The Man with the Bullhorn: Galen Riley

Photo courtesy of  Matt Reiter .

Photo courtesy of Matt Reiter.

I recently got the chance to talk to Galen Riley of the Chattahooligans. Riley is involved with both the Chattahooligans and PrideRaiser and has done a lot of good with both organizations. This past season, the NPSL named Riley Supporter of the Year, and rightfully so. He’s also a great follow on Twitter if you aren’t following him yet. Check out the interview I was able to do with Riley below.

- Aarik Long

What has it been like being involved with the Chattahooligans over the years?

Being involved with The Club that Chattanooga Built has been life-changing, for sure. Chattanooga FC in 2009 was my first ever live soccer experience, and serving the club since then has consumed most of my time/money/energy/sanity for the past several years. It's part rewarding, part exhausting, for sure.

It's really cool to be a component of CFC's growth. The club has become a tentpole experience in Chattanooga. Attending a CFC match is THE thing to do on Saturday night during the summer. Locals whip ourselves into a frenzy as each match day, or new season, approaches.

Not only that, but the club and the community around it have become a force in American soccer itself. Fans of the game make pilgrimages to "Fort" Finley Stadium and other budding clubs look to CFC as a both a model to emulate, and also a direct source of advice and support. The Chattahooligans have also become influential in the soccer conversation, ourselves.

Overall, supporting CFC has given me some incredible memories, lifelong friendships, and projects that I'm deeply proud of. I know countless others feel the same way. And I'm never, ever bored.

The Chattahooligans is one of the fierect SGs in grassroots soccer. Image courtesy of  Chattahooligans social media .

The Chattahooligans is one of the fierect SGs in grassroots soccer. Image courtesy of Chattahooligans social media.

What was your reaction to winning Supporter of the Year this season?

Mixed feelings on that. I think the NPSL, and all leagues, could be doing a better, more regular, job of highlighting the creative and community service work being done by supporters than an end-of-season internet popularity contest. I'm against the award in principle, and we submitted a drum (not a drummer, a drum) in protest this year and didn't campaign.

At the end of the day, though, I accepted the award on behalf of The Chattahooligans and the entire CFC supporter community. It's been a grueling year, and we worked harder than anybody else, as a collective. Plus, there's a perk for the winner from Global Scarves. We'll use that to pay for some of our charity obligations, which is only a good thing.

What have been your feelings about the Members Cup this fall?

I'm a revolutionary at heart, so it's a bit disappointing to see the NPSL Pro project collapse and Founders Cup change. More match days is great for everybody, though, so I'm happy to see those opportunities. Now if only we could get some dang wins!

What inspired you to start Prideraiser?

I don't recall the specifics on the inspiration, but I was Angry Online(tm) about something. (As usual, really.)

I wanted to make a statement about inclusion and allyship, but speaking up alone felt inadequate, thus spending actual dollars in addition to running my mouth.

For readers who may be unaware, Prideraiser is an international, supporter-driven initiative that marries fundraising for charities that benefit LGBTQ+ individuals, outreach to those communities, and promotion of soccer clubs. The gimmick is that fans make a pledge at the start of June, Pride Month, and and then make a donation that is scaled by the team's goal count during matches in that window. You can see all about the project at http://Prideraiser.org

Image courtesy of  Pridraiser social media  and Phil Thach Photography.

Image courtesy of Pridraiser social media and Phil Thach Photography.

What has been your reaction to how many clubs and individuals have participated in Prideraiser?

I never could have dreamed to see Prideraiser grow into what it has. I hoped to raise three hundred bucks, and now we're three years into the initiative that's spread across the country, and into Canada, with more than $188 Thousand pledged? That is literally unbelievable.

Take some time to read the mission statements of our LGBTQ+ beneficiary charities. They are universally about improving and saving lives. These organizations would not exist if there were not life-threatening pressures that they are combating. The only conclusion to draw is that, by now, one of our pledges, and one of the goals scored, has directly gone to preserving a beautiful human life that might not be with us otherwise. That's powerful. (Plus, we're turning a whole lot of people into brand new soccer fans.)

The biggest irony of Prideraiser is that I fit into almost every category of privilege one can be: I'm straight, white, cis-male, and so on. So what's probably the most meaningful work of my life is also something I will never actually understand.

