Hello faithful readers! I had the tremendous pleasure of interviewing one the founding members of AFC Mobile Wanderers, a group working to bring a soccer team to the heart of the south in Mobile, Alabama. Mitchell Kahalley was very open with his answers and the goals of this group, and talks about everything from the city of Mobile itself to the local college scene. Check it out.
American Pyramid: Thanks for doing this interview with me, Mitchell. Lets start simple. Tell me a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, what your roles are with AFC Mobile.
Micthell Kahalley: I've lived in Mobile all my life and I'm currently a student at the University of South Alabama. Right now we have a board of nine people who share ideas with one another on how to drum up support for the team. There really aren't any defined roles or a structured hierarchy.
AP: Is Wanderers the official nickname? And if it is, is there a particular meaning behind it?
MK: I think if you had asked me this a few weeks agoI would've told you that it wasn't set in stone, but I think a lot of people have had a positive reaction to it. I know the board really loves it so I'm sure it will be the official nickname. I'm sure a good deal of your readers know that Wanderers is a traditional soccer name found in the United Kingdom. It originated when teams didn't have a home stadium to play in. We chose the name Wanderers to pay homage to the fact that we come from all over the Gulf Coast looking for a team to support. Also it was too good of a pun to pass up.
AP: How'd you come up with the idea for the logo and color scheme? The logo is already solid, and the color scheme is one of my favorites for soccer teams.
MK: Abram Chamberlain was behind the logo. One of Mobile's nicknames is the "Azalea City" The flower is native to the area and is prominent in the cultural life of Mobile. The colors are taken from the Official Flag of Mobile. The Fleur-De-Lis that mark each side are a tribute to the French history of the city. Even though you might associate that symbol with New Orleans, they are littered throughout downtown Mobile. We also wanted them their to pay homage to the first Mardi Gras celebrations in the United State, which took place right here in Mobile.
AP: When did you first get interested in soccer in general and founding a soccer team in particular?
MK: I think for all of us our interest in founding the team came after Pensacola City FC folded in 2014. Pensacola is a city in the Florida panhandle about an hour away from Mobile. Most of us are members of a supporters group called the Gulf Coast Armada, formed to support that team. However their owner dissolved the team a few matches into the NPSL season. After dealing with the aftermath of that we decided that the Armada should do what it can to bring a team back to the area. We saw what was done in Birmingham with the Birmingham Hammers organization and thought that was the best model to follow and voila, you have AFC Mobile.
AP: Was there a certain event that got all of you into the sport, or has soccer always been apart of your lives?
MK: I was very lucky to take a cruise on the Mediterranean Sea in 2008. We set sail from Barcelona and made stops in cities in Italy and France. The cruise just happened to take place during the 2008 European Championships and the tournament was omnipresent. I went to breakfast one morning and saw the Dutch fans had decked out huge parts of the dining room in orange. I also remember talking with a Turkish waiter after Turkey had a few incredible comeback victories that year. That's when my interest in the game started, it peaked during the 2010 World Cup and I've been following the game ever since.
AP: Have you played soccer at any level before? And if so, what position do you typically play?
MK: Not at any organized level. I came to the game late so I never got the chance. I do play pickup and intramurals. I usually play right back since I'm not ver skilled on the ball but I'm a descent defender. I try to get into the attacking third and whip in a few crosses too.
AP:Now, tell me a little bit about Mobile. I mean, Alabama and the South don't really seem like hotbeds for soccer. Are you seeing something going on below the surface that an outsider can't see that makes Mobile seem like a good place for a team?
MK: I think Mobile is a great soccer town with massive potential. Being a port city, we have so many communities and cultures from all over the world represented in Mobile. Airbus, the European aerospace giant, recently opened a new assembly line in Mobile, the University of South Alabama has also just kicked of a $150 million fundraising campaign and a major part of those funds will be dedicated to global engagement. We also have the only refugee resettlement agency in the state of Alabama that is prepared t take an additional 130 refugees in 2016. Mobile is truly a global city and we want to bring the global game here.
Of course many Mobile natives have a passion for the game, evidenced in our great boys and girls high school soccer teams and multiple youth clubs in the city. Our local chapter of the American Outlaws continues to grow with no signs of showing. Our celebration of the USWNT winning the World Cup even made it on CNN International (https://www.facebook.com/jbbiunno/videos/10101763747657512/)
We also have great college soccer in the city. The University of South Alabama's Women's soccer team has clinched their second straight Sun Belt Conference title and will look to make it three SBC tournament titles in a row, they're also ranked 20th in the nation in RPI.
