Club Culture

Orlando City vs Atlanta United – US Open Cup 2019

The passion for soccer in the American South is red hot, almost more so than the weather, and it was nowhere more apparent than at the U.S. Open Cup semifinal at the Exploria Stadium in Orlando on 07 August 2019.

Orlando City and Atlanta United was the semifinal draw made in heaven, as Orlando have yet to beat their southern neighbors and both sets of supporters claim their club as “soccer kings of the south”. Nowhere else will you see more unwavering support and passion from a group of supporters in the south than during each respective club’s fixtures. Orlando City has had many groups around, like the Iron Lion Firm and the Ruckus, to support the club from its inception in 2011, and never do they falter. Atlanta United, on the other hand, has had massive attendances to every one of their matches and the fever for the game is rife across the North Georgian City. 

The match lived up to its month long hype, with a fairly open game for the entire 90 minutes, and Atlanta coming away with a 0-2 win. Orlando seemed ambitious, coming out firing on all cylinders as Dom Dwyer delightfully chipped one over Brad Guzan after some delicious build up play in the first ten minutes, but it was deemed marginally offside, and they couldn’t seem to finish their moves in the attacking third from then on.

This didn’t change the wall’s support though, as they kept chanting, jumping and singing all night, even as Atlanta took advantage with goals from Eric Remidi in the first half and Bournemouth loanee Emerson Hyndman in the second half. Orlando City had a magical run to get to their first open cup semifinal in club history, and it’s a crying shame their unbelievable support on the night wasn’t rewarded. But Atlanta’s machine didn’t falter, and the 200 or so away supporters in the upper corner of the stand were rewarded for their long journey and traveled home happy. 

American soccer and the desire for it is alive and well, and the open cup exemplifies this spirit year after year. The final is on the 27th of this month, but we’re already looking forward to next year’s magic.

Author – Dom Conrad of Eleven+You. Eleven+You are a collection of US Soccer enthusiasts and look at the best in fan culture and football jerseys. Go check them out on Instagram @elevenplusyou

November 16th, 2005. The Night Australia Became a Football Nation.

One night in November. One bloody magical night in November where nerves were really, really tested, hoodoos were broken and the legend Johnny Warren looking down was finally able to say ‘ I told you so’. Oh what a night! 

The date was November 16th, to be exact, and the setting was Telstra Stadium, Sydney. The opponents were Uruguay and the occasion was a sudden death World Cup playoff if you don’t mind. The winner would head on over to the Cup in Deutchland whilst the loser would have four long, drawn out years to think about what might have been. The stakes really didn’t get much higher. 

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For those poor, long suffering fans of the Australian football team, or the Socceroos as they were known down under, this was something we were all to used to. We hadn’t qualified for the biggest dance in intenational football in over 31 years and had seen Scotland, Argentina, Iran and Uruguay break our hearts at this stage before. With the WC fairytale master Guus Hiddink at the helm and arguably our finest squad assembled featuring Viduka, Kewell, Cahill, Schwarzer, Emerton and a certain J. Aloisi, there was a silent air of positivity milking around the country – but any team that featured the magician Recoba was one not to be taken lightly. 

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Now learning from failures of bygone years we’d managed to ensure the second leg was played at home, and coming off a narrow 1-0 first leg loss there was an absolute sea of gold ready and willing to spur the boys on to overturn that deficit and get the team where we needed to be; The World Cup. 

The scene was set for 90 minutes and then some that would deadset see it all. It was tight. It was tense. But after 27 minutes we were level on aggregate, thanks to the bald Messi Mark Bresciano who bulged the old onion bag after an inspired mis-kick from Kewell. The next 83 minutes would see chances for both teams go begging to win the match with Uruguay missing a sitter that would’ve ended it. “Jeez, maybe it really could be our night” we thought. But before we dreamt too big or got too far ahead of ourselves the whistle was blowing for the end of extra time. We were entering the lottery that was pens, where anything could happen. Penalties are an absolute dog of a way to end a game we reckon, but that’s how it goes and that’s how we’d have to try and win. Bring on the drama. 

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Kewell stepped up first. Goal. Rodriguez from Uruguay next. Miss. You bloody ripper. Lucas Neill and his pretty boy good looks next. Goal. Get in son. Bloke by the name of Varela steps up next and slots it. Well played. That see’s Tony Vidmar stride on down. That got me very, very nervous. Two defenders taking pens so early. Not sold on this, but what do I know as Tony puts it away. 3-1 Australia. Almost there. 