There's an element of your question that is remarkable. All of the local campaign organizers are invited to a Slack channel for communication and collaboration. One of the more interesting observations there is the constant exchange of ideas about topics outside of Prideraiser. It's a collection of the best and brightest that soccer supporter culture has to offer, and the conversation in Prideraiser Slack is making us all better. I'd love to figure out how to focus that group to solve some larger challenges, because the potential is there for it.

What do you enjoy doing outside of soccer?

There's nothing better than living it up in our beloved Scenic City of Chattanooga, Tennessee with my partner Becca and her awesome dog.

Soccer isn't my strangest hobby, though. I also build costumes (just got home from an event called DragonCon) and am an occasional burlesque performer.

What is Hooligan Hymnal? How did it start? Is it open to other supporters groups?

Hooligan Hymnal is a budding software platform and mobile app for supporters groups, though the direction is still a little bit fuzzy. Right now, an overview of the project can be found at http://chattahooligan.com/app/

The origin of the project was the necessity to invent a better mousetrap. The Chattahooligans pride ourselves on an ambitious, ever-changing song list. It's core to the identity of our community, but maintaining that ambition has been challenging as we've grown. If you're four beers in at a tailgate, you may not be inspired to thumb a made-up word (who named us "Chattahooligans," anyway?) into your phone and then search for the most recent song lyrics.

The first release had the latest and greatest songs and chants, and the handy ability for us to update the app's home screen with a particular song as a reference during pregame "choir practice." Since then, it has expanded to include a team roster that's more accurate than the club website, links to our charity projects, and whatever else we can think of. We also send out news using push notifications, which is increasingly beneficial as Facebook algorithms become ever more worthless. I have a feature roadmap that's a mile long and includes some off-the-wall ideas like submitting chants recorded on your phone and a supporter dating service.

Because The Chattahooligans adapt every good idea we see from other groups, and because we think that our own ideas are worth stealing (Everyone should start a Prideraiser campaign!), we want to make the software available to other supporters groups. It has been revolutionary for us, especially for getting news out and for welcoming brand new fans into the community.

It's totally not a turnkey solution yet, though, and won't be for some time. Most of my development effort recently has been making the mobile app skinnable, so other logos and color schemes can be applied easily. We added a frenemy with the Northern Guard Supporters of Detroit City FC to the core team and helping them get a version out that's more _rouge and gold_ than _blue and white_ has been a priority. With more engaged brains and development resources, we will be able to move forward and build a product that's useful to the larger supporter community.

For salivating readers interested in their own Hooligan Hymnal implementation, I'll get to the point— your SG can have the app sooner if you have a motivated developer to join our team.

Photo courtesy of  Matt Reiter .

Photo courtesy of Matt Reiter.

If you could change anything about the current American soccer landscape (besides Pro/ Rel) what would it be?

I recall saying in 2012 that it would be interesting and exciting to see what American soccer was like, and what CFC's place in it would be, "in five years when everything is mature and stable." Oh boy, I have never been more misguided about anything in my life.

I'm still an ignorant fan overall, but it seems like every time I learn something new about the American soccer landscape (and it's not like FIFA is a model of fairness and ethical practices), the more upside down everything seems. Single entity, prohibitively expensive pay to play, lower division leagues cannibalizing each other, MLS at constant war with its own fans, franchise relocation, wage inequality at the national team level, failure for the men to qualify for the World Cup or even the Olympics, and so on. It's an unbelievable mess. Even if I had a magic wand, I do not know where I would start.

I think that the soccer ecosystem should be centered around clubs and that clubs should always act in a way that serves their communities.

I think that sports is sort of silly, but that teams, soccer teams especially, can serve as a gathering place and rallying point for communities and have a tremendous positive impact on people's lives. I really buy into the notion that a club is something greater and broader— Dennis Crowley (Kingston Stockade) elegantly expressed that clubs are platforms to build other things on, and I think about that frequently.

I think there are some great ideas to study and consider from other sports that can make soccer better. The local-centric structure of WFTDA roller derby and the post-play scholarship opportunities provided by the Canadian developmental hockey system come to mind.

I don't know, man. Soccer is simultaneously the best and worst thing to ever happen to me. It's wonderful, but also all-consuming.