"Ain't no stoppin’ us now!”
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Welcome back AP readers! Really excited to share this interview with you today! First, an apology. Something has gone wrong with the blog tools on Weebly, who host the site, so you may notice the format of the interview is a little different. Basically, it's not letting me make the questions 'Bold,' so everything looks the same. My apologies for that.
I managed to get a hold of John Battersby at Tartan Devils FC, who are competing in the US Open Cup this year, and have a first round match up with Derby City Rovers in Louisville, Kentucky on Wednesday, May 10. If the Devils win, they will get to play Louisville City of the United Soccer League in their hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. To say there is some excitement here would be an understatement. Check it out.
Tell readers a little about yourselves. Who you are, where you're from, and what your roles are with Tartan Devils Football Club?
John Battersby, Sittingbourne, Kent, England – President of Tartan Devils Football Club (but you can call me El Presidente)
How did you come to be fans of and involved in soccer?
In my blood – parents from Liverpool played from birth. Notts County fanatic and used to follow them in my college days, and have been playing in PA West leagues for 23 years after moving over here 28 years ago. Yes - now in Over 50s & not on the Open Cup Squad although I bring my boots – just in case.
What's the story behind the creation of Tartan Devils FC?
We are a Pub team based and sponsored by Pipers Pub in the SouthSide of Pittsburgh (www.piperspub.com) and Yards Brawler Brewing (see any theme here ?). Started in 2008 by a bunch of degenerates sitting in the pub and not being happy on the teams they were on. Basically wanting a team that played the game the right way but also had fun both on and off the field. Pipers Pub is the main soccer pub in Pittsburgh and is run by Drew Topping who has Scottish ancestry and therefore has a Scottish feel to it, hence the Tartan in the name and the Devils comes from one of the founders being a Man U fan (denied but we play in Red – so case closed).
The formative years were not the best in results but managed to create a camaraderie that has hopefully endured to the present set up of the club. From this original team (over 30) we quickly grew to having an Open team, an Over 40 team and a Women’s team. With Dave McKenzie (Ex-Pittsburgh Spirit) getting involved with the club, and the uniqueness of the club, started attracting some great players to some of the teams.
We currently have 7 adult teams with a mixture of competitive and maybe not so competitive teams within the club. Our aim is not only to play soccer and have fun, but we want to promote soccer in Western Pennsylvania and give back to both the soccer community and to the community as a whole.
What's it like for a team such as yours to make the US Open Cup?
From Club & personal point of view : Amazing to have this opportunity to have TDFC included in a Cup with its history and national exposure and to get this close (hopefully 1 game) from playing our Pittsburgh professional team (Riverhounds) is incredibly exciting.
Being from England and loving the FA Cup, I see the US Open Cup having that same ‘romance’ and hopefully brings up the match ups that get the public’s attention, and soccer can get some much needed publicity here in Pittsburgh, for both the Riverhounds and the league that we are in (PA West).
Doesn’t do any harm in recruiting players for the club either! As a club we are already incredibly proud of our TDFC Oak Avalon team, who not only win but do it the ‘right’ way, and hoping that the memory of playing for Tartan Devils in the US Open Cup stays with them for a long time.
Are there any particular struggles you encounter with being the US Open Cup, such as travel or lack of exposure in the earlier rounds?
At our level the travel issue is huge. We played the same team last year in Virginia (Aromas Café) and lost 1-3, but this year beat them 3-1. I think this speaks volumes that your team travelling 5+ hours will not be as in good condition as the local team, and will not have their full complement of players. Difficult to persuade substitutes to travel 10 hours for possibly no playing time.
Exposure is no issue as soccer is definitely the hidden sport of Pittsburgh and we are used to it, but both last year and this year there was some local exposure for the team. I believe that if we get a first round home game there will be a crowd as seems to be a lot of interest, including from the Riverhound’s supporter club - the Steel Army.
Cost is an issue, but thanks to our club organization and sponsorship by Pipers Pub and Yards Brewing company we have managed to avoid the team picking up any bills. If we progress a few more rounds, ask me again.
Since I've only spent limited time in Pittsburgh, how would you describe your city to an outsider, and what's the soccer scene around town like?
Being the Devils we like and have used the phrase coined by a James Parton “Pittsburgh –> Hell with the lid off” but it is so much more than just a steel town that some outsiders see it as. Pittsburgh has a blend of blue collar mentality along with a strong cultural history, and now with modern technologies being developed here it currently has a vibrant feel to it. The fact that our downtown is surrounded by three rivers means that everything is condensed into a small area, with all the sports, culture and art stuff that larger cities would envy all being in close proximity. The fact that we have been voted as most-livable a couple times since I have been here (close to 30 years) says it all, and although a lot of ‘Yinzers’ have left, I believe most of them still think of the ‘Burg as home.
