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Welcome back yet again to AP, faithful readers! I wanted to start off today by saying thank you for continuing to stick with reading this little blog about lower league soccer in the United States. Your support and readership is what keeps this thing going. I'm not really sure what the future holds for AP later this year once the new baby arrives, but I'm going to keep producing content as long as I can! And if you haven't already, check out the Patreon page and consider supporting AP. There are several options, like giving $1 a month, or some slightly pricier ones that have cool perks, like AP t-shirts.
Now, some of you might say 'Why Christos FC now? Why not after the US Open Cup run?" Honestly, I wanted to wait until after the glow of the run had worn off. I wanted to see how the Cup run changed things, or see if it had changed things at all. Jody Haislip took some time to talk about those changes, as well as some exciting initiatives from the club to ensure it has a long term future in the American soccer landscape. Check it out.
Tell readers a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Christos FC.
My name is Jody Haislip, I’m from Ferndale, Maryland, which is just about 5 miles south of Baltimore, Maryland. My role with Christos FC currently is the GM of the men’s program which involves three men’s teams. The team that most of the soccer fans came to know that played against DC United in the Lamar Hunt Cup, and then I have an over 30(age)and over 40(age) team. As Christos FC have grown over 20 years and with players wanting to continue to play we’ve added those age groups and we'll soon have an over 50 team. GM is a nice title, but many more hats are worn. The entire club is made up of volunteers doing this for free and we all pitch in with all aspects of keeping the club moving forward.
How did you come to be a fan of soccer, and what got you interested in starting a team?
I started playing soccer for a local recreational organization at age 5, many years ago when the fields were 110 x 60. I definitely played every sport moving all the way up through my teenage years and finally chose soccer as my primary sport after high school. Becoming a fan of soccer wasn’t something I actually really enjoyed. I just played and played and played. To me is was just the love of playing. When we started the team in 1997, it was all about just continuing to play after college.
I think not being a huge fan or a cheerleader could’ve been what helped me create the club because I was never happy just sitting at home doing nothing. I wanted to continue to play and get together with friends on Sundays and whenever else we could play. We started the team with friends from our high school days as well as college and year after year just continued to add players. It was a win for us as we got to play soccer and enjoy our friendships even more as we were able to get together for games, events and certainly the beers after the games always went down smooth. We certainly didn’t think 20 years later we would be in the position we are now but couldn’t be happier.
Through the years it was a struggle at times with finances and resources to keep the club afloat, but it's been well worth it. Myself, my brothers, and the help from a few others we did all that we could to make sure we had a team year after year. That commitment from these guys shows in a big way as we have 8 original players still lacing up the studs together with our over 40 team. That's certainly why we continue to be successful as a club.
Our founding “brothers” play a huge role in leading and mentoring our younger players. We’ve been in their shoes. The new players are no longer the college or pro soccer stars, they are looking for full time jobs or just getting one as well as starting to settle down and start families. Again, in 97 did we or could we have ever imagined we would be leaders and mentors to many young guys playing at Christos? Not a chance. It’s been very beneficial in building the club and creating lifelong friendships.
What’s the origin story beyond Christos FC? How has this whole thing come about?
My brother James and I had a team playing in a Howard County rec league that we would win season after season. James somehow found out about the Maryland Majors Soccer League, a more prestigious league with much better players. That league was a bit more expensive with player registrations and fees so we went hunting for a sponsor. At the time James was working or had just finished working for Christos, (the liquor store) and they were certainly good friends of ours. We built up the nerves to ask them to help sponsor our team with money. Of course we told them we had enough drinkers on the team, which in turn would hopefully come into the store to buy alcohol and that would help them recoup some of their money. That went over well and they gave us a few hundred dollars the first season and have been helping ever since.
