if you haven't, you'll see them in the interview. Justin Salhani graciously took some time to answer questions over email about the design process of their uniforms, the importance of a team's identity, and his love of Arsenal. Check it out.
Click Play, and enjoy a smooth beat as you read this interview.
Tell readers a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Guerrilla FC.
I'm the founder of Guerrilla FC. I'm a professional journalist from the DC area and I lived in Beirut, Lebanon for around 5 years before I started the team. I guess you could say I'm the vision/brain behind Guerrilla's identity and a group of people in and around our team helps make that vision a reality.
How did you come to be a fan of the beautiful game?
My dad's family is big into the game and watching WC '94 at age 7 is what pushed me into the world of football.
What's the story behind the creation of Guerrilla FC?
Guerrilla FC is the story of our players. We are the creative, skillful types who were often let down by the American system. Many coaches tried to eradicate our creativity to no avail.
The name Guerrilla is a representation of our values. We act in subversion to the city we are in (a city dominated by politics with little football culture to speak of) and as subversives to what American soccer represents -- pay to play, suburban culture with orange slices and minivans (you can see more on our website guerrillafc.com/about). MLS might be slowly improving but the culture around the game was often suppressed in order to attract families.
In 2015, I moved back to the DC area from Lebanon. I was in touch with a number of college teammates who wanted to form a club and play consistent football again. It took some time to work out the kinks but in May 2016, while on my bachelor party, we laid the groundwork for Guerrilla FC.
We decided we wanted to build a club that had a strong creative and footballing identity. While every club strives to be unique and different, we felt that by building a creative community around our team we'd be different than anything else available in the DC area. So essentially our goal is to be artistic, on and off the pitch.
The original founders were Ryan Symons (now our business director), Julian Forte (director of football), Nason Khomassi, and myself.
That's something I'm really curious about, the artistic, creative culture you're building around the club. I've interviewed some other teams who are interested in doing that kind of thing, but their teams have already launched. As far as I know, Guerrilla FC is the only club in the states that has had this as a goal from inception. What does that type of club culture look like, and how has it helped to make you different from the other teams in the region?
We've been very brand conscious from the start. Everything we do has to stay in line with our values while maintaining a fashionable/stylish aesthetic. We work closely with designers (on the team and off) so that we are very detail oriented. We're trying to build a devotion and connection to and around our team. We do that through art, fashion, and design. These elements create an emotional connection with our message and our club.
When we first started out, we weren't sure if we'd have enough guys to form a team. We talked logically about dollars and cents and a few guys were hesitant. Then when we showed them we had a logo, an Instagram, and some basic kits with original font and numbering -- all in line with our identity -- requests to join started pouring in.
We had an event to unveil our newest kit last Friday. The vibe was very relaxed. The venue was filled with art, some related to resistance, and some related to football culture and fashion. Everyone was dressed in a very stylish manner, not always found in DC.
I think we're also different because our vision isn't shallow. We are football connoisseurs, football hipsters, even. Raymond An, our ambassador who also manages our Instagram, has dozens of unique and fashionable football kits from around the world. I'm a licensed coach. Our team's debates about the game are often a lot more nuanced than the norm. We discuss footballing philosophies and ideology.
We've been lucky to bring together a unique group with depth, knowledge, and passion for the project.
I've found that a lot of teams, at least based on their current branding, don't quite seem to understand that soccer isn't as simple as 'if you build it, they will come.' How would you explain the importance of taking the time to not only get your branding right, but also make sure it's unique in some capacity?
For us it was everything. Look, we understand some teams just want to show up Sunday morning to play and then tailgate Sunday afternoon at an MLS game, and that's fine.
We felt we wanted more. We wanted to create an entire culture, where the game's tenets were different. Like we've mentioned, we reject the American soccer model, the overarching American soccer culture and are trying to put forward one that welcomes creativity, flair, and genuine football (not American sports) culture. For us, football isn't what you watch alongside the NFL or the NBA. For us, football is everything.
