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There’s a comfort in hearing voices like your own. Whether it’s the same accent, the same slang or shorthand, the same perspective or the same jokes. Hearing voices like your own has a way of making you feel welcomed, or excited, or relieved or less alone, or any other emotion that you didn’t know you needed to feel until that moment.
For many Black soccer supporters in America, that moment comes few and far between. But a growing group of podcasts created and hosted by Black supporters is changing that.
They’re bringing the barbershop into the soccer world and making it hard to stop listening.
While all four shows take varying approaches to their tone, topics and styles, they all share one commonality. They refuse to separate their Blackness from their soccer experience, bringing style and swagger along with the tough, uncomfortable conversations around what it means to be Black in America.
“We try not to get overly political, but I feel like at the same time, the Black experience in general is political. So, you have to understand that these things matter, and we’re not idly standing by on the sidelines saying, ‘Hey this is just about soccer, and nothing else,.’ No, the Black experience is comprehensive. So you’ve got to let that sit out there too,” said Greg Jackson, host of For The Culture Soccer Show.
In 2017, Rashad Cain and Jackson launched For the Culture, a supporter-focused brand whose purpose was to promote soccer and culture to their community.
Starting in the hotbed of Atlanta, they connected with local fans and amplified their communities’ passion for the game. But they were looking for a way to take their message to a wider audience.
“One of our mission statements is to basically change the narrative that Black people, especially African Americans, aren’t into soccer,” said Jackson. “And I figured that the one way to really change that is to have more Black people talking soccer.”
The For The Culture Soccer Show podcast launched in November 2018, making it one of the first of its kind.
“When we started, we really didn’t have many examples of platforms that we could try to study, try to emulate,” said Cain. “We just went for it. We had a lot of ‘on the job training’ so to speak, and a lot of mistakes were made, but I think people understood what we were trying to accomplish and were forgiving for that, and pushed us to get better.”
They built out a roster of voices that would cover all angles of the game, from Cain and Jackson’s experience as supporters to Tony Carter, a coach with a deep knowledge of the game and TK Edmonson, who spent part of his childhood in England and provides a more grassroots perspective.
With more than 100-plus episodes under their belt, they’ve built out an invaluable archive for someone looking to get into the game or understand the more nuanced parts of a massive and often intimidating culture.
“We have the responsibility to educate and introduce the game to people that have no idea what it is,” said Cain. “So we have plenty of episodes where we break down the basics of the game, who some are players to go research, what supporter culture is all about. We don’t just have the advanced supporter that’s diehard. We have to cater to a wide perspective of our community and realized there’s a lot of people just getting into the game, and they don’t know where to go. So we have to be that voice to say, ‘Hey, it’s ok, we’ll take you through this, you have a family here that will help you.’ Because once you get that proper introduction to the game, I don’t care the color of your skin, I don’t care where you come from, you can’t let it go.”
More than 500 miles away from Atlanta in Richmond, Virginia, Elliot Barr listened to For The Culture and knew that he could start a podcast of his own.
“Honestly, if it wasn’t for For The Culture, I probably would have never gotten into podcasts, because they were the first Black voices I heard talking about soccer,” Barr said.
Inspired by FTC, and disappointed in the lack of coverage around his beloved Richmond Kickers, Barr founded RiverCity 93 with Chenier Durand II.
“We started it because we wanted to be more informative about the team and give our tactical analysis about the games. But we also wanted to bring light about the history of the Richmond Kickers,” Barr said.
They did pre-game and post-game coverage of all of Richmond’s matches in 2019 and took deeps dives into some of the Kickers’ greatest games.
At first, Barr and Durand were hesitant to introduce race into the conversations.
“When we first started the podcast, we weren’t sure if we should bring up race and things like that, because we didn’t want to alienate the fan base early on,” Barr said.
But by the summer of 2020, they could no longer stay quiet.
“We were just like, ‘We’ve got to say something,” Barr said. “We started off saying, ‘Look, if you guys are just here for sports, this isn’t the podcast for you.’ We are two African American men, and for us to just be quiet on what’s happening, is that fair to anyone? This stuff affects us.”
They received hate mail and criticism off the backs of some of those Summer 2020 episodes. But for every one critic there were ten messages of support, a sign that Barr knew that he could, and had to, keep going.
He doubled down, launching a second podcast, ‘Can I Kick It?’ which focused solely on Black pioneers of the game.
Barr no longer feels the need to filter or exclude racial topics from his podcasts, and takes pride in the references and culture that he and Durand can bring to their shows, hoping that others will identify with it.
“You feel like there’s someone out there that gets you, that understands what it’s like to be Black,” Barr said. “It’s great to feel that, when you know that someone understands what you’re talking about. For instance, I’ve never watched a Star Wars movie, so when I’d listen to soccer podcasts, and they’d make Star Wars references, or talk about Guns and Roses, I’d be like, ‘What? I don’t get this.’ Now on our show, we talk about Love and Basketball and Tupac and Biggie. The people that listen to our show get those references.”
Barr takes immense pride in the fact that he’s helping to blaze a trail for future Black creators, even if that means enduring criticism for every shortcoming, every pop and crackle or unbalanced audio level.
