Welcome to the second edition of the 2020 Exit Interview. I was fortunate enough to chat virtually with Johnathan Ace. He shares why his upbringing made supporting the Charleston Battery appealing to him, his takeaways from the 2020 season, and how him opening up about his experiences opened a dialogue with the club about making Patriots Point more accessible.
Johnathan’s soccer origin story
Goose: What clubs do you support?
Johnathan: Liverpool FC and the Charleston Battery primarily, but also Borussia Dortmund, the Portland Timbers, and Derry City.
G: When did you first hear about the Battery?
J: I went to their first game at Blackbaud Stadium for my 6th Birthday. Later, former players Terry Phelan and Seamus Donnelly were rehabbing injuries at the same place I was going to Physical Therapy for, and I’ve been friends with them and many other players down the years.
G: What made following them appealing to you?
J: Growing up in an Irish household (Thanks to my stepdad) supporting the sport locally was always a priority for us. He’s coached at Youth level before and we’ve gone to Battery games ever since I was a kid. We also run the Official Liverpool Supporters’ Club of South Carolina. I’m proud of the friends that I call family that I’ve made via football. They’ve watched me grow up and become the person I am now, and I’ve seen the game change and grow through the years here and Battery games are a home away from home.
G: As your soccer fandom grew why did you feel compelled to start Black & Yellow Post?
J: As I went through high school I found solace in writing and found that I wanted to write stories and books. They always say to write what you know, and for me that’s Football. Writing for the Battery started through Dan Conover’s Charleston Soccer Net. From there I moved to Reckless Challenge, and I had terrible luck as both sites closed not too long after I joined. I knew that there was still a need for specific Battery coverage, so I decided that instead of joining somewhere else and running the risk of continuing my bad luck, I’d start my own thing, and we’ll be going into our 4th year in 2021.
G: What has your main goal been in that project? How has that possibly changed over time?
J: As I said, specific Battery coverage was important when I started BYP. A lot of Battery fans, for better or worse, feel shuffled to the side by the league in favor of the newer teams. So tapping into that was always a thing for me. I’ve done some great things and made some even better friends in the USL writing circuit since I started, and there’s definitely a little bit more that I can do with BYP, and I’m always listening to the people that read the site to see what they would like. I already have a couple ideas for that and I’m hoping people are looking forward to it as much as I am.
G: How would you describe your fandom now? How are you involved in the Charleston soccer scene?
J: I would say it’s definitely changed for better in most ways, but it’s different than what it used to be. Before the move and COVID, I was up in the press box for games. So I missed being down with the fans for a lot of the start of the “Queen Anne’s Revenge” era circa 2012-2014. I have gotten to know more of the goings-on behind the scenes and around the area though because of the platform I have. I’ve written about both Lowcountry United (The USISL side) and the Charleston Fleet (In the WPSL) and as I said, do what I can to support them.
Looking Back on the 2020 Season
G: Did you attend any games? If not, what factors made you feel uncomfortable or unable to attend? If yes, why did you feel it was important to go?
J: I did. It was a bit strange with COVID as there was limited capacity (it built up with every game and ended up being around 500 for the last home match of the season) But after spending years in the press box I realized how much I missed being down with the fans, as I said in the previous answer. It was very much the silver lining in the stadium’s COVID protocol. Everyone was socially distanced of course, but joining in with chants is always great and this year, players were able to hear me give the anxiety-filled analysis that I do. Even in the press box, I feel like I kick every ball. It was a great feeling, and knowing the players take that on was brilliant. To me it was important to get out to games not only for the sake of my own well being after the 3 month lockdown but if we’re going to have less fans in the ground, we had to make our voices heard and make sure the players knew that everyone was behind them. I think that was a massive reason why we did so well in the end. I think it helped a lot.
— Ben Clemens (@ben_c_18) September 14, 2020
G: What did you miss from this season compared to a traditional season?
J: As much as I missed sitting with fans, this year I also missed seeing the people I know behind the scenes. Besides the fans, there are people that work very hard to get everything up and running on a matchday and those people have my heart just as much as the Regiment does. It’s definitely something that your average fan doesn’t always think about and they deserve more credit than they get, especially this year with everything so out of sync.
G: What did you enjoy from the unconventional season?
J: On the field, the return of football that was great to watch was definitely something that excited not only me, but everyone of a Battery persuasion. In the last few years we relied a little too much on one or two players. This year, it felt like a more complete team. Off the field, I think the Regiment grew together a bit more than they have in the past few years as they played their part in helping us get back to a form of normalcy. We’ve always treated each other like family, but there’s been a lot of coming and going the past few seasons that I think everybody on the outside could feel as well. I think that after the end of last year and the change in ownership, we were grateful for that clean slate, and it definitely showed.
