Soccer fandom in the U.S. continues to evolve as its roots grow deeper in generations young and old. Telling these stories in a country where team fandom is as diverse as the residents is compelling content. What do fans look like? Where do they live? What unique stories do they have to tell?
We’re elated to tell a small chapter of the American soccer novel through the lens of one of our clients, Chelsea FC. In partnership with famous music and social justice photographer Mel D. Cole and his photography agency Charcoal Pitch FC, we documented the story of five Chelsea fans in New York City.
You can step into any neighborhood in the Big Apple and instantly feel transported halfway across the globe. Whether born and raised or an immigrant to the city, New York City provides a great look into the diversity of soccer fandom in the U.S.
Thus, Chelsea FC’s Five Boroughs was born.
Why amplify the stories of American fans?
The Five Boroughs program was born out of a desire to do two things: highlight the diverse, passionate fandom of Chelsea in the U.S. and to partner with Mel – one of the most creative, authentic voices in the soccer and social justice spaces.
When you consider Mel is a lifelong New Yorker and the distinct visual appeal each borough provides, finding a Chelsea supporter in each borough was a no-brainer. Although Mel is most well-known for his photography, the feeling was that longer, rich vignettes were necessary to fully capture the breadth of the passion and the iconic scenery of the Big Apple.
“I wanted to do this project primarily because there is a lack of positive Black storytelling in soccer. I want people to be inspired by what they hear and see with hopes that one day they will motivate others and continue to be great.”— Mel D. Cole
Telling stories of American fans, especially fans from minority communities, is important in understanding the relevance of soccer. Chelsea fans in the U.S. are inherently different than Chelsea fans in England or Chelsea fans in China. The impetus behind fandom in these very different cultures helps tell a uniquely American story that can help attract new fans to the club. And let’s face it – there are some awesome stories to tell.
How did Five Boroughs come to life?
With Mel on board to provide the creative vision, photography, and video direction, we next turned to a videographer and finding a diehard fan from each of the five boroughs.
Mel identified Ronald Weaver II, a talented videographer based in New York whom he had met over the summer covering the Black Lives Matter protests. His cinematographic abilities coupled with Mel’s vision for the stories made for a perfect fit.
To complete the puzzle, we set out on the task of identifying our five stories. Although the search was broad in a city of eight million people, the parameters we set necessitated a deep dive to ensure the stories fit the ambition of the project. We needed fans who:
- Are authentic New Yorkers
- Have a longstanding connection to their respective borough
- Embody diehard Chelsea fandom
- Are Black fans who are active in the Black community
- Are diverse in age and gender
- Capture the personality and energy of their borough
The fan search begins
Having those metrics made for a challenging search, but one that ultimately led us to the five unique, authentic, and multicultural supporters. Through scouring social media, leveraging relationships with supporters groups in the city, and outreach to FC Harlem, the following fans featured:
- Candace: Trinidad-born immigrant who has lived in Brooklyn ten years. She also has a YouTube channel to document her support of Chelsea
- Joseph: Born and raised in Manhattan. He became Chelsea fan thanks to their partnership with FC Harlem, the club he plays for
- Tunmise: A Staten Island resident with roots in Nigeria. He created a tight knit group of supporters in New York’s forgotten borough
- Edgar: A Bronx-native born, raised two blocks from Yankee Stadium. The Hispanic-rich borough gives him great perspective on soccer fandom
- Ty: A Queens man whose passion for his home borough is only rivaled by his support of Chelsea
From the Boogie Down Bronx to the Forgotten Borough
With the pieces in place, the fans identified, and their schedules locked in, we set out to interview our five fans over the course of three weeks. Given Mel’s background in hip-hop photography as well as the stated goal to tell these stories with a focus on Black culture, much of the b-roll was shot in Black neighborhoods.
The b-roll also featured Black-owned businesses, locations important to the Black communities in each borough, and murals celebrating famous Black musicians from the area.
The locations and neighborhoods used for Mel’s interviews were chosen to have specific ties to the fans and the stories of their boroughs.
- Brooklyn: Bed Stuy, the home of the Notorious B.I.G. and a landing spot for thousands of Caribbean immigrants
- Manhattan: FC Harlem Field
- Staten Island: The Wu Tang District, near Park Hill – an important neighborhood for African immigrants on the island
- The Bronx: Yankee Stadium
- Queens: The Unisphere, the site of the World’s Fair and representative of Queen’s status as “The World’s Borough”
In addition to Mel photographing and conducting an extensive interview with each fan, we captured b-roll of the interactions, as well as hero shots. In some cases that meant capturing drone footage. Then, in between the filming of each fan, the editing process began.
Let’s see the final output!
With Mel providing creative direction, five unique and rich vignettes were born. Each features cinematic drone footage, instantly recognizable New York scenes, the faces and voices of our fans, and Mel’s narration tying it all together.
We couldn’t be more excited about the result – an exploration of the diversity of New York City, showcasing the passion Black fans bring to the game, and how five distinct boroughs can lead to one thing – a love for Chelsea.