Estoyanoff is the next Uruguayan to march to the spot, and fair play to him with the pressure on he makes no mistake. 3-2 Australia. Next up is the man, the myth, the legend: The Duke of Oz aka Mark Viduka. It was meant to be – until he bloody missed it. He bloody missed it. Dukes you muppet. How could you? We were almost there. Got to stay positive now as we were still in a good spot. Zalayeta steps up, and Mark Schwarzer that absolute weapon, pulls out his version of the hand of god and SAVES it. He’s gone and saved it. What a man. We are one kick away, again.

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Almost there as it falls to John Aloisi to seal the deal. Almost can’t watch now. Tension is through the roof. The stadium goes silent as Aloisi steps up and smashes it in. It’s gone in. It’s gone bloody in!

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The commentators are losing it. We are through. After 31 long years Australia is back in the cup. Aloisi’s got his shirt off and is running around the stadium as everyone loses it. What a time to be a football fan. We didn’t win the cup but by sheer virtue of been there the underdog of the Australian sporting landscape had finally made everyone take notice of how beautiful our game could be.

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November 16th, 2005. This was the night Australia became a football nation. It was one of those nights when you’ll never forget where you were. It’s a date that will forever be etched in both Australian football and sporting folklore as it changed the game for the better and woke the slumbering giant. Australian football was on the map thanks to the Socceroos triumph, and all over the papers and TV where it rightly belonged. The media recognition was well overdue and wonderfully timed as the newly formed Australian league had launched just months before. A sweet connection from the left peg of Aloisi that bulged the net gave the newly formed A-League one hell of a marketing boost that could not be bought. Amongst all this jubilation somewhere up above, smiling, was Socceroos legend Johnny Warren thinking ‘’Jeez, I told you so. About time.” 

The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Parma

It is great to see that Parma appear to be stabilising themselves back in the top division of Italian Football with their 14th place finish in the 2018/19 season. It is also easy to forget just how far they had fallen in such a short space of time and just how much they have achieved to have a seat again at the top table.  

Looking at European football at large, the demise of Parma was on a scale rarely seen before (with the closest comparable being Glasgow Rangers. In the ten years from 1992 to 2002, Parma won eight trophies including three Coppa Italia’s (1991–92, 1998–99, 2001–02), one Italian Super Cup (1999), two UEFA Cups (1994-95, 1998-99), one European Cup Winners Cup (1992-93) and one European Super Cup (1993). Such was the success of Parma during the 90s and early 2000s, it made them one of the most prominent and respected clubs throughout the glory years of Italian football (and arguably club football).

The football aficionado would rejoice at some of the names that played for Parma in the 1990s. It really is like a who’s who of talent – Buffon, Thuram, Cannavaro, Zola, Crespo, Veron , Stoichkov, Asprilla. Parma really did find the perfect blend between established international stars and local talent.

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The glory days began to curtail in 2003, when their main financial backer and shareholder Parmalat (which adorned their iconic shirts of the 90s) went bankrupt. While the clubs financial difficulties were multiplying, the club bizarrely stayed in Serie A, alternating between European qualification and mid-table mediocrity. Their difficulties caught up with them in 2008 when they were finally relegated to the Serie B. Some thought that the club would find it difficult to recover. However, the team only remained there for one season, finishing the season in 2nd position and booking a ticket back to Serie A.

Their financial issues finally caught up though, with Parma FC made bankrupt in March 2015 with total debts of c€220m including unpaid wages to players and staff of c€60m and were docked points in the months preceding. Things became so desperate for the club that games had been postponed because they could not even pay the match stewards.

To the leagues credit, Parma were allowed to finish the season in Serie A but with of course, relegation to Serie B a formality. Serie B then denied the club a place in the league as the club could not find a new buyer or pay their aforementioned debts meaning the club were folded for the second time in a decade. They would have to start the 2015-16 season, as Parma Calcio 1913, in Serie D.

