Brian Sykes and Donovan Ringo are not your average soccer fans. They love the game so much, they founded First City Supporters in February with one goal: Bring professional soccer to Savannah.
Focusing on a grassroots beginning, the pair say, “The mission of the First City Supporters is to bring a professional soccer club to the city of Savannah by supporting soccer in and around the Savannah area, from the grassroots to the professional level, while serving and uplifting the community.”
Ringo said his love for soccer began as he played the sport in childhood. He stopped playing, but in 2006, during the World Cup, he rediscovered his love for soccer and has been hooked since. “Currently I coach youth soccer as a volunteer for Savannah United. Figured it was a way to help grow the game here in Savannah,” Ringo said. “I get together with fellow members of American Outlaws to watch our National Team play at JJ Bonerz downtown on Bay Street.”
Sykes said his back story for soccer was not unlike other Americans. “I never was a soccer fan; I never played youth soccer or high school soccer,” he said. “My love for the sport came from watching the 2006 FIFA World Cup. I was captivated by art and culture of the sport. It only took a few games from that tournament to convince me that soccer was something special.
“I then did everything I could to learn the sport and its history here in our country. I was amazed of the deep roots that soccer has in the United States,” Sykes said. “Now you can find me every Sunday playing for the Mighty Ducks under Savannah Adult Soccer League.”
First City Supporters could do wonders for Savannah, Sykes added. “A team would fill the sports entertainment void left by the Savannah Sand Gnats and potentially keep Grayson Stadium operational. Additionally, it will add to Savannah’s international appeal, considering soccer is the world’s game.”
Ringo said soccer could potentially have a large economic impact for Savannah. “If you look at neighboring cities like Orlando and Charleston, for example, Orlando is projected to have a $1.2 billion impact on the city. This has been happening all across the country for cities which have brought a soccer team within its boards.”
First City Supporters host monthly group meetings at different locations. “Last month we met at B&D Burgers on Abercorn. In the meetings, we like to discuss where we are and where we are going,” Ringo said. “Right now we are trying to establish a strong foundation so we can answer all questions. We envision having large groups of people helping with the movement. Hopefully we can do an official event in the fall once we can raise the funds to do so.”
The best way to get the message across is by hosting viewing parties for MLS and National Team games, Sykes said. “We plan to host viewing parties for the upcoming Concacaf Gold Cup. There we can engage in discussions about how we can best approach building our club and bringing a team to Savannah.
They want to continue growing the movement beyond Savannah, as well. “We have reached out to individual clubs in the area (Atlanta and Charleston) about playing a friendly (exhibition) here just so we can show that there is a demand for a club in the city to league HQs. At this moment we have not talked with the city,” Ringo said.
“Unfortunately Savannah’s market size is not comparable to Major League Soccer markets,” Sykes added. “Ideally our team would play in the second or third division of the professional soccer pyramid. The North American Soccer League and United Soccer League fields over 30 teams in the U.S. and Canada.”
Great things come from humble beginnings. “This is just the beginning of the process; we are looking for people to help with the movement,” Sykes said. “If you love soccer or you want to help the movement, please contact us.”
To learn more about First City Supporters, follow them on Twitter @FirstCity2015 or Facebook.com/FirstCitySupporters.
Photo by Adam Messer First City Supporters founders Brian Sykes, left, and Donovan Ringo