By Far The Greatest Team have been very lucky to be able to speak to Chris Ross, who recently made the jump from Scotland to United States as he joined new football side Atlantic City FC.
Congratulations on your new appointment! What is your official title with Atlantic City?
“My official club title would be development director.”
What falls under your remit, what are you responsible for?
“My role as a Director is to be responsible for club development, brand awareness and community relations. 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. This ranges from player recruitment and registration, to club legalities and operations. I’m also involved in establishing new partnerships for the club and sponsors. In terms of community relations that sees me responsible for helping the Club fulfil our role in the wider community helping to make a difference across Atlantic City and the surrounding areas.”
You’ve worked with some big clubs including Ross County FC, Kilmarnock FC and Stenhousemuir FC. Often those behind the scenes are unsung heroes supporting the efforts of the team and manager. What roles did you fulfil in Scotland and what is your appraisal of the experience you amassed?
“I’ve been lucky enough to work in professional football in Scotland across teams such as Ross County and Kilmarnock in the top-flight, but also sides such as Stenhousemuir and Clyde in the lower professional divisions. I think those experiences are extremely important because every club is unique in almost everything they do. 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.”
You’ve come over from beautiful Scotland, posing many questions as to why anybody would want to leave the bonny country for elsewhere, even Atlantic City in the US. As we all know the 40 days and 40 nights of rain referenced in the Bible is still the driest summer on Scottish record. Other than the slight improvement in weather, what drew you to New Jersey? What was your motivation for accepting a position with specifically Atlantic City FC?
“It was the draw of an opportunity 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 am also 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. The potential that the club can achieve in terms of regeneration to Atlantic City as a whole, not just on the community side but as a brand and as a leading sports side is second to none. We want to become the focal point in the area that people can really get behind and want to be involved in. A club doing things in the right way both on and off the pitch.”
Andrew Weilgus, co-owner of Atlantic City FC alongside business partner Nick Bilotta, recently said in an interview that “Any local team is worth supporting IF that team supports the community.” Your role is clearly central to that, what do you see as your immediate priorities?
“I’m delighted to be given this responsibility by Andrew and the team here at Atlantic City as well as the chance to be involved in the development of the Club during its first year in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). The ambition shown by the Club and the impact it wants to have, not only on the pitch as a competitive NPSL side, but also the wider community impact and spirit that we are looking to create in Atlantic City is what makes our project so unique and exciting. Being involved in helping the club fulfil our role in the wider community as well as helping to make a difference across Atlantic City and the surrounding areas. Lastly, to be able to begin to put plans in place and create initiatives that will have that key impact across Atlantic City in terms of community relations. In terms of club operations I will also be at the heart of the club’s governance and operations in terms of strategic direction and looking after both our staff, players and fans.”
The US is a hotbed for football (soccer) at the moment with the new Major League Soccer season underway and 2018 CONCACAF Champions League at the quarter-final stage, New Jersey is home to the New York Red Bulls and in relatively close proximity to New England Revolution, New York City FC, Philadelphia Union and DC United in the Eastern Conference. Atlantic City have joined the National Premier Soccer League, unofficially the fourth tier. What are the positives around joining the NPSL?
“There are an exceptional amount of positives around the NPSL just now. It’s such an exciting time, not only is the NPSL now at it’s largest ever size in terms of teams but with the NASL being confirmed as not in existence for the coming season you have teams from the former higher division entering the NPSL to continue their existence and that will only further our clubs development. 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 I have been used to 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.”
The National Premier Soccer League is a huge competition with 98 teams split into four regions (Northeast, South, Midwest and West) containing either three or four conferences under each region. Atlantic City have been placed into the Keystone Conference inside the Northeast Region alongside experienced sides such as Buxmont Torch FC. What are the club’s ambitions for the 2018 season?
“I think I might have jumped ahead in my last answer and covered this a little, but we are extremely happy with our player recruitment for the forthcoming season. We are looking to push the teams in our Keystone Conference and be as competitive as possible. We are ambitious, in the Keystone Conference finishing in the top four will secure a play-off end to the season and I would want us to be at the very least in those final four come the end of July. We know that the competition will be fierce, some sides have recruited fantastically well in the Keystone Conference and you’ve got sides like Buxmont Torch who are seasoned and experienced. FC Motown securing the services of players who have competed in the CONCACAF Champions League Final (Yes, Dilly Duka) in recent years. So we are expecting it to be a tough and competitive season, the beauty of that is you do well and overcome a fiercely competitive conference then you are even better prepared for play-offs and glamour ties such as Miami, Jacksonville, Detroit City and Elm City that will all no doubt be looking to win the National Premier Soccer League this year.”
Atlantic City kick off with a friendly against the wonderfully named Nebraska Bugeaters on May 5th and then the league campaign gets underway against FC Monmouth at home, which is at Stockton University. There’s a long road to travel including bringing in a playing squad under former Swansea Under-21 boss Kristian O’Leary. How are trials and try-outs happening in the community?
“We are now finished with our player recruitment for the forthcoming season. This has been something the owners, management and myself have worked on tirelessly over the last few months and we are now feeling really positive about our first ever season. Last month, we held our open tryouts in Atlantic City which proved exceptionally popular with over 70 people attending on both days. Many of which where local residents. This offered aspiring players a chance to be involved, and the fact that our tryouts were completely free when many other soccer clubs across the nation charge for tryouts is testament to the inclusion we want to offer people in Atlantic City.”
We understand that unlike the vast majority of other NASL teams, you have a beachside boutique hotel. The Chelsea Hotel was recently acquired by Tropicana Hotel, the club’s sponsor stationed on Beachfront Avenue. How will this help secure players and contribute to the long-term success of Atlantic City FC?
“The support we have received from our main sponsor the Tropicana really is incredible. Their support in terms of accommodation and work opportunities for players and staff completely does allow us to offer our players a great lifestyle doing something they love. The Chelsea Hotel has been recently renovated too and the Tropicana allow us to take our club development to the next level in so many ways.”
Best wishes Chris for the new campaign, it’s great to see such well run and supported clubs working in partnership with the local community. Social media has been a big platform for you so far with over 10,000 twitter followers before a ball is kicked in anger. How can fans follow your team online across the different forms of social media?
Best of luck to Chris and Atlantic City FC over the coming campaign! Over on our sister site MLSFootball.com, we’ll check in with the Aces every month.