The club were on the verge of going out of existence, but as has been proven when clubs are in their dying embers, the last thing to leave the club is the supporters. Parma fans supported their club financially when it was at its lowest point, with a crowdfunding scheme resulting in the fans owning 25% of the club. A consortium of local entrepreneurs, called the Nuovo Inizio (which translates as new beginnings), bought the remaining 75% of the shares and with it took over the new club, which was renamed Parma Calcio 1913. In doing so they brought in prominent figures from Parma’s glory days in the 90s such as Luigi Apolloni and Nevio Scala to help boost morale and connect the club with their past.

The fans were remarkably loyal, buying more season tickets in Serie D than they had in the club’s final season in Serie A. Their support on the terraces was reciprocated on the field with Parma Calcio 1913 winning promotion to Serie C in style, going unbeaten all season in the process and amassing the highest points total ever recorded in the league.

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Parma’s next promotion, in 2016/17 to Serie B, was a little less straight forward. Parma finished second, which gave them a spot in the last-16 stage of the gruelling play-offs, beating Piacenza, Lucchese and Pordenone and Alessandria in the playoffs to secure promotion to Serie B.

Following the back-to-back promotions Chinese businessman Jiang Lizhang went on to purchase a 60% stake in the club to become majority owner and new president. Lizhang ensured the club did not repeat the mistakes of the past and kept it a fan-friendly club. As a result of the investment, Nuovo Inizio reduced their stake to 30% with the supporters retaining 10%. Parma then appointed their iconic former talisman Hernan Crespo as vice president with the club firmly set on a third straight promotion.

Again, promotion in the 2017/18 season to Serie A was full of twists and turns. Going into the final day of the regular season, Frosinone were in prime position to finish second and with it, earn automatic promotion to Serie A. Parma needed to win at Spezia and hope Frosinone would drop points at home to Foggia. With just over an hour gone Parma were 2-0 up and Foggia were beating Frosinone 1-0. The club had one foot in Serie A. But this script would offer at least one more twist.

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In the space of five minutes, Frosinone scored twice to take the lead against Foggia and leapfrog Parma in the table. With the clock ticking down, it seemed as if Parma would have to settle for another tilt at the play-offs. But then, with just one minute of the season remaining, Foggia substitute Roberto Floriano scored an equaliser at Frosinone. They had left it late, but Parma had done it!

Their leader, their captain, Alessandro Lucarelli  had been the cornerstone of the clubs renaissance. He had remained loyal to the club throughout their journey and offered to stand by the club. True to his word, he stood by the club when they fell to Serie D, the only player to do so.

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Lucarelli was 40 years old when the club secured promotion to Serie A and personified the strength, determination and team work that the team showed on their journey from Serie D. He is also a man who kept a promise: That he would take the club back to Serie A.

At the end of his final game he was understandably overcome with emotion. “It can’t be true, it’s not possible, I can’t believe it,” he said, his voice cracking. “We have done something incredible in these past three years. Something out of this world. No one could have imagined a finale like this. I’m dying. It’s more than a dream. This promotion is a great prize for our fans who together with us never gave up. I am proud to be their captain. Now I can even retire.”

True to his word again, Lucarelli hung up his boots immediately after promotion to Serie A with the club retiring the Number 6 shirt in his honour, a fitting way to end his career. Here at KAISER Football we hope that Parma emulate their success of the 1990s but, whatever happens from here, the story of his incredible club’s renaissance and Alessandro Lucarelli’s instrumental part of it will be told for many years to come.

Enfield Town FC – For the Fans

In a world where teams are being dragged further away from their community and top-level football clubs are now ever increasingly owned by billionaires, one North London side is doing things differently. Step forward Enfield Town FC.

The UK’s very first wholly owned fan club are now striding towards its second decade in existence, lighting the way for others to follow the model. Formed in June of 2001 it was, according to Ken Brazier (Director at Enfield Town FC), “a result of many disenchanted supporters of the former Enfield FC wanting to be sure that the leading club in the borough would have a bright, thriving future”.

Perhaps surprisingly, during these nigh on twenty years of groundbreaking existence, theirs hasn’t been a tale of a directionless club floating aimlessly in non league backwaters. Honours include Essex Senior League champions (2003, 2005), Ryman League division one runners up and most recently The Velocity (Bostik League cup) trophy. They currently compete at the Step 7 of the English football pyramid, the Isthmian League.

