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This chat with Tyler West, President of the Gem City Squadron, SG of Dayton Dynamo, is a bit of a departure from your usual APB fare. Rather than talking to club owners, I thought I might set my sights on those hardy souls who support lower league football in the States.
If you like what Tyler has to say, give him a follow @gemcitysquadron, and keep an eye on the Dynamo themselves @daytondynamo
First off, tell me a little bit about yourself. Who are you, where are you, and how did you get involved in lower league soccer?
I'm Tyler West. I live in Kettering, about 15 minutes outside of Downtown Dayton, Ohio where my local team the Dayton Dynamo play. It's actually kind of funny, I didn't mean to become somewhat of an important figure in growing the game here. Early December 2015, I got home from school and I noticed there was a live feed of a new soccer team coming to the area. The Cincinnati Saints of the NPSL, who I wasn't familiar with but had heard of, were relocating and rebranding. I immediately tweeted at the new account and asked how I could start a supporters group. They followed me and DM’d me to get me to call the owner of the team that night to almost interview me, even though we became an independent supporters group. So with no name and no members I relied on my friends to help get the name out there, and some other locals on twitter started getting involved. We aren't nearly as big an SG as The Northern Guard in Detroit or Brickyard Battalion in Indy, but we hover around 15 per game in our section which over our first season last summer wasn't too bad.
It's not always about size, is it? So the group started out as sort of officially sanctioned, but is now fully independent? Who drove that split, you guys or the club?
Well for a few weeks I tried to focus on getting our name out there, and I drove to David Satterwhite's office in Cincinnati for a meeting with him and his #2 guy. They told me it was my baby, just like the Dynamo is their baby, and I need to raise it the way I want to. They wanted to stay hands off and focus on building the club, so we were never really "dependent", it just took a few words of advice to get off the ground.
We are independent, though. I do pretty much all the work of contacting people for scarves and now shirts, Eddy Hooper is a big help and has taken on his own project to organize some sort of event in march. I'm going to learn more about that when I meet with him and the rest of the gang on Friday.
So it's safe to say your SG has a solid working relationship with the club then? In what ways have you seen that as advantageous? And has there been any downside to such a close relationship thus far?
I've seen zero downside to being close to the club. We communicate on where we want to sit for the season, they surprised us and named a beer "GCS Lager" after us, we communicate on what we can and can't do on match days (no open flames, we're going to watch our language a bit since mostly families attend matches)
You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours, eh? What made you want to set up an SG in the first place?
Well I figured I either could sit back and be casual, or I could build something from the start. I was a causal Crew fan in 2015, went to both the home playoff games and MLS Cup. But something wasn't there, I didn't feel a special connection with the team. So when I found out the Dynamo were coming, I knew I wanted to create something special that I could be proud of and that I could connect personally with. I hope the members we have can create their own feeling of connection to the club as well, since we all are basically founding members.
That connection is definitely something you see and hear mentioned time and time again when it comes to supporting lower league sides. Can you put it into words for us?
Well for me, it's closure. I tried to root for the Crew and I didn't feel like it was intimate, it was just watching soccer. I genuinely can say that I love the team I support. I have a special bond by running the supporters group. I feel like I can finally support a team and enjoy match days, enjoy the people with me at games, enjoy cheering for the men on the field, but also give the guys stick if they're underperforming, to criticize the tactics, and complain just like local fans of European teams can. I want my guys to succeed and I'm not afraid to call for change if we aren't up to par. Constructive criticism.
I say closure because I finally have a team I know that I'm connected with, I want them to stick around until I'm old, and I want to support them as long as I can. We sucked last year and it's hard to root for a bad team (for example any Cleveland Browns fan, thank god I don't like that team). Even though Dayton was awful, I want to be here until they're contenders. I want to be here for the bad times so I can experience the good times, and i had never felt that as a Crew fan
I can totally relate to that! I think a lot of people who try out lower league soccer find themselves feeling the same way, whether they knew that something was missing previously or not. And the increased globalization of the game is only going to compound that feeling for many of us. And I think being a football fan is about experiencing the seasons of dross for one last minute winner, one cup run. So have fun with that! Are you guys the only SG fans can join?
Yep, it's just us, and hopefully it stays like that so we can continue to grow in size and spirit!
OK, so what does the match day experience look like as a member of the GCS?