As inflation has risen so have their contributions. Without them we probably would’ve folded at some point and time. It was the perfect time to start this team in that league as most of us had recently graduated from college and we were able to attract some fantastic players from UMBC. In 97’ the Maryland majors soccer league had promotion and relegation and in that year they had two divisions. We had the resume of winning the Howard County League and had some pretty well-known players on our team, so we tried to do our best to tell the league we should start in division one without having to go through the lower league. They stuck to their bylaws and we started in division two. We of course had to show them they did us wrong so we went on to win the division two championship. And it’s been division one ever since and where the history/foundation of the club began.
Pretty much everybody who follows American soccer knows about your run in the US Open Cup to play against DC United. Since a decent amount of time has passed since then, how would you say that run, and that game, have changed things at Christos?
The one thing that has changed the most is social media and the following/comments/mentions we’ve received since then. It’s been pretty amazing to see. We were just tweeted in a mention about bringing change to the LAMAR HUNT US Open Cup and how what we did influenced the idea. We were, I think, a recognizable soccer team in Baltimore but now undoubtedly we have attracted more followers and are more noticed. Noticed in a good way when it comes to that game and how well we’ve done lately, but also well known to where every team wants to kick our a$$ even more than ever. Knock us off the little pedestal everyone has put us on. The only other big difference was receiving a decent amount of emails from players wanting tryouts. We knew right away these guys didn’t know much about us because we don’t practice or train.
Your USOC run helped you land a deal with Adidas for jerseys, and that’s also allowing you to launch your own rec-league for 4-6 year old's. How has the process of starting that league been going? Is that something will be hearing about soon?
We were able to work out a fantastic deal with Adidas to be our official outfitter and sponsor. The rec league/rec program was actually already in the works and definitely benefited from the success of the USOC. That launched in Sept of this year with our Sprouts Program. We wanted to start small and take baby steps, without taking teams away from other clubs. We went to a Recreational Council in Anne Arundel County that had recently lost its soccer program to see if we could help them with getting soccer back into their community. It worked out and we were able to get about 40 kids between the ages of 3-6 to start our youth initiative.
The first season went well and we only hope that the spring is an even bigger success. As we grow so will our teams. This winter, starting January 16 we were able to become partners with the City of Annapolis and created a class to teach basic soccer skills, teamwork, as well as strength and conditioning through their Pip Moyer Recreation and Parks program. We will build this program, as I said before, with baby steps. We’ve built this from ground zero with our Sprouts Program and year after year we hope to build on that success. We hope to attract the attention of others with our Youth Program through our excellent work in and for the communities we are in.
We feel we can certainly develop the next generation of soccer players, but also through our 20 years of experiences with Christos FC we want to develop better human beings. We have the staff to accomplish this and as we knock down doors and develop more and more kids we can create a Christos way of doing things. We are still in our infancy, but we will grow and as we do that we will certainly provide all that information through our social media accounts. We are excited to bring what we have learned to the next generation and in doing that we can do to continue to grow the Christos Way. #CTID .
Those programs sound not just exciting, but also important in ensuring that Christos will be around for years to come. How important do you think it is that amateur teams look into doing these kind of things to ensure their long term survival, and are there any practical steps they can take to make them happen?
No question we feel this is a great next step to build on the success of the club while allowing us to continue to grow. We had a couple years worth of ideas on creating and developing the youth program and finally got it kicked off. The timing couldn’t have worked out any better. It certainly didn’t hurt us with the recent Lamar Hunt US Open Cup run. We can build off of that success, however I’m positive this is not how other men's club should go about doing things. Twenty years ago the landscape of youth clubs and academies was nothing compared to what is today. I would recommend building the youth program first. Grow into having players develop under the eyes of your club and when the time comes, your youth will become adults playing under the same crest.
So you would recommend that you start building a youth program, and grow an adult side out of that? Why is that, outside of being able to watch players develop, or is that the main appeal?
Yes, build youth first. Build your youth with the structure, concepts and beliefs you want so it's the foundation of your club.
I’m not an architect, but you build from the bottom up. Also, not to make fun of the academies or MLS but what occurred first, pro teams or youth academies? Don’t we have some issues with US Soccer right now or at least that's what we are all hearing.
