"We want to embrace the best model for our long term growth and competitiveness."
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Hello again, readers! I want to thank you again for your continued readership of AP. I want to give some context to this interview, as it's actually part a really neat project. Savannah Clovers are actually working very closely with Lowcountry United in South Carolina to move up the pyramid in tandem. They'll also be playing a friendly on Saint Patrick's Day to help draw more attention to each others teams. These two teams will definitely will be one's to keep an eye on. So without further ado, Brian Sykes of Savannah Clovers. Check it out.
First question would be, so the readers know a little bit about you, tell me who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Savannah Clovers FC.
Greetings, my name is Brian Sykes. I'm from Savannah, Georgia and I am the founder and director of Savannah Clovers Football Club. SCFC is derived from First City Supporters, which I help co found with my friend Donovan Ringo. With FCS, we hoped to engage the soccer community in Savannah by forming a supporters' club to help bring a team to our city. With the wave of supporter owned clubs in the U.S., we felt that we should evolve our approach to our goal.
How did you come to be interested in soccer?
The 2006 World Cup was my first foray into soccer. Never before had I watched soccer, or played it. Yet, I was captivated by the art that played out on the field. Captivated by the supporter culture in the stands. I began to learn about the game and its history in the United States. I was amazed by the deep roots soccer has in our country.
What's the story behind the creation of Savannah Clovers?
So the idea of Savannah Clovers comes from the lower league/supporter owned movement. Clubs like Chattanooga FC, Detroit City and San Francisco City inspired me to embark on this crazy journey. Plus the idea of a thriving soccer club in Savannah isn't far fetched in my opinion. With a metro population of 380,000, along with 4 universities with 22,000 plus students, Savannah can support a club.
So the Clovers are actually a supporter owned club?
Being supporter owned is a possibility for our club. We want to embrace the best model for our long term growth and competitiveness.
Where did the Clovers name come from?
I wanted a name that connects with those that live in and outside Savannah. A name that make sense and flows evenly. Something genuinely soccer. The clovers name comes from Savannah's Irish history and our famous St Patrick's day parade.
St Patrick's day parade? Sounds like that would be a good time to visit Savannah. You recently started playing games, correct?
Yes, the holiday draws around a half million to a million visitors to the city. We started playing in a local 11 a side league here in Savannah. It's a way to get out feet wet and help build our organization. Of course it's not our end game, we'd like to one day represent our city in an established league.
What's the league you're playing in now? Good competition for the time being?
It's a local 11 a side league, Liga de Savannah. It gets us games and gives us freedom to tinker with the club. To see what works and what doesn't. Good competition, yes.
Did you develop any rivalries, or are you still too new for that?
Still new in the league. Most of the teams have been playing together for many seasons. Games are held at Jennifer Ross Soccer Complex. Hopefully the city expands it to offer more playing surfaces including turf.
Having never been to Savannah myself, how you describe the city, and it's soccer scene, to an outsider?
Savannah is definitely unique. The historic downtown district is like walking into a painting. The picturesque squares and architecture attracts tourists from around the world. The city has a cool vibe with its local shops and eateries. One of the largest youth soccer academies is Savannah United. They have close to 3,000 youth players. Others like Effingham United and Richmond Hill soccer clubs fill in the gaps. Tormenta FC's storm academy also operates in and around the Savannah area. Rec soccer is visible also. 11 and 6 a side leagues play on Sundays.
So it's got a fair amount of 'Southern charm' then?
Yes, and plenty of Spanish Moss.
Strange thing, I love Spanish Moss. Since there so many league options now for the Clovers, what are you looking for a league moving forward?
Bringing league soccer to Savannah is very important to us. The city is changing and its the right time to launch our effort. Many entertainment options are in development around Savannah and we believe we can add a sporting experience to it. We'd like to play in 4th or 5th division to start off. Of course our goal is to push our club to the highest level possible, that should be every club's goal. The growth of lower league soccer over the years only encourages us. The goal is attainable for any community. Remember, all soccer is local.
