Flying Towards the Sun
The Lament for Icarus by H. J. Draper
The lower tier is filled with some of the best and worst kits in American soccer. The purpose of this column is to discuss those that we, as a staff, think hit the mark. When we began the column, we knew we wanted one sponsor for this page, Icarus FC. Robby (the owner of Icarus) has been laying out some of the sickest kits and crest designs in the lower tier. He’s known for being fair to lower tier clubs, working with them to find the best solutions for their needs. Robby is a good guy and his company has been a standout for so many small clubs across this country. So today we asked him to write about his background, his inspirations, and his company. - DV
My name is Robby Smukler and I’m the owner of Icarus FC. The last article I wrote was a college basketball scouting report/recap, so please bear with me here. One thing I should note first is that we are an official sponsor of the Protagonist Soccer so readers should definitely keep that in mind because this piece may very well come off as a long-winded advertisement for Icarus FC.
So, why Icarus FC? The initial idea for the company had very little to do with jerseys. I wanted to capture the intersection of sports and fandom, of community and identity. Sports is one of the few places where community and identity can be expressed through a single idea – I’m sure all you lower league supporters out there have an intimate understanding of this. For most of us, you don’t really get to choose the club you support. I am a Philadelphia Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, and Sixers fan because I was born here, my family is from here, and I’ve been going to games since before I can remember. If I had a choice (prior to the inception of this company in late 2016) I would have looked elsewhere to dedicate my time and agony. I’ve tried to choose a team before, Arsenal in the EPL, Atletico in La Liga and even the Philadelphia (Chester) Union in MLS.
Sadly, following these clubs elicited nothing in my heart. I don’t live and die with their results and I certainly don’t feel a communal connection to them. The highs and lows of fandom, the intense feelings of belonging that are played out in galactically meaningless contests against other communities fascinates me. In the myth of Icarus, the main character spends all his time building wings out of wax and feathers to escape from an island. When he finally takes flight, his love of the feeling of flight leads him to fly too close to the sun where his wings begin to melt and he nosedives into the sea. While it’s not a perfect analogy, that’s kind of what being a fan is like. It’s incredibly meaningless and meaningful at the same time. Success is an ephemeral high which we spend most of our time building and hoping to obtain. Maybe that’s just what being a Philadelphia fan is like.
Soccer uniforms, more than the uniforms of any other sport, are a visual manifestation of this concept. Sure, other sports have iconic “kits” that have taken on a larger symbolism within and outside of the communities they represent. A few that come to mind are the Pittsburgh Steelers black and gold, a symbol of civic pride for Yinzers but also a symbol of blue-collar work ethos outside of just Pittsburgh. The Montreal Canadiens sweater or 'La Sainte-Flanelle' (the holy sweater) is a symbol of the team’s deep connection to Quebec’s francophone population which has a history of subjugation both politically and within the sport. There a numerous other we could talk about but that’s for another article.
Back to my point, soccer – due to its history and sheer number of clubs as the most popular sport in the world – has the most instances of a bond between community and identity that is expressed through a kit. There are literally thousands of instances but just a few that come to mind are Barcelona and their use of the Catalan flag, Bayern Munich and their use of Bavarian Flag, and Roma’s use of Tyrian Purple and Gold -the colors of Imperial Rome. In the United States, the use of landmarks has become a trend that reflects this connection. Clubs like Lowcountry United, Greenville FC, and Detroit City FC use their kits to feature architectural and monumental works in their area, tying the club to its regional identity. When you wear that jersey, people know where you are from.
And as a garment, soccer jerseys are more comfortable than other sports jerseys and have more room for expression. Wearing a baseball jersey feels weird and out of place in public. Basketball jerseys are cool but you can really only rock them in the summer (and if you have a body-positive view of yourself). Football jerseys are huge and 90% of it is the number. Finally, hockey jerseys are super expensive and heavy. You certainly can’t wear them most of the year, depending on where you live. In comparison, soccer jerseys are comfortable, designed to breathe, and can be worn in a variety of settings. They are simply superior to other sportswear.
By now it’s clear I love jerseys, but most of all I love soccer jerseys. And too often I have found, and I’m sure many agree, there is little to no connection between the jersey, the club, and the community and identity it represents. I wanted to give clubs, no matter how big or small, the opportunity to get kits that are a true representation of the club, its community, ideals and identity. When I work with a club, I listen to more than just the specs of the kit, I listen to the passion they have for their hometown. That passion inspires my design and produces a jersey that a club can be proud to wear on the field, hometown supporters can rock shopping or playing pickup matches, and fans from all over the world can wear, representing a town they may have never visited. That experience isn’t really something you can get with a generic Nike, Under Armour, Adidas, etc kit. With Icarus FC you can connect your club to the community and the identity it’s trying to cultivate through the greatest medium of expression in sports – the jersey.