Formed in 2017, Atlantic City F.C is a relatively new club with big ambitions. 23 year old Chris Ross is a Director at the club and originally from Glasgow, he shares with us an insight into life in Atlantic City (New Jersey) U.S.A!
Past and current roles
I’ve been fortunate enough to work for a number of professional clubs across Scotland being responsible for developing and managing their charitable foundations, trusts and community arms.
My first paid role was working at Clyde in 2016. Following Stenhousemuir’s relegation from Scottish League One at the end of the 2016-2017 season, I was brought in to undertake a review of the community arm and programmes at the club. In 2017, I began working for Scottish Premier League side Ross County where I worked on developing the charitable foundation before then commencing an identical role for another Scottish Premier League side, Kilmarnock. Most recently I have been appointed as a Director for the latest U.S. expansion team in the National Premier Soccer League, Atlantic City based in New Jersey.
Was it your direction to end up where you are?
I first got involved in my area of work in a voluntary capacity for Edinburgh University A.F.C. when I was studying my degree in Community Education at the University of Edinburgh. Football for me really is more than a game and the way it impacts local communities has always touched me. Since then I have never looked back and also provided consultancy advice and information to many other leading professional football clubs across the U.K. and U.S. have also worked for a number of leading non-profit organisations and charities in the third sector. In terms of coaching, I have done little bits of coaching and hold a number of the initial S.F.A coaching badges.
What’s it like; players, training, matches, environment, expectations, targets?
So far the role has been really exciting, I have taken on a lot of new responsibilities in terms of football operations that I would not have previously led on at my former clubs. Myself, the owners and management have worked tirelessly on player recruitment for our first ever season as a club and that has been a lot of work. We are extremely pleased with our player recruitment for this season. It sees a good mix of ages on our books for the season with a wealth of experience. We’ve brought in players still at college and seasoned professionals who have represented their country and played across higher divisions across leagues in the U.S. and Europe. In terms of facilities for training and matches we have access to some excellent facilities such as Stockton University a lovely 2,500 capacity grass pitch. Our expectations for this season are to be as competitive as possible. The National Premier Soccer League is entirely different to the league concepts we have in the U.K. In the NPSL the goal is for your team to do well in it’s initial 10 or so matches to be in with a chance to progress from your regional conference (teams from in and around your area). If you do well the top couple of teams then progress on to the National Premier Soccer League playoffs which sees you play a home and away tie against sides that could be anywhere in the United States from Florida, California, Michigan and more.
There are also some giants in the National Premier Soccer League such as Miami United, Jacksonville Armada, Detroit City F.C. and Elm City Express. In terms of the season, our pre-season preparations kick off in April and our first ever match as a club is a home friendly on May 5th. We really want to be competitive on the pitch in our conference this season and we want to be filling the stadium out to max capacity at every home fixture. We want to do this because if we can build a solid fan base and outgrow the initial facilities at Stockton then we have potential to move to a 5,500 capacity former baseball stadium in the heart of Atlantic City that now sits empty, but this of course only makes sense if we have the numbers to back such a move.
What’s been the best thing for your personal development
I’ve been looking for an opportunity to put myself out of my comfort zone and to test myself abroad. I believe that one of the best ways to learn and develop in the game is to get out and gain experience across different clubs, nations and parts of the world. I extremely excited be involved in U.S. soccer, which continues to make huge strides in terms of growth and I want to be involved in that development.
What things have been a hardship or testing?
It’s certainly been a challenge for us all to put pieces together, but it is all so worth it. I always remember a chat with one of the owners Drew Weilgus, in which he said to me “When I started this process I’m not sure if someone had said to me Drew, you can have a soccer team, but you’ll have to fill out roughly 900 forms in only 6 months to make it happen I’d have taken this on, but I did and here we are.” Putting the initial structure in place for the club is the hardest aspect to my role as a Director but it is made so much easier by the fact that the myself, the owners and the management have all been playing our part to make it happen.
Has anything developed you more than if you were working in UK?
Completely, taking on a role abroad helps you to understand the importance of context. You can’t take one approach from your role in a previous location and just paste it to your new one. Particularly when you are working on the community side to football clubs. You need to understand what the community needs and the best way to support them as every community is individual. The issues faced by a community in the U.K. is entirely different to issues faced by a community in the U.S.
For me since I have begun my role at Atlantic City, I have had nothing but complete support from a number of Chief Executives and Directors of clubs across England and Scotland. They have all opened their doors to me for support in terms of sharing knowledge and development and it’s touching for me to have that support network available to me back home to lean on. It’s important to also say the support I’ve received and talks I’ve had with Directors and Owners of other clubs in the United States has also been so positive and friendly. It’s so encouraging to see such a collaborative outlook and approach from most people I’ve spoken too. Part of the draw of being involved in the development of Atlantic City as a club for me is the chance to get involved in bridging gaps in U.S. soccer in terms of community relations especially, as this is an area in the U.K. almost every professional club has wised up to and excels at. The U.K. clubs are achieving great things off the pitch in terms of supporting their local communities and I want to take the model we use so well in the U.K. and strip it down heavily to fit with the needs of Atlantic City community and U.S. Soccer.
Have you met any perceptions of British coaches?
From a Director perspective, I think that the United States have nothing but praise for British coaches and the experiences they bring to U.S. Soccer. Our own head coach is Kristian O’Leary, formerly of Swansea City in the English Premier League and for the U.S. players to have a chance to learn from someone who achieved so much in the British game and had a highly successful career, I hear nothing but excitement from the players to get to work with their head coach. I think in general as well there is a very positive and respectful perspective that the U.S. have for those involved in the British game because we are coming from some of the most developed and revered leagues in the world and the U.S. are so keen to develop and grow their own game.
Any closing thoughts?
My only final thought would be to encourage anyone considering trying their trade outside of the U.K. to take a leap of faith and try it. You could have a real impact on developing the game in another country and experience cultures or places you otherwise may never have been.