From left to right: Jackie Chen, Assistant Coach. Phillip Higgins, Director of Soccer Operations. Brian Sykes, Founder/Lead Director. Logan Spencer, Director of Marketing
Cool. Clovers seem to be collaborating with Lowcountry United in South Carolina. Bantering back and forth, retweeting each other, and other social media encouragement. How'd did that relationship come about?
Its been really cool conversing with Alan from LCU. It's always fun to discover someone on the same journey as yourself. Both clubs share a belief in lower league soccer and the cities they represent. I think Clovers and LowCountry can benefit from each other, so it only makes sense to help each other along. We've already bounced a few ideas off each other and we hope to make an impact on our region.
What kind of support are you getting from the people in your area? Are fans getting behind you, or is Savannah a tough market to crack?
I wouldn't say Savannah is a tough market to crack. I'd say it's primed for something new. As of right now we have a baseball team that's pretty popular. In order to break through here you have to be official. We've been able to draw interest from our Twitter and Facebook. We will soon have a website and game plan for attracting sponsorship. Once we announce our intentions I'm sure we'll peak the interest of fans, media and sponsors.
So potential fans in Savannah are looking for legitimacy from a new team?
Correct. Fans want to see a team competing in a pro or semi pro league. That'll drive them out to the games and get involved. That'll get them behind a team and their community. Of course there's only so much a local league team can do. If fans see where we want to go I'm sure we'll attract them along with sponsors and investors.
Now, how important do you think it is to potential fans in Savannah that you take yourselves seriously? I'm noticing a trend between the teams that take their branding, outreach, and overall team seriously and the amount of fan support.
It's very important. Those operating the club have to realize that they're building something that has the potential of lasting for decades. In some cases, over 100 years. So choosing the right name, color and crest is key. It's hard to build history when you have to go back and change part of your foundation. You have to be able to strike a balance between the type of fans you want. Too friendly and you'll turn off die hards. Too ultra driven and you'll turn off families. So we want to get things right from the beginning and build going forward.
Good point on balance, making sure you can appeal to families and fanatics.Does the team have a supporters group currently, or will that be something that happens as your ambitions become clearer?
Once our ambitions become clearer, First City Supporters will be our supporters group or act as an umbrella for any new groups that may form.
Very nice, good to see the team is already getting support. What are a couple of things you've learned from success and setback since starting the team?
Our first season was a test, to see how we could run things on the field. We played well but didn't end with a winning record. This time around we're taking training more seriously and putting in time to organize. We've been successful in articulating our goals to those interested and we're beginning to see the payoff. We have a few things planned for 2017. 2018 is gonna be a big year for us hopefully. We're working to launch this club to the next level. I've learned a lot during this process, along with my partners I'm working with. But honesty anyone can do this. If your city is without representation in mls, nasl, USL, npsl etc..just take on the task yourself. It's a lot of work and you still have to keep your day job. But to see it grow and evolve is something else.
Ready to move into more rapid fire questions to wrap this up?
Favorite League and or Team to watch.
MLS, Premier League: LA Galaxy, Chelsea and of course Savannah Clovers
Favorite players, on past one present.
Past: Thierry Henry
Present: Sebastian Giovinco
Recommended book or podcast, soccer related or otherwise.
Men in Blazers counts as a podcast, right?
Would you rather go to the Euros, AFC Nations Cup, or World Cup.
Tough one. Toss up between Euros and WC. I'd pick Euros at the moment.
What one person from soccer history would you like to meet.
I would say everyone's default pick is probably Pele. So I'll go with Joe Gaetjens.
Nice pick with Gaetjens. Last question for you to wrap this up. What would you say to someone asking you why they should get and support a local team like the Clovers?
I'd say they'd have a chance to be here from the beginning. They'd be able to follow a club from the grassroots to possibly to the pro ranks. Support for the club will help the city as well. By growing soccer in Savannah we'd be able to develop more youth players. The more support for the club the more we can give back to our community. Grassroots soccer is spreading and there's no reason it can't work here. We haven't had the luxury of growing up with a league team, or passing that team down to our children. Hopefully we can change that with Savannah Clovers.
Brian, thanks again for taking the time to do this. 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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