Dig Baton Rouge

Soccer Surge: Club’s growth represents increasing interest in the sport

In the 2014 FIFA Men’s World Cup, United States forward Clint Dempsey put the U.S. soccer men’s national team on top early against Ghana with a left-footed blast that found the back of the net after less than a minute into the game. The Ghanaians tied the game with less than 10 minutes to play with a late goal from midfielder André Ayew.
But the Americans would respond.
After winning a U.S. corner in the 86th minute, midfielder Graham Zusi served a cross into the box and found defender John Brooks who headed the ball home for a game-winning goal. From the Londoner, a two-story Baton Rouge soccer pub, fans watching exploded with excitement.
“The place erupted like you would for a LSU National Championship game,” said American Outlaws Baton Rouge chapter President Mark Jones. “I’m glad the fire marshal wasn’t here, because he would have closed us down. Upstairs and downstairs, imagine Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras day, that’s what it was like in here.”
The American Outlaws is a U.S. soccer supporters group established in 2007 in Lincoln, Nebraska, and has expanded to 187 chapters located throughout the country.
Jones founded Baton Rouge’s chapter in 2011 after seeing interest in soccer spike during the 2010 World Cup. He posted on TigerDroppings.com, a sports-focused Baton Rouge area message board, to inform people of the club, and found 25 members, the number required to officially start the group.
Throughout the past five years, Jones and club Vice President Jason Bordelon have hosted watch parties for every U.S. match. That time and effort has grown the club from its founding 25 members into a passionate support group of more than 200 members.
“It’s gone from a casual crowd of 20 or 30 to the World Cup in 2014 where we had 600 or 800 people in this building. It’s chanting, singing, laughing just craziness,” Bordelon said. “My life revolves around soccer. I just love every bit of it.”
After Dempsey’s goal, The Londoner co-owner Luke Betts experienced firsthand the club’s growth.
Fans in the upstairs bar burst with excitement, shaking the first floor ceiling. As a result, they added additional wooden support downstairs to prevent the second floor from caving in.
“We supported that bar more, because the support beam [under the second floor] is fake,” Betts said. “When they played Ghana and scored the goal, the whole beam shook. So, we had to give it that extra support. It was absolutely amazing.”
The atmosphere and support are what draws members into the group, according to American Outlaw member Cleve Hardman.
Hardman became an Outlaw shortly after the founding of the group and has been with the chapter ever since. He said he has loved soccer since he was a child.
As a student at Southern Methodist University, he was a trainer for the school’s varsity soccer team and was there at the same time as former U.S. Women’s National Team coach Greg Ryan, who played for SMU in the ‘70s. Hardman lived in Europe for nearly six years, and he said the nationalism of soccer across the pond is something unique to the sport.
“The club has grown along with the interest in the sport,” Hardman said. “People would come in here with their friends and see what the excitement is like for an American game. It’s very captivating and tends to get them involved.”
The unique aspects of the sport were attributes Jones wanted to bring to Louisiana.
The president wanted one thing since the club was founded – to attend a U.S. match in Louisiana. On Dec. 16, 2015 he got his wish.
The USWNT was set to play a friendly against China in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Americans ultimately fell 1-nil, but Jones said he relished the experience.
“I always wanted a U.S. match in Louisiana,” Jones said. “To finally have that happen in Louisiana and see 40,000 people in the Dome on a [Wednesday] in December, two weeks before Christmas, that to me was a lot of fun. That was rewarding.”
Despite the growth of the club, Jones’ tenure as president is coming to a close. He was waiting for Copa America, a soccer tournament between North and South American countries, to conclude before establishing an election procedure, because the group has never had one before.
Jones is the father of a newborn baby, and his work life has led to his need to step down.
“It’s time to pass it off. It’s a young man’s game, and I’m not a young man anymore,” Jones said. I’m always going to be around. Not as much as before, but I’ll be here as an advisor and help out whenever I can.”


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