I have been writing about Major League Soccer for nearly two years now. However, something came up recently and I thought it would be interesting to cover. I spoke to Chris Ross (@ChrisRossss) a Scottish university graduate who is now the Development Director at newly formed NPSL side, Atlantic City FC.
Chris, from Glasgow in Scotland, graduated from the University of Edinburgh. He has since gone on to work at many professional football clubs around Scotland; including Clyde, Stenhousemuir, Ross County and Kilmarnock.
I wasn’t exactly sure what the role of a Development Director includes, so I asked Chris to explain:
“As development director I am responsible for club development, brand awareness and community relations. This means I am involved in matters both on and off the pitch as well as governance. So far, the role has been very exciting, I have taken on a lot of new responsibilities in terms of football operations that I would not have previously led on at my former clubs.
“Myself, the owners and management have worked tirelessly on player recruitment for our first ever season as a club and that has been a lot of work.”
As somebody who follows Major League Soccer profusely, I was interested to hear about the NPSL and the lower leagues in America…
“The National Premier Soccer League is entirely different to the league concepts we have in the U.K. In the NPSL the goal is for your team to do well in its initial 10 or so matches to be in with a chance to progress from your regional conference (teams from in and around your area). If you do well the top couple of teams then progress on to the National Premier Soccer League playoffs which sees you play a home and away tie against sides that could be anywhere in the United States from Florida, California, Michigan and more.
We’ve brought in players still at college and seasoned professionals who have represented their country and played across higher divisions across leagues in the U.S. and Europe. There are also some giants in the National Premier Soccer League such as Miami United, Jacksonville Armada, Detroit City F.C. and Elm City Express.”
We have the FA Cup in both England and Scotland, where lower-league and non-league clubs have the dream of coming up against the big, professional clubs. In the States, the closest equivalent is the Lamar Hunt Open Cup.
I asked Chris about Atlantic City’s aims in the competition.
“In terms of the Lamar Hunt Open Cup we completely want to be involved in it, it is the oldest domestic competition in US soccer. This season we are unable to participate as we are an expansion side competing in the domestic leagues for the first time, but next season we completely have ambitions to be involved in the knockout cup competition.”
Chris is from Glasgow, which could be considered one of the most passionate footballing/soccer cities in the world. The city includes both Celtic and Rangers who play out the Old Firm Derby. He told me that the sport has always been a part of his life:
“I am obsessed with the game. I love everything about the sport. For me, it’s more than just a game and the impact I’ve seen clubs achieve not only on the pitch, but also off the pitch in supporting local communities is what really drives me.
In the UK, almost every club in the professional game has embedded themselves into the heart of their local community through running a community department, a charitable trust or a foundation which aims to use the power of football and the resources a club has, as a catalyst for social change, regeneration and development, providing key support to those in their local area and this is what aligns with what I would consider a role-model club to look like. It is more than a club just fielding a side for 90 minutes on a match-day.”
I have a similar mindset and can relate to Chris when he says that it has always been his intention to work overseas:
“I have always wanted to take my experiences from the U.K. professional game and go abroad with them. I believe that one of the best ways to learn and develop in the game is to get out and gain experience across different clubs, nations and parts of the world.
“For me that is to be involved in U.S. soccer, which continues to make huge strides in terms of growth and I want to be involved in that development. I’m always trying to further my knowledge in the game.”
This story is unique. Going from working at clubs in Scotland, to working with an up and coming side in the United States is something that I have not heard before. I’m looking to follow a similar path to Chris, so I asked how this move came about…
“I’ve been lucky enough to work in professional football in Scotland across teams such as Ross County and Kilmarnock in the top-flight, but also sides such as Stenhousemuir and Clyde in the lower professional divisions. I think those experiences are extremely important because every club is unique in almost everything they do.
“My first paid role was working at Clyde in 2016. Following Stenhousemuir’s relegation from Scottish League One at the end of the 2016-2017 season, I was brought in to undertake a review of the community arm and programmes at the club. In 2017, I began working for Scottish Premier League side Ross County where I worked on developing the charitable foundation before then commencing an identical role for another Scottish Premier League side, Kilmarnock.
“In January, I was announced as the development director for Atlantic City’s debut season in the National Premier Soccer League.”
In terms of long-term goals and aspirations, this is what he had to say:
“I really see a long-term goal in growing both professionally as an individual, but also in developing the club here in Atlantic City. Atlantic City is in many ways exactly what I am looking for, it’s an area in need of community regeneration and that is what I am hoping to heavily invest in during my time at the Club.
“I also feel that there is a real chance to create a legacy for our club as unlike many areas in the United States, we are the only minor-league sports team in Atlantic City. Compare that to nearby Philadelphia, New York and most other areas where you have competitive baseball, basketball and American football sides which are notably more popular than soccer.
“Instead we have a brand that we are hoping the community and fans will rally behind. This entire project is a long-term project, a club is not built over night and success won’t be achieved over night either. It’s the same with community initiatives, it’s one thing to put in place community initiatives but you need to grow with them and sustain them to really see that impact years down the line.”
Finally, for myself and others who may be interested, I wanted to ask Chris for advice for students who want to make it in professional sports media:
“I would say to anyone considering a career in sports media or in the professional game to take a leap of faith and jump right into the industry. In sports media there is thousands of independent soccer podcasts, journals, websites and newspapers as well as tv stations, vodcasts and more! Nearly every team has an independent fans podcast, articles or media source. This can be a great way to gain experience before moving into the mainstream media companies on the back of your experience.
“Then in the professional side every club has a press officer, communications manager or media team and for some of the lower divisions across the world these positions can be voluntary which can again provide a great platform for gaining experience in a tough industry to break into.”
I’d like to thank Chris for speaking to me, his story is extremely fascinating and unique. If you would like to follow him on Twitter, you can do so here: @ChrisRossss
Written by @_LukeBeaumont