G: How has this year changed the way you view the importance of soccer in your life?
J: I’ve always known it was somewhat unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but before now I’ve never known how connected it all is. As a fan with Cerebral Palsy, going to matches and bars with friends for them is sometimes the only time that I get out of the house. I definitely took its impact on my mental health for granted in that regard.
In-terms of the racial injustice in America, yes, you’ve had sports stars taking political stances forever, but not on this grand a scale. It’s always been a point of contention and debate, but in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and more this year, people who have been silent in the past are beginning to speak up and understand those issues. The Battery, especially given where they are geographically, are definitely included in that. The club has finally been giving more visible support to minorities in the area and it’s great to see. Obviously some people won’t always agree with that, but knowing that the club and the league have taken a stand and amplified the voices that need to be heard is important for any change we need to make as a country.
G: What are your biggest takeaways from this past season? Favorite moment, standout players, etc.
J: I think the biggest takeaway is that we’re back on the right track. As I said earlier, we had good players with better depth than previous iterations of the Black and Yellow. Especially given the format of the season, the latter definitely came in handy. Leland Archer definitely came of age in the absence of Taylor Mueller and became the leader in the side that we all knew he could be. He was always a solid player and very naturally gifted, but there’s a difference between being a good player and a leader, and he’s more than deserving of both his team Defensive Player of the Year award and MVP awards.
— Charleston Battery (@Chas_Battery) November 11, 2020
Angelo Kelly is another who came into his own. In previous years he was a little bit rash in his challenges and easier to push off the ball, but I think the arrival of Robbie Crawford allowed him to be more of a box to box midfielder and begin driving his team forward and that role fit him like a glove. Mix that with help from Stavros Zarokostas and Mauro Cichero for Zeiko Lewis, who we all knew was a pretty special find last season, and you have a pretty respectful spine, and those were the players that carried us for most of the season.
My favorite moment was the first win over Tampa Bay at home. They may have beaten us in the playoffs, but up until that first loss, they looked completely unbeatable. No one gave us any hope of a chance going into the game, because while we weren’t playing poorly, we weren’t scoring goals. That first win over them gave us a springboard for the rest of the season. Of course, they had the last laugh. However, the familiarity bred some contempt that I’m excited to see grow as a rivalry in 2021.
G: How do you feel new ownership has changed the club? Provide examples if possible.
J: Perhaps the biggest thing is that the new owners seem to understand how important the fans are. That was something the club was built on, though previous ownership got away from that. While it was difficult to leave our former home, they’ve put the legwork in trying to get the fans on their side at Patriot’s Point. The way the team interacts with the fans has been more inclusive. They’ve had merch truck events at various places around the city, they did videos with fans before we were allowed in to make sure the team knew we were behind them. That began from day one when they met with the fans to announce their rebrand and designs for the new stadium, after which they came around and shook the hand of everyone that they could, making sure everyone knew that they were optimistic about the future of the club and that they had a plan in place. Part of that was given a spanner in the works by COVID, but they made sure that the fans knew during lockdown that they were doing all they could to get us ready for the new season, including painting some of the stadium’s fixtures themselves. From a personal standpoint, I was saddened by the lack of accessible seating in the supporter’s end of the stadium, but I was able to talk to the owners personally about ideas and changes that could be made to help that. That’s not something that normally happens, and I’m grateful for it and hope they know that.
G: In conclusion, what makes you optimistic about the club moving forward?
J: Of course, given COVID, there were a few changes to the stadium that were supposed to be ready for opening day that weren’t able to be made. Accessible seating is one of those. I’m interested to see what happens with that next year. As for on the field, we’ve been able to keep a decent spine for the past four or five years, and I’m hoping we can build upon this season in that regard, because for the first time in a while, I feel we can contend for a title if we keep on this track. It’s a little strange to think that, given the fact that we were in dire straits at this point in 2019. No one knew exactly where we were headed, to perhaps being challengers again. But it really felt at times as if we had turned a page this year. And I know for a fact that everyone in Black and Yellow is happy with that. In my opinion, the whole league should be.
Is it 2021 yet?! ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/ES19LRTvwl
— Matthew Peacock (@mpeacock28) November 13, 2020
G: Do you have anything that you want to touch base on that I didn’t ask you? Anything you’d like to plug that you’re working on or that has brought you joy recently?
J: I recently wrote an article for BGN about my experiences as a disabled sports fan. That was finished before we were allowed into Patriot’s Point, but started my conversations with the ownership about accessibility at the stadium all the same. I’m thinking of another couple of features I can do in the offseason that I hope go down a treat. Those will be on BYP. I’m taking suggestions on what the fans would like to see from me in between now and the beginning of the new campaign, so those are always welcome.