So our branding is the visual culmination of our values and our message. Without it, we wouldn't have the identity we do. We wouldn't attract the type of players or personalities that have added that extra flair, culture, or intelligence to our squad.
We never worried about being unique, to be honest. We always knew our idea of a club would be different from what's out there, even in the 'football culture' world. Part of that is due to the nature of Washington, DC and the United States. And part of that is the personalities that run our team and the philosophical identity we've instilled in our squad.
What did the process of creating your logo look like from start to finish? Was it a lengthy process, or did you come upon your look pretty quickly?
We've been fortunate to have a few talented designers in our community, including our creative director Travis Akiwowo and Carine Mechref - who the guys have dubbed Queen G.
The logo was designed by Khoi Bi Phan, who is based in New York but is a close friend of all the founders. It was a pretty quick turn around. I built a Pinterest page with the type of identity and style I wanted Guerrilla to have.
Khoi took that and created a beautiful logo in a greenscale camouflage. We initially used that but decided to switch it to the current black and white version after a couple months.
You recently released your new jersey, which is quite possibly the most unique jersey in all of American Sports. Walk me through the process of designing that beauty, from concept to choosing a manufacturer. And how did you convince Macron to do this jersey? Most of the teams I talk to don't seem to think unique jerseys like this are possible at their level.
So you want all our secrets, huh?
As I've mentioned, we have a few talented designers in our ranks. We started designing ideas for a kit early on based on our ideals and identity. A lot of that was the brilliant work of Travis Akiwowo. When we had an idea in mind, we started reaching out to brands.
Macron was incredibly receptive. They recognized the potential in what we were trying to do and their Connecticut-based operation reached out to us and we spoke for a half hour about the state of the game here and what we were trying to do. Our team worked together to select a gray-scale camouflage shirt that Macron custom made in their factory in Bologna, Italy. They took around three months to make and ship to us.
After we selected the canvas, we worked with a the uber-talented Carine Mechref. We wanted to make something fashionable that can be worn off the pitch as easily as on it. Her background as a designer and her incredible eye for detail matched the popping colors with things footballers might often overlook, like font design, size, etc.
Working with Carine was awesome because we brought that football knowledge and she brought in knowledge of fashion and design. She dared to try things normal football enthusiasts wouldn't. The result, as you can see, is a piece of artwork attractive to even those who could care less about football.
We must give massive credit here also to Guerrilla co-founder Julian Forte. All the print on the kit was his work and hand pressed on. This isn't something any team can do. We were fortunate enough to have a team of artists with various skills and equipment to do this. That's also why the jerseys cost what they do. It took lots of tireless work and all the money we make goes to cover costs and right back into the team.
I also want to say, we always wanted to try things out we haven't seen on a kit before. Professional teams have to appeal to a mass market. We don't, so we have more freedom to dare and take risks. We hope this is just the first of a line of beautiful kits to come.
I don't mind secrets, but I love stories, and the creative process behind your jersey has me all kinds of intrigued. Let's turn our focus to the pitch. Admittedly, I don't know much about the DC scene. I know a couple of people out there, like Ken Tebo who's building up the Beltway Premier League, but most of what I hear is there isn't much going on. What does the soccer scene in DC look like, and what league does Guerrilla FC play in?
I'd say the DC metro area is pretty healthy. There's plenty of competitive leagues. Each one has a couple decent teams. There's the WPL which has a lot of ex-collegiate players and some guys who are still trying to play professionally. There's also the NVSL in Northern Virginia which has decent competition. There are a number of leagues based on a certain culture or ethnicity that are okay too, unfortunately, one of the better ones recently shut down. It was a Bolivian League.
If you go further south to Woodbridge, VA there's some competitive leagues too. There were two major problems we found. In DC proper, most leagues are aimed at the upper middle class white people who come and work in the government or on Capitol Hill for a couple years then leave. Leagues like WPL and NVSL are competitive but the travel time can be a pain and unlike the cultural leagues they have no atmosphere. No fans, no banners, nothing like that.
