Black Bear FC
Gavin, what's your position with the club and what's your soccer story?
I am the creator and manager of Black Bear FC. I grew up in Birmingham and played at a few different youth clubs competing at recreation to the highest competitive teams. I fell in love with soccer from the beginning and haven’t looked back since. When it came time to decide whether or not I wanted to play in college, I chose to pursue coaching instead while getting my degree. I’ve made it my mission to do everything I can to improve soccer in my home state from the way we develop our players to how we grow the sport at the grassroots level as I hope to see the United States win a World Cup within my lifetime. I’m currently a youth coach for Homewood Soccer Club and perform various roles for Alabama Soccer Association.
Black Bear FC, what's the story on your name?
In the end, the story isn’t anything spectacular. I didn’t want the team name to be specific to Birmingham alone simply because we don’t want to be compared to Legion FC. I knew that the name had to be something that represented Alabama, but didn’t piggyback off of our industrial past. I googled a few facts about Alabama and found out that the state animal is a black bear. I thought this was fitting because it represents Alabama but is different than any other sports team that uses Birmingham’s industrial reputation.
What's the soccer scene like in Birmingham?
Contrary to popular belief, Alabama is not just an American football state. Yes, soccer is still in the minority, however, the natural growth of the game around the country happened here as well. From 2012-2017, Alabama was the fastest growing state in terms of player registration. Registration is starting to slow down though and a big reason is that the youth clubs and our state association aren’t able to service every member properly due to a shortage of coaches, referees, and administrators. Adult soccer has seen the same growth and registration peak. We currently have a few leagues in the Birmingham area that are run by youth clubs as well as smaller independent leagues. The leagues ran by youth clubs are the most established and range from a handful of 11v11 teams to an unspecified amount of 7v7 teams. The independent leagues are run by those who have access to some field space not owned by a club or city. Entry into these leagues is currently tricky with someone having to know someone else to get any information. Because a lack of public information currently serves as a barrier, adult registration as a whole is currently falling.
All of that said, the edition of Birmingham Legion FC, formerly Birmingham Hammers, will certainly help peak interest again and introduce more families to the game. I’m hopeful that there will be a spike in registration again among youth players as well as adults. The next step is to figure out how to prevent the player registration from falling again and I hope that Black Bear FC can play some part in that by serving the next generation of life long participants in soccer.
You're an independent, what's your plan for this year for matches?
We’re currently in talks with few other local teams about setting up some friendlies. Because we’re independent, and adult soccer participation here is strictly word of mouth, it’s been tricky to get in contact with the right people. However, I feel that we are making progress and we hope to release some dates soon for our games.
Long-term what's the plan?
Our long term plan is to serve as a first team for a youth club as well as play in a local league that is independent of a youth club. I know that myself and other people I grew up playing with would’ve loved to play for a club that had a first team. Even if that first team played in an average adult league, it would’ve been something we wanted to be a part of. I want to give players something to look forward to that serves as a stepping stone to college or even just another opportunity to play the game they love. Furthermore, I feel that for the growth of adult soccer here to reach new heights, a league that is independent of a youth club is absolutely necessary. Being independent of the youth clubs would allow the growth of league to be guided by those who are interested in the greater good of the game rather than filling their own pockets.
Do you have a roster together yet? Any players you'd like to highlight?
We’re currently a group of guys that are around the college age with some going off to play in college and others that work normal jobs on top of school. We’ll be doing player profiles soon that will be released over the summer so keep an eye on our social media pages for those. All in all, we’re always interested in finding more people that just love to play so if you’re in the Birmingham area and want to get involved feel free to reach out!
Without much other contact with clubs, what's your social media strategy to connect with other clubs/leagues/fans?
Because there simply aren’t any other amateur clubs with a public identity in Birmingham, our main connectivity with other teams has been by word of mouth. In the long run, a byproduct of us having a public identity will hopefully be that other teams create one as well. Our current social media strategy includes following and liking posts from local businesses, youth clubs, and other prominent members in the amateur soccer “Twitter-sphere.” We’ve had some success in getting the attention of local businesses and my hope is to eventually spark a sponsorship deal.
Anything else we should know about BBFC?
Our mission statement is as follows, we are committed to supporting local players, connecting with local businesses, and giving our growing soccer community another way to come together. We want to provide as much exposure for adult soccer here as we can and hopefully inspire others to follow a similar path by having a public identity. I want people to see what we’re doing and say, “Wow, that’s awesome. I’m gonna create my own team.”