"Soccer is a sport that belongs to the people."
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Hello again faithful AP readers! The streak of firsts continues today, as we have our first ever interview with a potential NISA team. Joshua Austin is working to build a team for the city of Akron, Ohio, and has a lot to say about his city, NISA, and the potential for soccer in Akron. Check it out.
Tell readers a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Rubber City FC?
I have spent all but two years of my life in Akron, Ohio. Attended the University of Akron as a communications major. I've worked in journalism for the past several years for multiple companies, most recently as music/sports writer for Mind Equals Blown and as an MMA writer for Cage Pages. I am currently the founder and president of Rubber City FC.
How did you come to be a fan of soccer, and what got you interested in starting a team?
I've been a casual fan of soccer most of my life but became obsessed with the sport during my time as a student at Akron. It was the first time I had witnessed a team play with such perfection and domination in person. As a student I had secured a small time job with a local website, Akron Sports NOW, and covering the soccer team was my main job. This was during the famed Caleb Porter era. Watching players like Darlington Nagbe, DeAndre Yedlin, Wil Trapp, Darren Mattocks, Adam Najem, and so so many others really sparked a unique passion for the beauty of the game.
After awhile I had noticed that so many Akron players were going pro and there were few places within a realistic drive from Akron to watch them play. That fact became more stressed when the announcement came of the intention to relocate the Columbus Crew to Austin, TX. Then AFC Cleveland folded, and it just seemed like there was a deep need for soccer in the area. Akron and its surrounding communities have such rich soccer potential if someone would take the time to harness and unite it.
What's the origin story beyond Rubber City FC? How has this club come about?
I had been loosely working on the idea of starting a team for about a year or two, but they were honestly mostly fantasy. I am far from a rich man, let alone a wealthy one, so the idea of starting my own team was purely hypothetical. That was until Peter Wilt announced his plans for NISA. I had listened to his interview on a podcast in January (I currently don't remember the name) where he invited any parties interested in information on fan-owned to teams to email him personally.
So I figured, why not? I sent an email expecting to at best be given a generic list of guidelines. The next day I was on a conference call with Peter. I quickly realized we have very similar ideas about what makes the sport special and how a league in the US should be run. We each outlined our objectives and step-by-step plans and began the process of making this team a reality.
How would you describe Akron and it's soccer scene to an outsider, like me? What make's it a good home for a fan owned team in NISA?
When I first talked to Peter, one of the initial things I told him was Akron is a sleeping giant. There's so much focus on Cleveland and Columbus because of their population and sports history but Akron is such an untapped market. I remember attending games from 2009-2011 at the University of Akron and watching a mid-major soccer juggernaut outdraw every other sport on campus in student attendance. They'd pack 6.000 people into a small stadium and at least a 1/3 of them were standing on the hill behind the goal for the entire game. They'd even show up an hour early to stand on the hill and harass the opposing team during warm-ups.
And this is Akron before Nagbe and Yedlin were on the USMNT. This is Akron before the influx of refugees from Bhutan, the Middle East, and Africa. Before the city started investing money into the revitalization effort downtown. This is a place that has fallen on rough times. When Ohio's economy flat-lined, Akron and Youngstown really felt it more than anyone. People stepped up to help Cleveland, Columbus, and even Cincinnati, but they forgot about us. That chip on our shoulder is going to be there for awhile.
The fan ownership is perfect here because we know it's up to us to pick up the pieces and make this the proud community it once was. I want to give the city something to be proud of that is our own. Something built by people from Akron, people who will put blood, sweat, tears, and dirt in the clubs foundation.
This city loves a team that works hard and it loves a winner. And that's what we're going to give it. We are not to here just take part and be one of the first teams, we want to create a dominant culture and that has to start at the begininng. Our mindset from day one is we're 2019 NISA Champions until someone comes and takes it from us. We will outwork other teams on and off the field because this just means more to us.
Aside from the possibility of fan ownership, what about NISA has really stood out to you as you talk with Peter Wilt and find out more about the leagues vision?
After initially talking with NISA we covered our bases. We talked to everyone from Robert Palmer to NPSL just to make sure that this was our best option. In the end a lot of it came down to Peter himself. He has a track record of accomplishment. We feel like we can do a lot more to change US Soccer from within the system then fully outside of it. We wanted a sanctioned league, we wanted a chance to play against good teams in various markets, and it had to be professional. We also loved the freedom of the league. There's no one specific way we have to opperate.
Lastly, its about trust. When it comes down to it, I trust Peter and his intentions and vision with this league. That trust is very important for a group like ours. We're not well off by any means. We're people who work regular jobs so we're putting our future and our families future on the line for this club. So believing in Peter and the rest of NISA was huge part of our decision to go all in.
Why try and go straight to NISA, rather than do something like NPSL or UPSL and build from there? Or is part of the 'Akron Attitude' going big or going home?
We did have productive conversations with NPSL. I love their league, and the people involved in it. Us joining NISA is not a slight towards them in any way. There were just two things that made more sense for us when it came to joining NISA.
1. Peter Wilt. I personally have admiration for what he's accomplished and from day one had an interst in a league he was creating. We had many conversations during the formation of the league and I just appreciate someone who's honest, upfront, and inclusive.