Obviously Pittsburgh has a rich history of sports and success, ‘City of Champions’ is a common phrase here, which has led to mentality of only really supporting winning teams. But with Football, Hockey and Baseball being king here, Soccer has definitely taken a backseat for many years. But it does have a rich history with teams like Heidelburg, Beadling, and Harmaville (teams that still exist) making some noise in the 30’s to 50s nationally, and a relatively successful indoor team Pittsburgh Spirit in the 70s / early 80s.
I have been lucky enough to play in the local league ‘PA West’ since early 90’s and seen it grow, and also seen general growth in the interest in Soccer. There are a few EPL supporters clubs in town that have 100-200 members (Spurs & Liverpool seem to be best organized, & maybe Chelsea when they are winning). Watching Champions league games down at the main Soccer Pub (Pipers Pub – our sponsor !) is now in such high demand that if you are not there a couple hours before the game – forget it. More pubs/bars are becoming soccer bars opening early and taking notice of the game. With the highly diverse population in Pittsburgh International games are always fun with an active Outlaw chapter in the ‘Burg, and almost always guaranteed that there will be someone from each country – even if it is an Irish guy pretending to be Icelandic to annoy the English guys. The professional team Riverhounds has struggled for attendance and performance, which are intrinsically linked in Pittsburgh but there are signs that this season this may change. The location of the stadium downtown, a new attitude and coach and hopefully experience of previous seasons mistakes are grounds for optimism. Current record 0-1-1 is not so encouraging.
Couple areas I am not so familiar with are Youth soccer & College Soccer. There are many youth clubs within Pittsburgh with some very successful clubs at least regionally, namely Century, Beadling, and Riverhounds Academy. Most of our Open Cup team – Tartan Devils Oak Avalon played somewhere locally in college and from what little I know the colleges are competitive (Pitt, Duquesne, Robert Morris etc) but have not been too successful at a national level.
What can you tell me about the league Tartan currently play in? Is it a solid level of play, fun rivalries, that kind of thing?
PA West is the league that all our teams play in and they range from GPSL (open league), and have an Over 30, 40, 50 for men, and a Women’s Open and Over 23 league. Ref: http://www.pawest-soccer.org and http://pawest-adult.org
The adult league as a whole has almost 100 teams within it as a guesstimate, and is a financially secure, well run and growing league, but with too much of concentration on youth to be critical ! The GPSL although being dominated by the Tartan Devil Oak Avalon team the last 3 years, is very competitive and the Devils are always pushed, particularly by the Plum and Montour teams. The finals tend to be tense affairs with the standard of football being comparable with anything I have seen in Pittsburgh.
As for long standing rivalries it should be noted that nothing any good soccer wise has come out of Bethel Park…
What do you think it would take to get Pittsburgh really interested in supporting a soccer team, whether it's the Riverhounds, you, or someone else?
In reality winning. Pittsburgh follows winners.
But in my opinion Pittsburgh is definitely a place of untapped potential, and we need the soccer community as a whole to get together and forget all our personal interests and do what is best for soccer locally, which again IMO is rally around the Riverhounds, and try to repeat the FC Cincy experience here. Hopefully that would spark a winning team and the large crowds and interest would then in turn help all the rest of the soccer community.
Oh and get Yards Brawler into Highmark stadium. (TDFC sponsor).
How was the clubs previous experience in the USOC? I imagine it was a pretty incredible experience.
Last year, our first year was disappointing as we drove 5+ hours to Virginia and lost to a team, Aromas Café, I felt we could have beaten. We did beat them this year in Pittsburgh, which maybe confirmed that. One memory is after that first game all the players buying six packs for the drive back and their plans to get crazy. I was the driver and 10 minutes after leaving Charlottesville everyone was asleep exhausted. In my day……... Watched with interest as Aromas Café went on to win 2 more games before losing to Richmond Kickers (USL) in the 2nd round proper, which inspired us to re-enter this year.
As a random question. Is there any way readers can buy a TDFC Shirt?
Absolutely - https://compressmerch.com/collections/tartan-devil-football-club. Can even buy a ‘real’ TDFC shirt and look like one of us. Hopefully not the Recycled team (Over 40 & Over the Hill) but the Open Cup team.
What's the goal for the USOC this year, or is the goal to just go out there and try your best?
We obviously want to go as far as we can possibly go and represent the team, club and Pittsburgh in a manner that would make people proud. We would love to play a local rival (AFC Cleveland or a team from the East) and beat them, but playing in Pittsburgh against the Riverhounds would be a great goal, and would be a heck of an occasion for everyone involved with the club. After that would have to believe just playing at a MLS stadium would be incredible and I might insist in bringing my boots to that game.