As you prepare for the upcoming season, do you think you'll see a difference in the amount of support the team gets in the stands?
For our Maryland Majors regular season we did see a small uptick in fan support, but not a huge difference from years past. The three Lamar Hunt Cup qualifying games we had we did see a decent number of new faces, and more support did show up to those games, but again no where near the three thousand or so they thought we attracted to the DC United game. With the proper Lamar Hunt US Open Cup starting in a few months we’d certainly love to see all the fans come out again to see our games. Will they? I guess we have to wait and see.
Why do you think it's so hard to get fans to turn out for lower league games. I mean, your'e Christos FC, you made it all the way to play an MLS team! Why don't people keep coming out to games once that moment has passed?
I wish I had that answer for you. We have 20 years of history, plenty of local, regional and national championship trophies at different levels. Baltimore is a community that will certainly follow and support teams but it seems that it has to be a big time PRO organization.
In recent years we’ve had a few lower league professional teams, a couple PDL teams and a few NPSL teams here in Maryland and not one was able to sustain itself long term. Most folded, I’m guessing, because of the lack of support and ticket sales or earning a dollar to make it to the next year. I think when it comes to soccer support in the Baltimore community we are waiting on that MLS team to show up. I’d love to see us play a pro team again. I know the support will be there for Christos FC, so guess what? We have to continue to win and try to face MLS squads regularly.
Great mindset. Just keep winning and playing the big boys. Maybe you'll even get to be the host this time! Having goals is an important part of running a team. With everything going on around Christos, where do you hope to see the team in the next three to five years, especially as you expand your youth program?
We’ve certainly thought big and possibly with all things considered we could become a USL team, or if Promotion and Relegation is upon us and there are other professional leagues you just may see Christos FC in a pro environment.
Then again, we’ve seen many failing teams in the low tiers of the pro system so sometimes we feel we are right where we want to be. We’d be happy building upon our success and continue to grow as we have with the help of our new youth program. Some will say don’t try to fix what isn’t broken.
What are two or three things you've learned about running a team that you would consider to be a valuable for other people involved in lower league soccer to know?
1. It’s not always about the most talented or best players. Bring in players that want to be part of the team/club. You want someone to be there, be loyal, be dedicated and be team first.
2. You have to be authentic, don’t try to be someone else or be another team. Walk the walk. In the lower leagues or lower as we are. We have full time jobs, families, etc. My experience isn’t the same as all others but it certainly helps that I was in my guys shoes at one time.
Let's wrap this up with some short questions. What's your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
EPL, the team I support the most is Man U, but I truly just enjoy watching all of EPL.
Favorite soccer players, one past, one present.
Zinedine Zidane past, thats a definite.
Nowadays it goes back to what I said about EPL. I enjoy great soccer so its not just about one team or one player, but because you want me to list one its going to be Harry Kane.
Do you have any books or podcasts, soccer related or otherwise, that you would recommend to people reading this?
Right now I’m reading The Sports Tourist Guide to the English Premier League by Blair Morse and Brian Burden.
If you could meet one person from soccer history, who would it be?
Zidane with Pele right behind him.
Where can people find out more about you and the team online?
Web - www.christosfc.org
Twitter - Christos FC
Facebook - Christos FC
Instagram - Christos_FC
What would you say to someone asking you why they should get out there and support their local amateur team, like Christos FC?
Supporting a local amateur team is truly supporting local. Players, coaches, sponsors are local. You’ll be watching a player who wakes up in the morning just like the others in the community. Not living the life of luxury as professional athletes can. We are working, living and breathing in the community, just like the people watching us. I think we can relate and even celebrate at the pub after the games with our fans. Who doesn’t want to drink a cocktail with someone they support on any type of field? Bringing community together, that's what it's about.
Jody, 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: Mini Monaco: Andrew Weilgus of Atlantic City FC