Well for me, I hang out at Dayton Beer Co downtown before matches. The team organized a shuttle to and from there before and after matches. I'm not sure if that's gonna be back this season. I try to get to the stadium a half hour before kickoff. We don't need a lot of set up time because we don't have much to set up lol. I have all the flags in my trunk during the season, and the unused flags get taped to the bleachers to wave in the wind. if we make a tifo/banner then Brian stores it with him and brings it. It's pretty laid back to be honest. We always know what we're going to be doing before the match starts and I'm in constant communication with other members on match days to be 100% positive.
There's no set game plan for chants during the match, we have Eddy on the drum and he basically calls out what he wants and we go with the flow. Ricky is an older college kid and coaches at a high school downtown, he loves to get under the skin of the opponents. Bill has a weird siren thing he brings as well as a vuvuzela, so we're a little unorthodox with some of the sounds you'll hear from us or our "sound makers". Matches are fun though, whether we're losing or winning we try to remember it's just a game and support our guys through the match. Afterwards, I'll either go back to Dayton Beer Co or just go home and nap.
The post-match nap is a wonderful thing! Sounds like you have the makings of a small symphony getting set up there. Do you yourself have a favorite chant?
I personally prefer "We Are... Dynamo" over and over, simple and easy.
Simple can most definitely be effective. And, crucially, inclusive. What's the story behind the name of the SG?
It's kind of funny, I originally wanted to name it "Wright Brothers Battalion" but the Wright Brothers Foundation really didn't like that, and said it would be unlawful to do so. I forget the original choices, but I put it up to a complete online vote on straw poll. Gem City Squadron won between the three choices with something around 65% of the vote. The importance of the name: Gem City is the nickname of Dayton, and Squadron makes sense because of the aviation history our city portrays.
Of course, the Wright family home is in Dayton, right? (totally had to Google that). Shame that they wouldn't let you tie the name to the SG.. Very respectful of you to adhere to their wishes.. Not sure I would have been so understanding! What were the other choices?
I went all the way back and found it, closer than I thought
Hark at you attempting to rewrite history! Seems from my rudimentary math’s that there were something like 120 votes cast.. How many members are in the Squadron now?
We don't have official membership statuses quite yet but on game day we average about 15-20 in our section. I predict that number is going to go up this season
Why do you think that? And what's an average home gate for Dayton? I know that such figures can be notoriously hard to come by at some clubs.
We can have beer at home matches is my sole reason to believe attendance goes up this year. I don't know Dayton’s attendance last season but definitely under 500. Not good. 1000 max
Those figures aren't great, you're right. Stands to reason you lost a few fans to Cincinnati. How do you go about winning then back, especially with all the MLS talk?
Beer is my number one recruiting point. The Dynamo couldn't have it last year but we can this year thanks to acquiring the proper license. It's going to be tough to get them back, especially with the success FCC had compared to our failure last season (4 points in 10 league games, only single digit points team in division). Dayton is an hour from Cincy and an hour and a half from Columbus. We can attract people who only want to drive 10-20 minutes for soccer locally compared to driving an hour every weekend, if we make sure the match atmosphere is above par.
Yeah, tough market for a small, young club. As a fan, how much are you willing to do to push numbers up? And how much do you think the club should be doing? Or are you just focused on getting SG numbers up from whoever comes through the gate?
I'm mostly focused on getting people into our section, which equals more people at the Dynamo game, benefitting us both. Now if we can get people who don't want to be so hardcore but who will still come, that works too. But our focus is to get our numbers up, and we are going to hopefully make it happen.
We have a premier league thing in the works for the last day of that season, a full day of soccer activity, but I won't share too much info on that til it's set in stone
Intriguing. Look forward to seeing what that looks like. Is that "we" the club or "we" the SG?
We the SG.
So who's the big rival this season? I assume Crew and Cincy aren't in your sights
AFC Cleveland won the title last season and they're now the closest team geographically to us. So it's got to be them
Anyone else travel to see beautiful downtown Dayton?
Well technically we are in a new division with all new teams so we don't have any "rivals". Detroit City, Kalamazoo, and Grand Rapids sent fans down here during last season
Do you have place to travel anywhere yourself? Cleveland accepted
I've never gone on an away day, but this year we're planning on doing Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and maybe Erie!
Never? Oh have you got adventures awaiting you!! Away days are the best. If anyone reading this is thinking about coming to watch their team in Dayton, are there any places they must go? Sights, eats, bars etc.? Do your bit for the tourist industry
I'm not from downtown, so usually ask someone else for this stuff, but the Oregon District has all kinds of bars and restaurants to cater to tourists. The river runs through downtown so it's usually a beautiful sight on the riverfront. Carillon park is nice as well.
