Luke Dempsey, a New York Red Bulls season ticket holder who resides just north of Princeton, recently wrote and published a book called Club Soccer 101. Born in England and growing up a Manchester United fan, he moved to Queens, NY in 1995, and resides in suburban New Jersey. Prior to the Red Bulls’ 4-1 victory against Seattle Sounders FC on September 20, he opened up about the Red Bulls, soccer in America, and his book Club Soccer 101, which you can purchase here. You can also follow Dempsey on twitter @ClubSoccer101.
- Q: Tell me about the book and what inspired you to write it?
LD: Well I moved to the [United] States in 1995 and I watched the end of the Premier League season in a bar on my own that year. By the following year, there was 600 people in the same bar watching soccer and I felt even then that something had changed. But since then it has just grown and grown and now especially with the TV deals with NBC and BeIN Sports and the fact that MLS is now really getting to market this thing and the soccer on the field is so great! I mean I grew up watching Manchester United play in England so I’m used to a high level [of soccer] and this does not particularly pale anymore.
I love the standard and especially what the Red Bulls have done because – well, not that I would ever buy a beer at a sporting event, but if I was to buy a beer – everybody here says, “Enjoy the match,” and it’s like people have gotten the message about how to talk to real soccer fans about what they’re doing. So with all that I thought if you’re watching the TV on the weekend you might wonder who Everton are, or who Bayern Munich are, or why Barcelona are so good, or maybe you like the South American game and you want to know more about Boca Juniors, or you watch the Australian league and you want to know about their teams so I just figured one-hundred more essays on all the top clubs might just be a fun way for fans – who are very sophisticated now, I mean I’ve come by some really sophisticated fans in my section, 129, who know more about soccer than I do and I wrote a book about it – so it’s really for them, it’s for people who want to learn about it or who know enough football and want to know more so that’s where it came from.
- Q: Tell me more about where you came from.
LD: I’m a life-long Manchester United fan and my father grew up four miles from Old Trafford where Man United play and he was one of fourteen kids: thirteen of them were Manchester United fans and then there was Uncle John who was a Manchester City fan so you can imagine what his childhood was like. I moved here in 1995 and the only thing I miss about England – and I love living in the States – but the only thing I miss was going to see soccer every week, be it going to Old Trafford to see Man United or going to my local little team called Wallsall, and so coming to Red Bulls has been fantastic. I was at the first MetroStars game in 1996 at Giants Stadium and it didn’t feel right – you know the plastic pitch and some players, especially the foreign players, just didn’t look like it was their league – but it’s completely different now.
When you come here, it feels authentic. People like Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill look like they really care about it so the league has brought in the right kind of Designated Players, and then I think the young kids that are coming through are fantastic. I think Chris Duvall is a brilliant right-back and he’s going to be a World-Class player. I love watching Oyongo, he’s a great player, and I’m looking forward to seeing Yedlin who had a fantastic World Cup, so across the league there’s so many good young players and the MLS should be really proud of what it’s done.
- Q: How did you become a Red Bulls fan?
A: I’ve been coming on and off since they’ve started. I lived in New York City for 20 years, so when I lived in Brooklyn especially – I lived in Queens and I lived in Brooklyn – it was hard to get here. You’d have to go all the way across the city and all the way out, but I kept coming and being into it, but it really kicked in when this stadium was built. It’s a fantastic place and more than that, there’s a feel of authenticity about it. It feels like going to games that I used to go to as a kid. When I went to the away game in Philadelphia and sat just in front of the Red Bulls fans, it was kind of scary in the right way! There was a feel of they hated us and we hated them and it didn’t get out of hand, but it felt like something really massive and that’s a huge difference for me.
I came to pretty much every game last season and I was here for when they won the Supporters’ Shield and there were tears in everybody’s eyes, it was fantastic, and from then on it was just like – they are my team. I’m very excited for the New York team at Yankee Stadium because I think that this franchise especially, being where it is, needs a really close rival. I know we consider D.C. [United] our dearest rival, but it’s four hours away and I can’t wait for next season. I’m a New York Mets fan and I’m a Manchester United fan so the fact that they’re run by the Yankees and Manchester City means I already hate them! Which is a great thing for soccer passion and that’s another thing that’s really changed – people really care about it and I’ve said, they’re really sophisticated about it and I feel like I’m with people who know, if not more than me, but at least enough as me about the game which is great.
Q: What’s the main difference between soccer cultures in the United States vs. Europe?
