Chris Ross hopes to add a touch of Scotland to Atlantic City as newest NPSL club prepares fot debut

In America, sport is huge: you have Baseball, American Football, Basketball, as well as the increasingly popular game of Soccer. In most areas, you can see kids on the field most days participating in their favourite activity…not in Atlantic City, however. Chris Ross has been tasked with the remit of building up a community programme for the newly-formed NPSL side, with the Scot taking inspiration from the work he has done in conjunction with the SPFL Trust over recent years.
Ross, who is helping set up the Community Programmes with Atlantic City FC, told us how the move initially came about.
““The owner, Andrew [Weilgus], has been looking at expansion plans for a long time now, and, I first reached out to him and then we started putting plans in place on how they can build a community programme. Similarly, to Glasgow, Atlantic City is very much an industrial city. It is in need of a lot of regeneration and there is a lot more which can be put in place in that town, at times. The club has been announced as the latest expansion team to the NPSL [National Premier Soccer League], which is the largest league in the U.S., and, it has many other big teams in it such as Miami FC, Detroit City FC and Jacksonville Armada FC, so, there is some pretty big teams involved and that we are going to be competing against. The club has very high ambitious: what they want to do is put in place is not just the best side they can on the field, but, they also recognise that they can be so much more than just a soccer team. The attraction is to be known in the Atlantic City and New Jersey area, as a club who are doing the right things; who are looking after their local community, businesses and facilities. It all links in really well with what I am trying to achieve – the programmes we have set-up already in Scotland are fantastic, and I feel I can help put these initiatives on the map a little bit more and put them in place in countries such as America, where these ideas aren’t as widely used. I hope to build something special, that is the idea.
They do have Foundations and Charitable Trusts in America, especially at some of the bigger clubs who are currently in the MLS [Major League Soccer], but, they aren’t, in my opinion, at the same level – and at a suitable level, where we currently are in Scotland, as well as the United Kingdom. Particularly in this division, which isn’t the top division, as the new expansion team, they want to do well. In Atlantic City, there are no other sporting organisations as they don’t have a club to represent them in Baseball, American Football or Basketball, so, the citizens don’t have any alternative sports, which means that at present, there is no community activity; it is important we come in and put programmes in place to look after people. Not everyone is going to be interested in soccer, but, we want to get initiatives in place which will, hopefully, bring them on board and make them go “you know what, I do actually enjoy being a part of this soccer club” because they like what we are doing as they see we are trying to do the right thing for the locals.”
Chris, who has worked with Clyde, Stenhousemuir, Kilmarnock and Ross County in Scotland, discusses how his remit is slightly different across in the States.
“This is going to be an even bigger remit: Atlantic City will be heavily focused on by the club, itself, as we try reach out to the whole of the New Jersey state. That area is huge – we are talking around double the size of what I have been covering in Scotland, however, I would say this gives me the chance to get a lot of good things done. I would compare it to Glasgow, in terms of the industrialisation and the work which is needing done; if you see the work which has been done in Glasgow, then, my job is to work out how we can do similar with Atlantic City. They can really benefit if they adopt some of the programmes put in place by the local clubs in the West.
It isn’t just a case of copying it and pasting it, though. I need to go across there and understand it within their context; I need to see what they actually want and what they would class as a benefit. I can’t just lift a programme which is doing particularly well in Scotland put it in place with Atlantic City, because, that may not work for them and may not be what they are after: I need to see what type of issues are going on in the community, what kind of things people are looking to do and what they can benefit from. Yes, it will need to be tailored, but, I would love to use Scottish models as the framework.”
Ross is a director with Atlantic City, and a lot of his time will now be spent ‘across the pond’.
“I will be flying out in April, as, right now in America, they play their seasons April through to July. I will go across for their April pre-season preparations, and then commence a full-time role, which will get my full commitment. One of the first things we want to establish is setting up a local pathway for players, as, one of the first things we have done as a club has been to recruit as strong a team as we can possibly put out, but, what we also need to consider here is what kind of opportunities are available to the local people of Atlantic City and New Jersey, in terms of breaking into to sports such as soccer. As I’ve said, they don’t currently have any sports clubs in this region until now, so, if anyone from this area has wanted to become a sportsperson, then, they would have had to go to New York or Philadelphia, which are quite large distances away. It would involve a lot of travelling which would show if they had real aspirations to become a soccer player, for example, at one of the bigger clubs. Whereas, here, at Atlantic City, we can open up a local pathway within New Jersey which gives the citizens much more opportunities.
We are also looking at what we can regenerate: there is a lot of derelict, empty, buildings and land within the city – including a stadium, which used to host Baseball matches many years ago. So, we are looking in the future to taking over that site and using it – it already has seats in it and things like that, so, we can maybe turn that into a soccer stadium. We have many ideas like this to come, as the club builds its way up from its infancy.
The difference we at Atlantic City have compared to, say for example, a Scottish team is that we are going in ‘fresh’. Everybody will want to know what it is, people will be asking questions and wondering what is going on. Nothing like this has ever happened within this area before as, like I’ve said, we are there first and only sports team: we don’t have any rivals or direct competition. In Scotland you may have Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian competing against each other in the Edinburgh region, but, Atlantic City will be the only club to offer support or provide sporting activities, so, that is quite unique for us.”
Chris is adamant this is going to be his toughest opportunity yet, but, he is relishing the chance of implementing some of Scottish football’s best ideas into Atlantic City.
“On one hand, it will be quite difficult and challenging as I am going into a new country with different cultural barriers, where things across there won’t be completely what I am used to. At the same time, though, I feel I have a lot to offer and I can’t wait to put these plans in place as I feel we have got something special to offer. The club this season is just finalising player recruitment, but, we are putting together a fairly strong side: the way it works in America is that you play in your Conference and if you do well, you play in the play-offs at the end of July. We have put together a side which contains a few internationalists; a few Ireland and England Under-18 players. We have also been working heavily on securing our stadium for this season – at present, we are planning on playing at Stockton University, which is a 2,500-seater stadium which has a grass pitch, which is great because a lot of the pitches in the USA are artificial. We are on course to being well-equipped for our first season within the NPSL and we are really looking forward to it.”

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