Ken mentions “Our three-year business plan is based on the assumption of promotion to Conference South (Step 6) during the planning period under the current club (i.e. Trust) structure”. The club has a defined mission which is “to develop football facilities for ETFC” and the vision of being “an inclusive club for all and a football and social centre for the community”. Lofty targets, but they do not seem out of reach. Inclusivity is already being achieved by having a women’s team, as well as a disability team and various age groups. Who said football isn’t for everyone?

Ownership and disenchantment isn’t just a UK centric issue, it seems to affecting growing numbers of fans globally. One only has to take a cursory glance on Instagram to see that the hashtag #AgainstModernFootball currently has 175K posts, which highlights the growing sense of disillusionment.

Germany has a well publicised 50+1 Regel which the Deutscher Fußball-Bund passed down in 1998, allowing clubs to convert to a public or private limited company, but always ensuring the members own at least 50% plus one share, allowing a majority voting share. Of course, where you find a Deutschmark, you will find a deviation, or in this case, several. Where an organisation or person has continuously funded substantial amounts for a period of 20 years or more, the rule can be circumvented. This has occurred most notably with pharmaceutical giant Bayer (Bayer Leverkusen), Volkswagen (VFL Wolfsburg) and SAP (1899 Hoffenheim).

Most controversially has been Red Bull, and their interests in RB Leipzig. One can become a voting member at this institution, but Die Rotten Bullen can reject any application without a reason, and most of their members are actually employees of the energy drink corporation. These teams all have various levels of dislike levied at them by the rest of the Bundesliga, and couldn’t be further from the model of fan and community ownership.

Back to Enfield and “The Jewel in the crown” as Ken puts it, is the wonderful Grade II listed Queen Elizabeth Stadium. The Stadium looks resplendent with its Art Deco pavilion that wouldn’t look out of place in a Wes Anderson production, and where I have had the pleasure of visiting, for the 2019 edition of the Brian Lomax Cup pitting Enfield Town against FC United of Manchester. Ten articles couldn’t do Brian justice and I won’t even try, but he was the forefather of the fan movement we see today, believing that clubs belong to the supporters, as well as founding supporters trusts, sadly passing in 2015. This cup is played annually between two supporter owned clubs celebrating both the model, and Brian’s impact on the sport. The trophy was first contested between, fittingly, Enfield Town and AFC Wimbledon, and it is engraved with Jock Stein’s famous quote “Football without fans is nothing”. Enfield Town offered a hand to AFC Wimbledon, and a few other clubs starting on this path, Ken says they are proud to be “a go to club for advice on fan ownership”.

To the match, and despite the Friday evening kick off, FCUM fans were down in numbers and their contingent was in good voice, joined by two supporters of another fan owned club in YB SK Beveren all the way from Belgium. There wasn’t much to cheer about for the away fans, as after 8 minutes, ETFC were 2 up, scored by Josh Davison and then a real poachers finish from the industrial number 9, Billy Bricknell. Bricknell would add his second, and the Enfield Town third of the night as a free kick on the edge of the D is smartly saved by the goalkeeper but only into the centre forwards pass for an easy finish. FCUM could not handle the constant overlapping on the left and Sam Banticks trickery was a constant threat, and he would rightfully be awarded the man of the match award.

The Enfield Ultras were creating the atmosphere with their continental style drumming and capo from the first whistle to the last, and whilst it didn’t have the numbers and rhythm, they certainly wouldn’t look out of place on a Curva Sud . FCUM hit back rapidly for what turned out to be a mere consolation, but it sent the travelling Mancunians into frenzy. The Enfield Ultras responded with a typically pithy chant of “we forgot that you were here”, it seems the Enfield defence did also.

Come the second half and a raft of substitutions killed the game as a contest but Enfield Town’s number 17, the tall, languid and elegant Muahmmadu Faal got some minutes, and when he had the ball, it seemed nobody could take it from him, a non league Dimitar Berbatov. The game petered out and remained as it did at half time, 3-1 to the home team. As Ken says “ the club is continuing to grow in a sustainable way to maximise its potential”, is this a sign of more success to come?

So a trophy lifted by Enfield Town that less represents on field proficiency and tactical dexterity, but more a trinket that embodies fan culture, accessibility, ownership and belonging.

If you are looking for an alternative to corporate giants where you are merely a consumer, maybe pop down to the QEII, and if you like what you see and yearn for that community spirit, to feel part of something again, perhaps you can even become an owner. This is how football should be.