LD: Well it’s funny to be talking about the main difference because there’s going to be a lot of Seattle fans here tonight and I know there were a lot in Philadelphia for the [U.S.] Open Cup Final. I think the last time I saw Seattle here they brought loads of fans and honestly that’s the biggest difference. If you go to a British game, in most cases one-eighth of the fans are from the other team so the atmosphere is that much higher. Tonight will be fantastic because we’ll have that kind of number of Seattle fans here and obviously it’s a function of the size of the country that you can’t really travel to see your team, but as I said last week in Philadelphia it was great. There were some travelling Red Bulls fans there and that was really great – it changes the atmosphere. I don’t know what the MLS can do about that, I mean obviously they’re trying to expand to different parts of the country and that’s great. The MLS has done everything smartly over the years and I’ve been really impressed with them. They’re very strategic about what they do and the biggest difference between here and England, and pretty much every other country in Europe, is that soccer is the number one sport.
Here we’re still not the number one sport and we probably won’t be for a while so it’s not in everyone’s conversation – that’s the first thing we talk about in England: what team do you support? How did you do this weekend? But I like the position that soccer’s got in this country because you see so many replica shirts, you see so many people getting into it, people are reading this book and I’m getting loads of tweets about it and people are taking it seriously so this book could not have existed ten years ago, it’s really changed.
- Q: What separates Red Bull Arena as one of MLS’ best arenas to watch a match?
LD: I would love the MLS to make a rule that you can’t play on plastic. I mean the Seattle Sounders have been the best team for a couple years and probably the best team this season. They get 46,000 fans every week and in big games they get 65,000 fans, and they have to watch a game on plastic. I understand that it’s a fledgling league, but it’s not that fledgling. I used to watch at Giants stadium and it was just not built for soccer at all. You’d miss corners of the game just because the wall’s so high, and then you come to Red Bull Arena and you walk out and every seat in the stadium is a fantastic seat, you’re really close to the game, they play on grass and it’s a great surface – the whole thing just feels authentic…this is easily the best one. I was here when Manchester United played here in the All-Star game and the Manchester fans just loved it.
They couldn’t believe how great it was. My brother’s been to every stadium in Europe – he goes to see Manchester United home and away and never misses a game – and he’s been here two or three times to see soccer here and he loves the stadium. I brought him to that Manchester United game and it was just a fantastic experience. He’s watched a lot of soccer, he’s watched even more than I have, so if he likes it, you’re in good shape!
- Q: What are your thoughts on how soccer is growing in the United States?
LD: Well I stopped by the Red Bulls bar and had a beer and talked soccer with a bunch of guys and that’s the other great thing about this is that there’s a culture around now it which is not going to go anywhere. The ultras aren’t going anywhere and they sing for 90 minutes and you can get a beer with them before the game and they all know game, they travel all over the country to see the team – that’s not going to change. People get on me and say, “They’ve been saying soccer’s been coming on all these years and it never does” but they’re wrong. It’s here now. There’s a bar filled with Red Bulls fans four blocks from here and they’re not going to suddenly stop coming and that’s partly because they know it’s authentic. They also feel that this is a real club with a real team and a real manager they can get behind and at a stadium that they love.
- Q: What do you look forward to most as a Red Bull fan for the future of this club?
LD: Well I think they’ve been very smart about their designated players and they haven’t just gotten them for the sheer heck of it, I mean they’re one shy right now and I think they still could get another one. They haven’t just gone out and gotten just anybody which I think is very smart. I mean I remember the days of designated players in this franchise who didn’t – I won’t name names – who didn’t look particularly into it. That’s not true anymore and I think that’s one of the things that the league has done brilliantly. I’m looking forward to seeing who they bring in. I don’t subscribe to the idea that if Thierry Henry goes, this team will fall apart, I think they’re a better team than that. I love the kids on this team. I think at the back they’re going to be really good.
I love Connor Lade, I love Chris Duvall – I see him the first half of every game because he’s over by my corner and he just doesn’t put a foot wrong that kid and he’s so passionate about the game and Petke’s right to put him in all season, he’s been great. I’m so excited about the young American players coming through. I love the fact that Mike Petke has put kids in and has stuck with them because they will make mistakes. I think it’s great for the fans because you can really get behind those kids and I’m in a corner where no one will have a word said against Chris Duvall, they love that kid guy and same with Oyongo and all these guys so I really think they could dominate if these kids come through and become as good as they could be. You never know with kids – how good they’re going to be – it’s another couple years until you’ll know, but I think they’ll win the MLS Cup in the next few years. It just seems like such a solid organization and they’ve backed Petke in the right way and I just think going to be a fascinating few years.