The University of Mobile has successful mens and women's programs that play in the NAIA. The men are currently ranked 24th in RPI and the women are ranked 14th. Jamaican men's international Dershorn Brown played a season of college soccer at the University of Mobile. Spring Hill College also has men's and women's programs that compete in NCAA D2
AP: How does the local community seem to be responding to the idea of having a soccer team in town?
MK: I think it's been very positive. We were surprised at how quickly the Facebook page took off. I think it show that theres a massive interest in something like this happening. We were also featured in an article that appeared on AL.com so we'll see how much that helps.
AP: Have you settled on any league in particular you'd like to join when the time comes?
MK: I don't think any of us particularly care. We would be happy in NPSL, we would be happy if our friends in the Louisiana Premier League had us join, we'd be happy if there was no league and we were just a barnstorming team, the most important thing is to get the team off the ground and playing. It'll find it's place in the pyramid.
AP: What exactly are you guys doing to help drum up support for a team and get this off the ground?
MK: A lot of work on social media. We maintain a very active presence on Facebook and Twitter. We've also started doing a SASA Sunday League Game of the Week. The South Alabama Soccer Association is an amateur Sunday league that plays every week so we've been going out to those games on Sunday nights and interacting with people that love the game in the city. It's also nice to watch live local soccer. We do the same with the colleges in the area and I'm sure we'll be going out to some marquee high school match ups when the season starts.
AP: Why should the average soccer fan care about a team in Mobile?
MK: I know there are Mobilians out there that have fervent passions for a Premier League team or and MLS team, I'm one of them, but nothing can compare to the feeling of supporting a club that you can actively help shape that represent the place you live. That's the appeal of AFC Mobile, it's going to actually represent the people that make up this city and allow us Mobilians to get together and have a fun communal experience.
AP: Cast a vision for me: Where would you like to see AFC Mobile in 5 years?
MK: Playing great soccer at Sage Park or the Cage with a diverse, every growing, lively fan base that will try to take AFC Mobile to the greatest heights possible.
AP: What is the Cage? Sounds like it would be a nasty place to play at for an away team.
MK: The Cage is the soccer stadium at the University of South Alabama. It's hosted a few Sun Belt Conference tournaments. South Alabama are the Jaguars, so that's where I think the name comes from. I think it's more likely that we'll look to play at Sage Park, which is a city park with multiple sports fields. New turf was just laid on all of the soccer fields and it's more centrally located than the University of South Alabama.
AP: Bonus Questions: Who's your pick to win the MLS Cup this year?
MK: Dallas has looked fantastic all season and it would be foolish to sleep on LA even though they're going through a rough patch at the moment, but I have a gut feeling that this is the Red Bulls year. They've consistently been the most fun team to watch this and I think they'll have a slightly easier road to MLS Cup than whoever comes out of the West will.
AP: What's your favorite book, regardless of genre?
MK: I don't really have a favorite but anytime I'm asked this question I always answer Kahllil Gibran's "The Prophet" There's a large historical, Lebanese community in Mobile and it's a great book of poetry from Lebanon's favorite son.
AP: Who's your favorite current soccer player?
MK: As someone that's followed Manchester City for a few years I feel obligated today David Silva. So much skill on the ball and a real catalyst for that side, It's unfortunate that he's out injured at the moment, he really could've used his influence against Sevilla. I would also like to shoutout Crystal Dunn, who tore up NWSL this year. Proud to say I got to see her score her second international goal for the USWNT against Haiti in Birmingham this year.
AP: Do you have a favorite soccer book, movie or podcast?
MK: I think Howler Magazine is a fantastic soccer publication. They have two excellent podcasts that come out weekly. DUMMY is a very broad show that talks about all kinds of soccer topics both foreign and domestic and the MIxxed Zone, which is an excellent women's soccer podcast. If you like both or either of those pods you should definitely look into the magazine as well. They consistently do great work.
AP: What can people in Mobile, or outside of Mobile, do to help get this team going?
MK: The best thing you can do right now is to follow and interact with us on social media, especially if you're in the Mobile area. Letting us know what you think is the best for the future of this team. We'll talk to anyone and we want to hear from everyone. For those outside of Mobile, please do follow us on social media, but also make sure you're supporting lower division soccer is your town. Growing the game at this level nationally can only help us. We're also having a t-shirt sale which can be found on our website, so buy one of those if you are so inclined.
AP: How can people find you and follow you online?
MK: We're AFC Mobile Wanderers on Facebook
@AFCMobileFC on Twitter. (I know, redundant, but AFCMobile was taken)
Our website is http://afcmobile.weebly.com
AP: Thanks again for your time, Mitchell. Go check out, follow and like the Wanderers on Social Media and buy some sweet t-shirts. Don't forget to like and follow the American Pyramid page on Facebook, and leave some comments about what kinds of questions you'd like asked in an interview. Until next time!