"Instead of going to the bar right after work come out and play. "
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Hello everyone, and welcome back to AP! Exciting things are happening in the soccer world this week. Liverpool moving on in the Champions League while Tottenham get shocked. CONCACAF announces it's own Nations League, which should do wonders for small countries like Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico and Curacao. And of course, the first ever AP interview with a team in Alaska!
First, I want to say thank you to Icarus FC for becoming not only our latest Patron, but for also offering their services at discount for everyone who reads AP! Keep an eye out too, as we'll be featuring some of Icarus FC's work, along with design themed concept articles. Also, if you're a designer and would like to get the word out on your work, contact us on Twitter, Facebook, or via the Connect AP tab, and we'll feature you're work as well!
Now, I heard about Skagway FC thanks to the fine folks at Northwest Soccer News. Skagway FC is a little different from what we normally cover. Not only is it a team, but it's a co-ed organization that also runs the Skagway Shield, which you'll learn more about in the interview. There are also some sweet pictures showing soccer fields in Alaska that you'll have to see. Check it out by clicking Read More.
Tell readers a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Skagway FC?
I am just a regular guy living in Southeast Alaska. I am one of the lucky ones that has year round employment working for our local clinic as a medical coder and biller.
I was born and raised in Germany. When I was 16 my parents moved to Florida. Once I turned 21 I moved west in the pursuit of mountains and snow. That took me to Utah for a few years where I met my wife. Her family has been living in Skagway Alaska for the past 30+ years. In 2008 we moved to Skagway as well and started our family.
Skagway FC is the team I manage for our league, Skagway Shield League. The Skagway Shield League was started by me and a friend. In the beginning of our league I was the commissioner, creating rules, getting the field setup, organized tables and playing schedules. Last year I took a backseat since my job went through a transition and it took a lot more of my time and energy then usual. Plus my 1 1/2 year old was pretty demanding of my time as well. My friend and co-founder took over and ran our league for 2017.
How did you come to be a fan of soccer, and what got you interested in starting a team?
Well, this is a bit of a funny story. Growing up in Germany, I of course was in a soccer club at a young age but as I grew older I drifted away from soccer. I always identified myself more with the counter culture and as you can imagine soccer is the jock sport in Germany, just like football or baseball here in the US. My teenage years were spent drinking, smoking, partying and doing sports like snowboarding, skateboarding or rollerblading. I liked playing soccer but not in a competitive setting. Always loved watching the Euros and the World Cup, because every game is played with intensity but was never into club soccer.
That all changed pretty recently. After closely watching the 2014 World Cup I found myself really interested in the tactics of soccer. I read a couple of books like inverting the pyramid to educate myself more. This also prompted me to watch more soccer. Can’t really watch Euros or World Cup every weekend so I started watching the premiere league and it really hooked me. Now I follow the Premiere League, Bundesliga, Champions League, and MLS very closely and try to catch games from La Liga and Serie A.
What's the origin story beyond Skagway FC? How has this whole thing come about?
Again it started after the 2014 World Cup. In my pursuit to learn more about soccer, I also wanted to play. Turned out there were a couple of kids in our community who met one evening during the week to get a pick up game going. The first evening i went there no one showed up the following week there was a decent showing and I believe we were able to get a 4 vs 4 pick up game going. It was great being out kicking the ball around again. It was very inconsistent, most of the time it was just 3-4 people kicking the ball around.
That winter I asked our Rec Center if we could do a indoor soccer night and Monday became our evening. Once spring 2015 rolled around we created Skagway FC to put out the word of our weekly pick up game. All of a sudden we had 50 people show up and that is when we decided that we could put together a league for our community.
Having never been to Alaska, how would you describe your state and city to an outsider, like me? And how would you describe the soccer scene in Alaska as a whole?
Well, I would not call my town a city. In the summer it can be mistaken for one. I live in Skagway Alaska. We are a small community, population around 800-900 year round residents, in the southeast of Alaska. Skagway is one of the major cruise ship ports of Alaska. In the summer our population grows from 800-900 to 2500-2700 residents. In the months of May-September we get cruise ships everyday and depending on the day our town gets overrun by up to 10000 tourists. This influx of people brings a lot of diversity to our little town and that allows us to run a whole league.
Soccer is alive and well in Alaska. The bigger cities like Juneau and Anchorage offer weekly pick up games for adults and the their schools also have good programs for the kids. The hardest thing is travel. Alaska is so big and remote that you do not have many communities close together that could play against another town. For example: Skagway’s closest neighbor is Haines which we can get to by ferry or plane. You could drive but that is a 8hr Drive one way. Flying would be the fastest, 15min, but you can’t fit a whole soccer team on the small Sesna planes that are used, you would have to charter a couple. Then there is the ferry. It would take 45min but the ferry only runs certain days so you would have to add a couple extra days to your trip.
Usually when I do an interview, it's with an team composed of 11 guys, but based on your website, the Skagway Shield League is a little different. How would you classify the teams in your league?
We are a 7 vs 7 coed league. The obstacles we had to deal with was field size and the amount of players we have. When we started creating rules for our league we had to really think about team size. We could have made it 11vs11 but we would only have 3-4 teams. Shrinking it to 7 players on the field but giving teams 12 roster spots seemed the best way to go. We are now in our third season and roster creation is still one of the biggest challenges.
The other factor was finding the space for a field. Our small town is surrounded by mountains and a big flat surface is hard to come by. We couldn’t go outside of town since a lot of players do not have cars and we do not have public transport. We were able to setup a 60’ by 40’ pitch on an old neglected baseball diamond by our school. We used that field for our first and part of our second season. We found another field that was in better shape and closer to amenities like bathrooms.