Guerrilla FC currently plays in two DC-based 7-aside leagues. There are some decent teams and players but I wouldn't rate the quality extremely high. For us at the moment, it's to build the culture. We want to build our ideals and I think that's easier said and done when you start off at a moderate level of competition.
Our long-term goal is to build a multi-tiered 7-aside league in the heart of the city that is made up of clubs with identity, culture, and a fan-base. We want to make playing in this league an artistic event, heavily featuring design, art, and fashion. It's a long road ahead but we've had a lot of success so far in the 10 months or so we've been around.
How do other teams, or people interested in starting teams themselves, respond to your ideas and vision?
When we started out, other teams in the area were supportive but I felt a bit of skepticism. I think others have tried to build a culture around a team and our ideas were very ambitious. I'm not sure they went according to plan the same way ours have. We've had relatively few set backs along the way. But all in all we've had a lot of support.
In the creative community though we had a lot of early support. That's continued every step of the way. We've also tried to reciprocate where possible. Some people have reached out and said we've inspired them to start their own creative brand/club/etc. and we're happy to hear it and help out if we can.
Lately it's been all love and support.
There are currently some efforts being made to introduce a more structured league setup to the DC area. What do you make of all this, as a guy who's on the ground, actively involved with a team?
I don't really know enough about that to comment. Again, there's a lot of different, quality leagues in the DC metro area. But in DC proper it is lacking.
Understood. Let's move into some of the shorter, fun questions to wrap this. What's your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
My team is Arsenal. Though I generally prefer any league to the English Premier League. Especially considering the media coverage of the Premier League.
Arsenal fan? I'm sorry, that must be painful. Who are your two favorite players, one past, one present?
I think In the greater scheme of things supporting Arsenal hasn't caused me as much suffering as others. Current is Santi Cazorla. Past Dennis Bergkamp though Zidane is my all time favorite.
Would you rather attend the Euros, Gold Cup, or AFC Nations Cup?
I support France so part of me says the Euros. But I've been to two World Cups in Europe (98 & 06) so probably African Cup of Nations.
You get to meet one person from soccer. Who do you meet?
Oh, a bold choice. Not a super popular guy among Gooners right now. Do you have any books or podcasts, soccer related or otherwise, that you believe would be of benefit to the people reading this?
He's my hero.
To be honest I'm not big on footy podcasts. Most discuss the same points of contention. Though I occasionally tune into ones that use analytics for a new perspective.
Books - soccer in sun and shadow and Soccernomics were influential for me. This Love is not for Cowards was great and my friend James Montague's books from the far corners of the Earth are all great reading. I'm now working my way through inverting the pyramid and Cruyff's biography.
I'm always open to suggestions on new reads though. I've supplemented my football reading with novels and books on history, psychology, and sociology too.
Where can people find out more about yourself and about Guerrilla FC?
Guerrillafc.com -- it's all there.
Instagram & Twitter: @guerrilla_fc
Facebook: Guerrilla FC
Linkedin (just kidding)
I'm on twitter and facebook (professional page) and instagram Justin Salhani (@justinsalhani)
There's also features up about us on In Bed With Maradona, Box to Box Football, NSS Magazine, and (today) Kicks to the Pitch.
Closing question. What would you say to someone on the street asking you why they should get out there and support a lower league team, like Guerrilla FC?
We're a team that has a utopian idea of football. We want to play aesthetically beautiful ball and score goals that last long in the memory.
We're also an international team and we care a lot about our players and community. Additionally, we are a group off the pitch too, with art and design intrinsically tied to our identity.
If you like beautiful football, football fashion, or even if you don't care that much about the playing side but are in it - as our star midfielder Adrian Kidaman says - "for the culture," we're a club with an identity and we care about our fans and community.
Thank you again for your time Justin, I really appreciate it. 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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