More than a match: what Bedlington means for FC Buffalo
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • June 25, 2011 @ 12:11pm
Half of “The British Invasion” story has already been told. Bedlington Terriers FC, a semi-pro soccer club from a small town in northern England, visits Western New York next week, and the story of the Lord Bedlington Cup has exploded during a typically slow time for sports media.
Over 700 tickets have been purchased for next Wednesday’s clash at Robert E. Rich All-High Stadium, and expectations are reaching a fever pitch in Adele-like fashion (the NBA Draft spoiled that song for me, though).
The Buffalo News, WBEN, WKBW, WGRZ and Artvoice have previewed the Brits’ arrival with extended interviews and stories, while whispers from the national media of a possible screenplay heighten the buzz.
The spotlight has glistened on Bedlington FC owner Robert E. Rich, Chairman of Rich Products Corporation, owner of the Buffalo Bisons and one of the most successful businessmen that has stuck by our city. Now an influential international figure, Rich has chosen soccer as a unifying force by allowing his Bedlington players to experience the American lifestyle while presenting FC Buffalo with an opportunity foreign to the typical NPSL club.
These media outlets took the appropriate angle on a national story that touches home, but the value is fleeting. They’re predicated on a singular event of great value, and the focus is primarily on Rich, not sport. Lost in the tidal wave of gushing is a landmark moment for a local Buffalo amateur soccer club—and even bigger—a tenuous foothold for a sport that’s battled feverishly for community acceptance.
FC Buffalo, coached by current Medaille College head coach Dan Krzyzanowicz, has played a pivotal role in organizing the friendly, Monday’s youth clinic and Wednesday’s in-game coaching clinic. To a degree, the club’s future hinges on the success of Wednesday’s contest.
To the estimated 1,000 fans that are expected to attend the match, will the Blitzers be remembered as “the Buffalo guinea pig that hosted Bob Rich’s fabled English side?” Or will the curious fans fall in love with a treasure of a venue, an industrious and passionate organization, and a product that features only players with local ties?
The match through the eyes of a player
The nice thing about players is they tend to have a narrow focus, emphasizing short term production over long term vision. There’s the usual chatter about “the team that plays the best for 90 minutes will win, regardless of what nation they’re from or league they’re in.” But for Mike Unwin, an FC Buffalo forward/midfielder, there’s added value to the Bedlington match.
Unwin, who missed the FC Sonic away game because his wife is expecting the couple’s first child, moved from England to America four years ago for an opportunity to play meaningful futbol on a daily basis.
“Each year I’ve gone back home [to England],” Unwin explains, “my friends and old teammates are impressed at how I’ve grown as a player. I’m well beyond the standard I used to play at. Against Bedlington, I’m looking to put in a great performance, not just for the team, but to prove something to myself.”
While England normally scoffs at the U.S. in terms of club competition, the player development gap is slowly diminishing—expect Unwin, fueled by a desire to prove that a formerly frustrated English footballer can excel on American soil, to play with a chip on his shoulder Wednesday.
A lofty management vision
For FC Buffalo’s ownership, the mission statement is manifold, equally as committed to bolstering the area’s soccer community as notching wins in the National Premier Soccer League.
“There is very much a “new Buffalo” or a “young Buffalo” brewing here which involves more than the concept of uniting Irish and Italian immigrants. We want to connect suburban families with urban families… Burmese with Germans, Somalian with Italian,” says Nick Mendola, who co-owns the club with Scott Frauenhofer and Ryan Knapp. “It’s doable, and hopefully when we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary, the stands will be full of another generation of soccer fans and Buffalonians that were forged through the communal bond of sport.”
Every summer night at Lasalle Park, a giant niche of soccer fanatics gather to play on the West Side—large contingents of relatives, friends and co-workers of African and Asian descent live for the sport, viewing the evening clashes on a rugged pitch as the highlight of their day. While they couldn’t tell you what number Ryan Miller wears on his sweater or how old Ralph Wilson is, they’re equally as passionate about their sport as the fanatical Bills fan that wears Elvis garb.
Can FC Buffalo win the attention of a culturally-divided city, drawing fans from Niagara Street to Southwestern Boulevard to appreciate a “secondary” American sport? Uniting Bedlington and Buffalo is a solid start, a collision between two cultures separated by 3300 miles and the Atlantic Ocean. Soccer is a universal language that demolishes cultural barriers in the process.
Through the eyes of Buffalo’s youth soccer program
Mark Spacone, Daemen College men’s soccer head coach, founder of the United States men’s national team traveling fan section Sam’s Army and associate head coach at Empire United Soccer Academy, sees the FC Buffalo vs. Bedlington match as another crucial step forward for the local soccer community.
“It’s tough to say where we’re at right now,” Spacone admitted from Frisco, Texas where his U-18 Empire United squad has advanced to the U.S. Soccer Academy Playoffs. “We’re starting to push kids to the next level (Shuttleworth, Boughton, McFayden), but we must sustain a professional team to be considered a soccer power. As a city, you’re measured by your pro club.”
“[The match] is good exposure for the game,” Spacone continued. “And we really need it—soccer is a tough sell in our city because of the Sabres and Bisons (though Spacone is a fan of both).”
There’s a lot more on the line in the Bedlington vs. FC Buffalo clash than a friendly 90 minutes between two clubs. What will you do to support an organization that’s set for a breakthrough?
Bedlington, FC Buffalo youth clinic on Monday, 10 a.m. to noon, ages 10 to 17, $20 includes ticket to Wednesday’s match.
Main match, Bedlington Terriers vs. FC Buffalo, 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29.
There will be a coaching clinic before the match, with a brief update at halftime and plenty of thoughts following the match. Inquire for more details at the FC Buffalo Facebook page.