How long has the Skagway League been running? Has it been around for as long as Skagway FC?
We just finished our third season and are currently working on the fourth. Skagway FC and the Skagway Shield League were established at the same time. The idea was that Skagway FC will be the community's soccer club and the overseeing body of the Skagway Shield League. Currently we haven't done much on the community soccer club side, because running a league takes a lot of time and time is not always what we have a lot of. Everybody who helps with running the league have a full time job and family to worry about first.
How many teams typically compete in the league each season?
In our inaugural season we had six teams. After the first season we definitely saw the potential for growth and we worked hard over the winter creating new clubs for our second season.
In our second season we had 8 teams but we ran into a problem at the end of the season. We started around the same time as the first season, mid June, what we didn't think about was that a lot of summer workers leave early to mid August to go back to college. So once the last few play-off games and the final rolled around we had some teams missing players.
In the third season we thought to start the season two weeks earlier to not have the same problem as we had in our second season, but that brought the opposite challenge. Summer workers trickle in through out the months of April through June with the majority arriving late May to early June. A couple teams struggled to fill their roster spots by the early registration date.
Our short season, end of May through beginning of August, is one of our biggest challenges.
Has the local community seemed to respond well to your efforts?
Yes, our community has really embraced soccer. In our first two seasons we didn't really have many spectators, only for the final game and then they came out in force. Last season we had spectators show up for almost every game and then again our final we had a great crowd.
I was really happy when we switched fields half way through our second season. We were able to fit the pitch on a field next to a couple of Baseball diamonds and a concessions building. Our community also has a softball league and hosts a big softball tournament for the area. Moving the pitch there caused some anxiety in me because I did not know how the two groups would mix but it work out great.
In five years, where do you hope to see the Skaway Shield League, and Skagway FC?
The league is tough to predict. We are at the mercy of how many summer locals want to play. I don’t see it growing over the current 8 teams because of our short time frame we have in the summer.
Where I see the growth is with Skagway FC. I hope that in 5 years we have an actual club. I would love to coach our kids and organize tournaments with other communities around us.
I also have this idea of a Locals (Skagway FC) vs Cruise Ship workers. I always see a lot of the cruise ship workers playing pick up. We can’t play them ever since they are off when the ships are in port and that is when all the locals are working. But I am sure we could figure it out.
Since you live in Alaksa, is there anything you think can be done to better promote and grow the game in your state?
Alaska is tough. The problem is geographical, Alaska is so big and remote. I cannot just drive to Juneau with a bus full of kids. We either have to take a 8 hour ferry ride, which doesn’t run everyday, or fly there.
The school’s many clubs and sport teams are always dealing with the problem but I am not sure a club outside the school system will be able to deal with the logistics and costs. I am hopeful though and maybe I can convince the school that they need a soccer club.
Outside of Skagway, are there any other clubs or leagues in the state that you've heard of, that people should really check out?
There are amateur leagues in Juneau, Whitehorse, Yukon, and Anchorage but I cannot find much online about it. Juneau also puts on a Tournament called the Shamrock Tournament. It is held around St. Patrick's Day and i believe teams from Haines and Whitehorse, Yukon go there. We tried to put a team together last year but it is at a hard time. For most year round residents preparations for the summer season start and they have a lot of work to do without the summer workers that haven’t arrived yet, therefore it is difficult to take/get 3 days off in a row. One of these years I will get a team together to compete.
Random question, but how excited do you think you and the local soccer community would be if someone like the Sounders ever played a friendly in Alaska, or a team actually got into qualifying for the US Open Cup somehow?
Oh, we would be very excited. Even just random Alaskans would be very excited. We get excited when something is happening because we don’t have that very often. I am not sure if there are any teams in Alaska that could enter the US Open Cup, not sure how that works, but it would be amazing. I wish the US Open Cup would be better televised because I would love to see more of the earlier stages.
Let's wrap this up with some short questions. What's your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
I follow Premier League, Bundesliga, and MLS pretty closely. I would like to watch more Serie A and La Liga but I think my wife would kill me spending all weekend watching soccer.
Out of the three leagues I follow MLS the most. I like how wild it still is, you can’t really predict who will take home the cup. I wish we would have pro/rel though.
Favorite soccer players, one past, one present.
I have so many. It all depends on the position they are playing. I am pretty high on Christian Roldan. Love that guy. I think he will have quite the future with the US national team once he gets comfortable in that setting.
My past pick would have to be Zinedine Zidane. He was just a great player and who would forget the headbutt.
Do you have any books or podcasts, soccer related or otherwise, that you would recommend to people reading this?
My favorite podcast is the Total Soccer Show. Very entertaining. Dummy is a great one too. I only read one soccer book but if you want to learn about formations and their history read Inverting the Pyramid.
If you could meet one person from soccer history, who would it be?
I think meeting George Best would be a fun time. Especially in his heyday.
Where can people find out more about you and the team online?
Well we have our website www.skagwayfc.com. I will work on updating it, but there is a fun little video from our second season. You can follow SkagwayFC on Instagram @skagwayfc. We also have a Facebook page for the league called Skagway Shield.
What would you say to someone asking you why they should get out there and support their local non-league team, like Skagway FC?
I would tell them that it is a great past time that also keeps you in shape. Instead of going to the bar right after work come out and play. You maybe save some money or at least you will really deserve that beer.
Phillip, 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: We Are The Neighborhood: Max Fowler of Athletic Club of Sloan's Lake