I'll mark that down in my Spotters Guide. Let's move on to the big one. Pro/rel. Where do you stand in the whole argument?
I'm in favor of it as long as it's a long transition to help it work long term. I think growing clubs naturally from the ground up is better than having teams startup at $100 million in the top flight. I think MLS should keep doing whatever it wants. It can be single entity and do its thing. However the lower leagues should use pro/rel and show who is most deserving to play in better tiers. Then after a while, maybe 2030, include MLS in this system. They will probably have the support by fans and ownership to keep succeeding, but the rich owners will be able to try and assure that with plenty of years of hopefully quality play
You think it'll take 15 years to get everything in order? That's kind of depressing, no? What needs to be in place by then that isn't in place now?
I think making sure teams are stable right now should be first, and then giving the platform for pro/rel would be better. 15 years is probably way too long, but the idea is that it will take time to grow the clubs to stability
Do you think the Dynamo can survive without it being introduced?
I think pro/rel would kill the Dynamo. We suck, we would've gone down this year. It also needs to be regionalized to work, IMO, because teams of my level can’t afford much travel. If we somehow got promoted to USL, we wouldn't be able to pay for travel
For sure. Not sure how familiar you are with the English pyramid but that is totally regionalized, down to a few miles at the base. So knowing the local area, what similar sized markets are out there for Dayton to compete with, that are viable financially to vote as rivals? Obviously Toledo. I know the college game is huge in Akron. Can the Cincinnati suburbs host more?
I'm not sure the Cincinnati could have another team. FCC takes basically all the attention and any support another team would get would be minimal. FCC is the reason the Dynamo moved from Cincy in the first place. In Ohio, Athens would probably support a team, Dayton, Toledo and Cleveland have one and probably couldn't do another, Columbus might be able to support a small level second team. But other than that I can't think of other places
Fair enough. Let’s start wrapping this up, I've taken enough of your time. What are hopes for this season, on and off the pitch?
On the pitch I hope the team shows improvement from last year. We weren't competitive by any means so putting up a fight is all I ask. As for the SG, we want more smoke, more people, and to build our own brand with different "merch" even if we're the only ones using it. We want to get involved with the community off the pitch, whether it's helping create a soccer camp in West Side (which is in the works) or gathering for a day of soccer for the PL's last day, and even supporting other teams in the area (new arena football team, the beloved baseball team downtown) we want people to know we aren't just for soccer but we're for the community.
Love the sound of that! I'll certainly be keeping an eye on how things progress. Do you follow any clubs outside of America?
I'm basically a "glory hunter" since I've been a fan since 2010 World Cup. I'm a typical American soccer fan because I like a team in every country. My buddy got me into Manchester United but my more intimate side to root for is Rotherham United even though they're going to get relegated SO HARD from the Championship, I love watching Messi so I chose Barca in Spain, and I liked Dortmund before Pulisic but even more now that he plays for the first team sometimes
Rotherham??? Oh man, I used to live in that part of the country. How did you end up with them? I love that you even know they exist.
It all comes back to playing FIFA, their badge was my first ultimate team badge and then I did a career mode with them when I was like 14. So then after I started following them I'm pretty sure they were promoted 2 years in a row to where they are now, and obviously they're blowing it. I don't get to watch their matches but I follow their twitter and read the website when I find time!
FIFA is the gateway for so many. Just like back home Joe Madden was for American Football fans, and various MLB games too. Finally, what would you say to anyone thinking about getting involved with their local club?
For someone following a local team, I want them to embrace the club. I was on the lucky end of a relocation where I was given a team to support. I know the Seven Hills Crusaders (Cincy Saints SG before the team relocated here) lost a beloved team they supported for 5 or 6 years
What I mean by that is to love the team as your own as long as you can because in lower level American soccer you don't know if you'll lose your team because of lost interest by the FO or by lack of funding or loss of money. I pray it doesn't happen to me. But I will support this team until I die or until they fold no matter what
It's a shame to end this on such a downer note, taking about the tangential nature of American club existence. But it is what it is, I guess. Hopefully, support like yours, echoed the length and breadth of this country as it is, will ensure that clubs stop being so beholden to investors.
Tyler, is been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for this. 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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