10 Things About Starting A Non-League Club In The US

For the past few weeks one of DeKalb County United’s many wonderful volunteers has been asking me to contribute to the Green and Black blog.

“What should I write about?” I asked. He said “10 things I didn’t know before I started this thing.” Sounds good, so here goes. Grab a coffee or a may be a lengthy one. I don’t dive too deep into the particulars of leagues, recruiting or anything like that. But hopefully some of the high level things I wish I would have known more about two years ago.

As recently as this week I was asked by an old friend and former teammate to give him some guidance on how to start a club, so this may prove helpful to you, Samir. :)

Why start a club?

No one can answer this for you, but as the clock ticks and the hours roll by where you’re working to start or maintain a club in the lower leagues of American soccer, you’ll have to make sure the answer is one that not only keep you going, but draws people to you and the club.

Is it so you can be an “owner”? Is it so you can help a local youth club with a first team? Is it to make a few bucks? Is it to do something good for your community? Whatever it is, don’t lose sight of it. There will be times when you’ll question your own commitment, but that answer will keep you going.

For me it was two things, both of which I have shared with hundreds of people in talking about DeKalb County United. First off, it’s an amazing way to unite our communities. The two biggest towns are DeKalb and Sycamore, often rivals on the prep fields, but very little truly separates the good people from both towns. DKCU brings them all together in support of a common positive thing. Secondly, this is my home and this club is my way of leaving something behind and it offers young players an opportunity I never had when I was young enough to compete.

To be clear, this wasn’t my doing alone, not by any stretch. Colby Newquist, Brian VanBuren, Steve Duran and my wife Jenny were a part of it from the very beginning as our first Board of Directors. Each had their own reasons to be involved and work all those hard hours after our day jobs and families to bring this club to life. Those four deserved to be recognized even more than I do.

Listen to Charlie Stillitano…”it’s the money moron.”

Nothing about managing a club is cheap. If you’re fortunate enough to be wealthy and you’re willing to spend your own money that’s awesome. But for most current and now defunct teams, money is a huge challenge.

I heard Charlie say “it’s the money, moron” about 50 times on SiriusXM radio and it really makes sense. Money drives everything about a club like this with facility rentals, equipment, league fees, travel costs, coaching stipends, meals, marketing, business expenses, etc.

We started the club with nothing. No money, no logo, no players, no idea how to pull off this vision. We had to address the financials...and since it was never about making money to any of us we decided to start a non profit (which came with it’s own costs and challenges.)

There’s a number of ways to form your club, all have pros and cons, but take time to consider them before you rush into something.

Do research, ask questions, follow the leaders

We started planning the idea for the club in January of 2017, formed a Board in May and announced our arrival in July of that year. We didn’t take the field for our first tryout until January of 2018.

The point….stay patient.

More than likely you’re trying to establish something brand new and have no idea if your community will support it. Even if you can fund it alone, you want fans. So talk to them BEFORE you go live with crazy social media stuff. Build a foundation.

Follow the leaders in the non-league game. Dennis Crowley laid out an amazing document and supplemental info for Stockade, and if you haven’t read it please do. Others have also published advice and there are so many great people who will pick up the phone and chat with you. If you commute for work, use every moment to make calls and talk. Talk talk talk, and more importantly...listen. Most will share ideas, success stories and even documents they use.