What's one lesson you've learned from a success at the club, and on you've learned from failure?
Getting deep now. For a Pub Club that has had no long term plan and no set of initial goals apart from to have fun, to have such great young team within the club and to be at this stage is incredible, and proves that anything is possible. The main thing that I have learned is that some people (& therefore teams) have a winning mentality, and if you can get enough of them together good things happen.
To me, the game time failures we have had as individual teams are minor as we grow as a club and have moved from a great idea by some guys in a pub to being a large group of like-minded people playing the game we love and hopefully becoming more than ‘just’ a soccer club. A lesson learned in previous USOC, and a couple of regional tournaments were that the PA West GPSL league schedule needed to be expanded to ensure match fitness which was addressed last year, so “ain’t no stoppin’ us now.”
In five years, where do you hope to see the Tartan Devils?
As the current President I would like us maintain our Pub club mentality but would like to see two teams at every level of PA West, one elite team and one competitive but fun team. i.e. not too far from where we are now. With the hope that if we have the teams capable of competing that US Open Cup and other regional tournaments become a normal part of our season. Also very importantly I would like to see us get even more involved in ‘giving back’ to both the soccer community but also the community at large.
Note : TDFC President’s change every 2 years and my time is almost up. Next President may want world domination!!
If you could change one thing about the USOC, and one thing about US soccer, what would you change and why?
USOC : Difficult to think how you would change as like the format. Possible live drawings of rounds, with limits on who can play each other due to distance announced beforehand.
US Soccer : (took 2 things).
MLS promotion and relegation. An impossible dream as I believe these decisions are made by the owners who don’t want to lose their investment BUT the thrill of promotion & relegation brings excitement to nearly all games towards end of season. Otherwise you get perennial losers hanging around with nothing to play for.
No reserve or B teams in the USL. Because they have no real identity and an always changing cast of players. Create a Reserve league for those teams, or assign them to smaller cities/towns to promote soccer.
Why is it important for people to start and or play for small, local teams like the Tartan Devils?
Think it is more that clubs like the Tartan Devils provide people a way to keep on playing a game they love. For some it is after their school or college careers are over, they can play at the highest competitive level possible, while maintaining their work & family commitments. Also quite often teams are made up of friends that have played for years together, and it is the team that helps maintain that friendship. Finally one of the advantages of having different levels of teams is that with so many youth teams around and shortage of experienced coaches, it is quite often that coaches will start playing soccer to get actual experience, to help them with their coaching.
Now that you know you're USOC Opponent, Derby City Rovers, how excited are you for the game?
Seriously concerned about some players not being able to play because of work commitments, and extra cost of 6 hours + means we won't be able to afford a coach as hoping. So getting there will be fun. But lots of things to do and no doubt will be excited as it approaches, but on day of draw just looking at all the issues.
After watching emails go back & forth the team is stoked, and looking like a strong team will be travelling down to Indiana/Kentucky. Think they realize this maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity. Already excitement level is back at almost intolerable.
What's your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
Notts County – Oldest professional team in the world formed 1862. Won FA Cup in 1894 nothing big since – currently mid-table League 2 (4th level) in England and after our start to the year happy with that. Watch EPL mainly to hope the ‘big five/six’ lose.
Favorite players, one past, one present.
Colin Bell – Manchester City. #8 when I was a kid and lived close to Manchester. Majestic player.
Dele Ali – English & skillful with attitude.
Are there any books or podcasts, soccer related otherwise, that you would recommend to readers?
Fever Pitch – Nick Hornby.
Victory (Escape to Victory) – WWII film with Pele, & Sylvester Stallone in it.
Notts County’s greatest games – very quick read.
Where's the best place in Pittsburgh to get a beer, and what beer is best to order?
Pipers Pub on South Side is my 2nd home, if there is a soccer game being played it will be on, and good food & beer. You can’t get better than TDFC sponsor’s beer – Yards Brawler.
You get to meet one person from soccer history. Who is it?
George Best. So many stories to hear, and some of them to do with soccer.
What would you say to someone asking you why they should get out and support their local team, like the Tartan Devils?
Generally local teams should be supported as nothing beats a live game, and relative to other sports soccer is a bargain.
For TDFC & the Open Cup - If you have ever want to root for an underdog then this team and their next games in the USOC is the ultimate in underdoggery(!). I know that this team will give their all, and if they play to their potential may surprise a team or two. Be there for a little bit of Pittsburgh soccer history. Plus I may buy you a beer!
Thank you again for your time John, I really appreciate it. 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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