2. I fully believe in not just the short-term but also the long-term plans for the league. I felt if we went to NPSL we'd eventually want to move up to NISA anyways, so why not be one of the first? We really believe with the right teams and leadership we can grow this league to rival and possibly surpass what NASL accomplished and be an alternative to people who prefer top tier leagues to have promotion/relegation structure.
Since NISA allows prospective teams to look for investors, how has that been going for you? Or is that something you expect to come in time once the team is announced?
So far our effort in that area has been in research of people we believe we'd partner well with. We have a list of "candidates" if you will. However, we're also hoping the announcement turns up other interested parties. At the end of the day, this can't be a 3 year plan or a 5 year plan. This city enjoys a team that will represent them proudly on and off the field for generations. We have to expect that and plan for it.
I'm really curious, why Rubber City? What's the meaning behind that name? Is it the long term name for the club, or is it more of a placeholder?
We spent more time on the name than we probably should have. It just seemed the typical Akron FC, Akron United, AFC Akron, or Akron (insert mascot name here) names we're too boring. Rubber City is such an identifier of our history and the time when we were one of the most desired places for people to live at. Being the birth home of the rubber industry really helped this city and state forge an identity
I love when clubs name themselves after, or brand themselves with, something special about the community. Whether that's Arsenal, Bethlehem Steel FC, Plymouth Argyle FC, or FC Lokomotive Leipzig. We felt we had to stand out but we also had to embrace our history to create a better future. And that extends far beyond the team name.
What are one or two things you've learned from starting a project like this from scratch that you think would be beneficial for the people reading this?
1. Put in the work and research at the beginning so you don't find yourself overwhelmed. Starting a team from scratch is an incredibly hard venture, even more so if you start with limited funds. Spend time researching options for everything. I can't tell you how many times we thought we knew the right way to do something and ended up going down a different path after putting in time and research. I can guarantee you there will be massive road blocks at times, but there's always a way around it if you look into it enough.
2. Stop thinking about it and just do it. There is nothing special about me or us as a group. I was sitting on my couch on a day off from work. I was writing for a publication and had grown incredibly bored by the work and the lack of money it provided. I heard Peter Wilt talk about NISA and for once instead of thinking about how cool it'd be, I did something. That's the most important step. To just start. If you keep moving forward in a positive direction, with a plan, things will kind of fall in place.
As you look towards building a team for Akron that will be around for the long haul, are there any other teams in soccer that you look at for inspiration?
One of our first inspirations was FC St. Pauli. Their atmosphere and the integration of their fans on the business side is second to few. We also look at the way teams like AFC Bournemouth and AFC Wimbledon have been able to accomplish so much without spending money recklessly. Honestly, though it's painful to admit, Detroit City FC is another club that provides a great example of putting your fans and community first while being financially stable and competitive.
What should people looking at this club from the outside expect to see? What's going to make your team different from everyone else?
We're going to do things different. From our coaching selections, to players that we sign. On and off the field we will have our unique way of doing things and our commitment to change for the sake of progress. A lot of talking heads and owners say they want change. We are going to put our money where our mouth is.
Let's wrap this up with some short questions. What's your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
Favorite league to watch is Liga MX. I don't get to watch it as much as I'd like but the games are some of my favorite games to watch.
As for teams there's a lot. My lifelong favorites are Chelsea, Real Sociedad, and Sheffield Wednesday.
However I watch several leagues nowadays so that list has grown immensely in the last few years.
Favorite soccer players, one past, one present.
Past (tie): Drogba/Lori Chalupny
Present: Darlington Nagbe
Honorable mentions: Fernando Torres, Messi, Katie Chapman, Eden Hazard, Ronaldo, Hannah Blundell, Megan Rapinoe
Do you have any books or podcasts, soccer related or otherwise, that you would recommend to people reading this?
Books: Outcast United, The Damned UTD, Forward by Abby Wambach, The Ball Is Round, Soccer In Sun and Shadow, Win or Learn by John Kavanagh.
Podcast: The Pint After, Joe Rogan Experience
Documentaries: The Crazy Gang, The Two Escobars, Next Goal Wins, The Other Kids, Forever Pure, Sunday Ball, Jack To A King, and anything by Copa90.
If you could meet one person from soccer history, who would it be?
Drogba. The man who helped stop a war. I admire him on the pitch but even more off of it.
Where can people find out more about you and the team online?
Our website: www.rubbercityfc.com
Who do you think should be interviewed next?
Sean Mann. (Detroit City FC co-Founder)
What would you say to someone asking you why they should get out there and support their local non-league team, like Rubber City FC?
Do it because soccer is a sport that belongs to the people. Its not a sport for billionaires, its for everyone. It's unique in that way. These smaller teams and leagues represent the true beauty of the game.
Joshua, thanks again for taking the time to do this interview, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the content I'm putting out, please consider supporting us on Patreon by Clicking Here. Or you can click here to Follow me on Twitter, or here to Like the page on Facebook. Make sure to spread the word by sharing these interviews, telling friends about the blog, those kind of things. I can't accomplish my goal of maximum exposure for all levels of the American Soccer Pyramid without YOU. Until next time, Stay Loyal, Support Local.
Read last weeks interview: North To The Future: Phillip Wagner of Skagway FC