Growing Support In The Green Mountain State
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It sort of just happened.
First the half-joking/half-serious Twitter account. Then the very real and very ambitious local soccer club. All of a sudden, thanks to an inside joke and a swell of interest for soccer in Burlington, Vermont, Tyler Littwin inadvertently found himself in charge of the Green Mountain Bhoys, one of Vermont Green FC’s first supporters groups.
Now, as interest in both the club and the group has grown, Littwin is navigating exactly what to do with this gift that has fallen in his lap. He’s embracing the excitement of building something new, reflecting on his role in all of it, and steeling himself for the work ahead.
In the wider view of American soccer, there’s no city that fits quite as snugly into a specific ‘hipster soccer’ archetype as Burlington, Vermont. A liberal, generally self-aware city with several recognizable cultural touchstones, it’s surprising that a club hadn’t sprung up sooner. But just because a place makes sense as a soccer city doesn’t mean that it necessarily is one, or that, once a team does put down roots, it will resonate. But Vermont Green went all in on the state’s reputation as an outdoors oasis, pledging from the beginning to weave environmental justice into its DNA. Now, in its inaugural season, the club has backed up its promises, and is being lauded as an environmentally-conscious, socially-responsible club, writing the blueprint for lower league teams doing meaningful work within their communities. From sourcing environmentally-friendly materials for its merch to tracking and offsetting transportation emissions during open tryouts, the club earned the trust and piqued the interest of several fans, including Littwin.
Littwin grew up playing soccer in rural western Massachusetts in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, as the game was still in the shadows of other sports. He spent a year in England with his family where he was exposed to the unbridled power of the beautiful game.
“It was eye-opening, seeing the fan culture there, and how much grade school friends were into teams and knew stats,” he said. “That’s how I fell in love with the game, seeing it played at a really high level and finding out that I loved it.”
After graduating from college, Littwin lived in Boston, where he enjoyed the very American custom of spending early weekend mornings packed into a dark pub, watching Premier League matches with strangers and friends, then emerging blinking into the sun a few hours and a few pints later.
He moved to Burlington about 8 years ago, and the game once again connected him to the community.
“I came across a pickup game in the park, and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, soccer is fun.’ Beyond that, there was the social aspect of it,” he said. “My wife had her work friends, but I work from home, so I didn’t really have a friend group. All of a sudden, pickup soccer, and then eventually the club, became a way to meet people, and that’s how I got back into it.”
Plans for a USL League Two team in Burlington were announced in spring of last year, and Littwin was immediately interested. He has two young sons and the idea of taking them to local soccer matches was appealing, as was the club’s environmentally-conscious ethos.
“The initial, basic idea was very exciting to me,” he said. “Then as more and more information came out, they started talking about their environmental focus and focusing on social issues that I feel strongly about, and I got more and more into it.”
A graphic designer and illustrator by day, he reached out to the club to see if his services could be of use, and eventually started illustrating the club’s matchday posters. Through that, he met Pat Infurna, one of the club’s founders.
“Pat and I became friends, and he’s a huge Celtic fan, so at one point, as a joke, I sent him a text and was like, ‘I’m going to start a supporters group called Green Mountain Bhoys,’” he said, a play on one of Celtic’s nicknames, The Bhoys. “As with side projects, a month later I was like, ‘I wonder if I should actually do it.’ So I started it off as a joke, just like a social account, but then people seemed to be kind of into it, and I was like, ‘Oh, maybe there’s a real appetite for this. So that’s how I kind of stumbled into this.”
“I think the idea of starting this group was ‘How do I find other people who are also excited and help spread the world about this thing that I really believe in,” he said.
Going into the club’s first home match on May 28th, Littwin still hadn’t formalized any details for the group, beyond the social media accounts. But a raucous atmosphere at the inaugural game, thanks to more than 1,000 fans and a large contingent of supporters from the Ultras Montreal supporter group, who made the trip down, pushed him one step closer.
“After seeing so many people there who were super excited, and seeing their response to the Montreal group that came down, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, there’s a real appetite for this,’” he said. “People just gravitated towards the supporters that were there, that energy and that noise, and I was like, ‘We need to have something like that.’”
Origin stories in American soccer are far less muddy than anywhere else. It’s hard for the key moments of creation to be hazy or blurry or lost to time when they happened in, say, 2019.
For the Green Mountain Bhoys, it’s relatively easy to identify the inflection points in their brief history, and there’s no bigger one than, fittingly, a tweet from June 1st.
“I put out the tweet being like, ‘Hey, if you want to make this into an actual thing, then let’s get in touch.’ The response has been really good from people not just locally but people who are like, ‘Hey, I’m not in Burlington, but how can I help? How can I be a part of this?’” Littwin said.
The group held its first official meeting 10 days later, and at the subsequent home matches, have been working on both operations and pageantry.
“I have some drums kicking around from my band days, and another guy ordered a megaphone,” he said. “I already ordered flags, so it’s all coming together.”
Within that process, Littwin is keenly aware of his role in everything, trying to toe the line between weighing in on the group’s trajectory, while urging others to bring their interests and passions to the mix.
“I love the design side of things, I love creating the visuals for it, but ultimately, I want this to be something that’s owned by everybody in the group,” he said. “I want to take a very peripheral role when things actually get up and running. I think in my mind, my role has been just to create the framework and to be like, ‘Hey, Supporters Group, here’s the name, here’s where we’re gonna meet.’ and I really don’t want to have an outsized role in dictating what the group actually means.”
Vermont Green has enjoyed a dream inaugural season, regularly drawing more than 1,000 fans and is in the running for a playoff spot. In the stands, Littwin can’t help but think about the potential for the Green Mountain Bhoys and VGFC in future seasons, but is also savoring the fun and joy that this unexpected gift brought him this season.
“If you think about the clubs in Europe and South America, they’ve been around for ages, and you have that history” he said. “I think there’s something amazing about that, but on the flip side there’s something really cool about being able to create what you hope is the legacy that people enjoy for years. I would love for my kids to be going to Vermont Green games in 20, 30 years, sitting in the same area that we sat, or even sitting outside in their own stadium. That’s dreaming big, but it’s really cool to be at the start of something.”
“I was joking with my wife, but the whole supporters group thing kind of reminds me of being in a band,” he continued. “You do it because you love it, not because of what you think the final outcome will be. If you’re only in a band because you think you’re gonna make it big, boy, are you gonna be super disappointed. And I feel the same way about this. If Vermont Green stays in USL-2 for a hundred years, great. I’m excited to spend time with people in the supporters group, and be there with my family to cheer and have something really local to celebrate.”