National soccer club has roots in unlikely place

By

May 1st, 2012

Lincoln, NE – Traditionally, soccer fans around the world are known for their boisterous, at times violent, behavior – just think of European soccer hooligans. But in the U.S., a national soccer fan club started in a modest home in Lincoln, Nebraska reflects its Midwestern roots.

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After eight hours at his day job, civil engineer Korey Donahoo goes home and starts his other gig: running a national soccer fan club with 72 chapters across the United States.

Fan photos of members of American Outlaws soccer fan club.

Donahoo runs the nonprofit American Outlaws with co-founder Justin Brunken. The headquarters? An office in his home in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Donahoo and Brunken started the club in 2007, and it’s now up to 6,000 members. It offers travel packages to games around the world, and they’ve already sold out three charter planes to the World Cup in 2014.

“We didn’t know if anybody was going to be interested,” Korey said. “We were doing the hotel and transportation and parties like we would for any game, but we threw in this charter plane not knowing if it was going to work out. We thought, We have two years to figure it out, might as well start now’ -because we (had) until January 2014. First plane sold out in less than a day.”

Fan photos of members of American Outlaws soccer fan club.

Traditionally, soccer fans around the world are known for their boisterous, at times violent, behavior – just think of European soccer hooligans. But American Outlaws reflects its Midwestern roots.

“When we talk about this organization even people that aren’t soccer fans, they still say, Where are you guys from again? Lincoln, Nebraska?'” Brunken said.

But Jeff Carlisle isn’t surprised.

“I think for a lot of these fans, they’re basically saying, We don’t need the mainstream media to follow our sport,'” said Carlisle, a senior writer who covers soccer for ESPN.com. “That’s where the Internet has really come in and allowed fans to tap into this passion, and develop this interest.”

American Outlaws has found a way to tap into that interest, but the founders say it’s been tough to grow.

“The country’s big,” Brunken said. “Unlike a lot of countries, we don’t have a specific stadium; it travels everywhere.

“We’re trying to communicate to these people how to get to games, the schedule to get to these games, and also try to get a unified message that people can follow no matter what city or state they’re from.”

And they are seeing an increase in support, which Carlisle said seems to follow a national trend.

“There is a mentality in the United States that America is different,” he said. “You saw it when immigrants would come to this country and they’d want to assimilate themselves, at least in the 20th century, as much as possible, and that kind of meant forgetting stuff from the old country, that meant playing American sports.”

The other thing the American Outlaws does is allows each chapter to express itself individually. The only requirement? A bar that will only play soccer when a game’s on with the sound up.

In Lincoln, that bar is Captain Jack’s. Kevin Reynolds opened the bar just over three years ago, and met the American Outlaws founder a couple days after opening. He was happy to host viewing parties at his bar.

“Watching these guys grow the Outlaws the last couple years, just what we done. I mean, when the World Cup was around a couple years ago, when we drew England on the first game, it was on a Saturday at 2:30 in the afternoon,” Reynolds said. “Obviously my bar couldn’t hold this kind of game. Luckily, my other business, I own and operate parking facilities, and I got a couple lots by the football stadium.

“So we had a little outdoor party for the outlaws,” he continued, adding that 1,250 people showed up. “The bar was packed, too.”

That kind of fan participation is exactly what Donahoo wants.

“America’s not typically a big soccer fan nation,” he said, “but we’re trying to make it that, and I think we’re getting there.”

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