“I love the podcast and I want everyone to love the podcast, but the criticism for our podcast is a lot harsher,” Barr said. “If Chenier talks too loud into the mic, I’ll get emails saying, ‘Your audio is off, fix your audio’ and it’s those types of things that are irritating. But it’s something to where, when our kids are growing up and are looking for Black history and Black role models to focus on, on and off the field, we want to be that shining example to them, to say to them, ‘You’re going to have to deal with adversity, but these are shining examples of who you can look to in your community and be like, they did it, they made the sacrifice.’ It’s important.”
While Barr and the For the Culture crew began locally, members of the Banter Pub FC podcast were scattered across the country and connected through the two great modern soccer unifiers, Twitter and WhatsApp.
In 2019, Neal Carter took many of his Black soccer supporting friends from Twitter, put them in a WhatsApp group and let the weekend matchday group chats run wild with trash talk, jokes and banter. Soon the conversations between the Banter Pub FC’s founders, Carter, Joseph Guthrie, Adam Carnegie, Jonathan Alingu, Rosler Oriol and Ama Aningo became compelling enough that the idea of a podcast was tossed around.
“Neal said a couple times, ‘Hey, this is a great conversation, we could have a podcast about it,” said Carnegie.
The first Banter Pub FC episode dropped in February in 2020. Featuring a cast of voices from around the country, it covered the game globally, talking about the biggest players and matches, while also getting into more nuanced conversations about race, both inside and outside of the game.
“As Black people, racism is part of our normal, regular experience,” said Aningo. “So, we didn’t decide to record a podcast to solve the racism in soccer issue or anything. It came more naturally. We’ve all had varying levels of experience with the game, that drives some of the rationale behind our positions on these issues, when they come up in the wider context in the soccer world.”
The hosts have no real hesitation when it comes to sharing their opinions or thoughts around sensitive subjects, a sensibility that was forged within their Whatsapp group which translates to the pod.
“I'm not worried about disagreeing with people or my opinion not being held up as knowledgeable or valid,” Aningo said. “I couldn’t care less, because I’m coming from an honest place. I think that’s how we all talk amongst ourselves and on the pod, so I don’t feel a hesitation about being myself.”
Most of the hosts have never met in person, a reflection of just how hard it is to find your people within the soccer community, especially as a Black fan.
“I’ve been an Arsenal supporter since the ‘90s, but to find someone into soccer who was Black was few and far between,” said Carnegie.
“If I were to start a podcast locally around Black voices in soccer, it would be me talking to myself in a closet,” said Aningo.
But The Banter Pub FC hopes to be part of the movement that changes that.
“My hope is that we all can just keep growing and have the safe space to just speak about what we’ve been through and how we can get it to go even further,” Carnegie said. “Hopefully those mechanisms can be in place so that we can have more networks and more places and wells that people can draw from to get more people engaged in the beautiful game. The more the merrier, this is a welcoming place.”
Community building is one of the foundations of Chop Soccer Pod, which was founded in the summer of 2020 by Rox Fontaine, Ken Kimber and Shannoah Green, friends from Twitter who wanted to create a culture-based podcast that infused soccer into their larger conversations, rather than the other way around.
“We try to look at how soccer affects life,” Kimber said. “Rox is in New York, I’m in Chicago, we’ve never actually met, we’re Twitter friends. We decided that we had this common bond, and a similar vision in which way we wanted the podcast to face. We just started making episodes, and it’s a very learn-on-the-fly type experience. So, a lot of it is grounded in the fact that we were just chatting in a group chat one day, and took it offline and decided to do it.”
When they first started, the soccer to non-soccer content was about a 50/50 split, but has shifted to 30/70, with topics like music, news and culture taking up more airtime. But that’s intentional.
“We have a viewpoint that there’s a way you get people involved in things, just in general,” Kimber said. “If I wanted to introduce you to the game of soccer, pre COVID, I wouldn’t just start sending you tactical analyses and player reviews. I might send you a #FlickupFriday video on Instagram, or I would say, ‘Come to a pub and watch a game’ where the game isn’t really the focus. Podcasting ideally shouldn’t be any different. It’s like, ‘Come hang out with us, we’re chatting, but we’re also talking about soccer.”
The approach has worked, as the pod has grown and garnered more interest.
“I am surprised personally by how many people are listening, just by things that Rox and I talk about,” Kimber said. “You see little things that let you know that what you’re doing is breaking through, and it gives you the drive to keep innovating.”
One of those innovations is the Chop House, a bi-weekly Zoom hang open to anyone, which often sees other members of the Soccer Podcast community stop by.
“It’s designed to foster that type of goodwill and love, because there’s enough seats at the table for everyone,” Kimber said.
For Kimber, building things like Chop House are essential.
“You can’t talk about wanting to foster a good atmosphere and safe spaces and not actually try to create real bonds with other people,” he said. “Because ultimately, the idea isn’t to stop with the podcasting, it’s to build a voice to aid things we’re already doing in the community.”
It’s been less than two and a half years since For The Culture’s pod launched. All of this history, all of this work is just the foundation upon which so much more will be built, by FTC, RiverCity, Banter Pub, Chop, and voices and shows that haven’t even been launched yet.
But this is just the beginning.
“There's not too many things in Black culture that don't get hot if it’s done right,” said Jackson. “Hopefully we're growing, everyone's growing and we all get to where we want to be.