Sports apparel tells the world a lot about you. Well, at least, that you like sports and, usually, where you’re from—people wearing a red hat with a P, or a green hat with a bird on it are usually from the Delaware Valley. If you see anyone with a blue, orange, green or white NY hat, chances are they are from the New York area. Both, of course, are liable to be from Jersey.
Lost in the Philly-NY sports divide is the Jersey Shore. What sport teams can locals there claim besides NY or Philly teams? In November 2020, the Phillies rebranded their High-A minor league team in Lakewood to the Jersey Shore BlueClaws, ostensibly to fill this void. But Lakewood is 12 miles inland and the team is located in Mets/Yankees country anyway. Plus, the Phillies haven’t made the playoffs since 2011—the Shore’s not getting baseball’s best is the point.
But what if Shore folks could root for a local sports team that never loses a game? And what if it didn’t matter if you couldn’t care less about sports? Enter Asbury Park FC. Unlike most of the teams who call Jersey home, APFC fans never have to worry about having their heart broken after their team loses, or about caring about any of it. That’s because the team doesn’t actually play any games.
The audacious idea started in 2014; marketer Shawn Francis and Gaslight Anthem guitarist Ian Perkins were sitting in a basement joking around and talking about soccer.
“We were talking about how in New York there are a lot of cool kid hipster soccer teams, for a lack of a better term,” explains Francis. “They have these cool uniforms and are playing in cool tournaments. The players were DJs, graphic designers or clothing designers, and there are so many people in Asbury who do cool things.”
Then reality set in for Francis and company. They were all too old to compete and didn’t want to face the elements or risk injury. So they settled for the next best option, which was to create a team and not play any games.
“What if we just do anything, but we don’t actually play?” recalls Francis. “A lightbulb went off, and we were off to something.
“Soccer is such a beast of a business, and there’s a lot of talk in the football world about ‘for modern football’ and the business aspect and how soccer has gone away from its roots. It’s such a rich fertile territory to make fun of, and we were like, this is amazing. We’ll make a logo, membership cards, sponsorship deals, watch parties and social media. We’ll do everything that a modern football club will do except play the game. That’s the ridiculous thing about it, and I think if we were actually playing games, no one would have cared.”
Francis got heavily involved in soccer by attending FC Dallas games and, later, MetroStars games when he moved to New York.
“I got to New York, and I remember the first MetroStars game I attended,” says Francis. “I was sitting in the midfield, and I only watched half of the game because the other half I was looking behind the goal at the supporters section and I didn’t know what that was. There were people behind the goal going nuts and singing songs. I didn’t know who they were, but I wanted to be a part of it. I realized the soccer community has its own culture with traditions and rituals. For whatever reason it appealed to me.”
And what better spot to place a team that plays in a sport full of culture and community than Asbury Park?
“This state has a lot of pride,” says Francis. “I’m not from here, but I lived here for 20 years and lived here long enough to know that people care and have a chip on their shoulder. The odd thing is there are a couple professional sports teams that play here and not a lot of them flaunt New Jersey. We have two NFL teams that rep New York. We had a basketball team that moved to Brooklyn and changed their entire identity. We got the Devils, but to be honest, hockey is a very niche sport as far as the audience goes.
“So with Asbury Park FC we could rep Jersey, and because we aren’t a real team, anyone can claim it. There’s none of that Yankees vs Mets or Giants vs Jets kind of thing. There’s also a mythos about the city as well. Anyone who lives in or is from New Jersey has an Asbury Park story. Whether it’s, ‘My granddad took me there when I was a kid,’ or, ‘I used to work on the boardwalk in high school.’’’
Along with the beach, Asbury Park is known for being the epicenter of music in the Garden State, and going to the Lanes or the Pony is now a ritual. Francis has tied together the music scene of Asbury Park with Asbury Park FC. In the past, Asbury Park FC has had special Bouncing Souls jerseys.
For Francis, who has ties in the music industry, it was a no brainer to include music in Asbury Park FC.
“Music is part of the scene and community of Asbury Park,” says Francis. “You think about all these rock bands from Jersey, and all of them have cut their teeth in Asbury. Music is a unique part of the Asbury Park DNA, and why not celebrate it with this sports team.”
The music is also intertwined with the way the merch for Asbury Park FC is made. Francis says the aesthetic of the club is influenced by “punk-rock minimalism.” The kits have honored Asbury Park businesses like Catsbury Park, Frank’s Deli and Palace Amusement Parks. Asbury Park FC’s logo is one of “Tillie,” a smiling man who sits outside the walls of the Wonder Bar. Francis has a couple guidelines for how he makes the merchandise.
“We think about what would look good on a tattoo, or what would look good on the back of a leather jacket,” explains Francis. “With the jerseys, I like to go for things that look classic. We do a lot of work with Umbro, and they have been a huge part of this project. If you’re a person of a certain age who has watched soccer or played soccer, Umbro was the brand for you. Well before Nike, Umbro really ruled soccer. The second you see that Umbro diamond, it feels classic and brings you back to a certain era.
“The other thing is I try to make things that I would wear. We never try to make anything that is too silly or seems like we are jumping on a bandwagon of another team or style. The club is very black and white, very minimalist. We try to keep as much of the classic style as we can.”
Every sports franchise, real or fake, has to have a rival, and Asbury Park’s FC rival is Neptune City FC. The rivalry is pretty one-sided though.
“We think of it as the Harlem Globetrotters,” says Francis. “The Harlem Globetrotters have been around forever, and only play against one team, the Washington Generals. That team just exists to get its ass beat the Globetrotters, and that’s the point of Neptune City FC.”
Even though the team’s plan for a new stadium on top of Convention Hall is on hold, Francis thinks there is a bright future for Asbury Park FC, and maybe one day an actual team might exist.
“I do have a small thing of one day making Asbury Park FC a real team,” says Francis. “It would have to be a minor league team, but it would be amazing. We could have the story about how a nonexistent team is now real. It would be cool to have a USL team full of players wearing black and having the supporters section sing Bouncing Souls songs. I could also one day see Asbury Park FC be a free youth club. Something that irks me about the way soccer is run in this country is you have to pay to play and that leaves a lot of kids out of the mix. There are kids in Asbury Park who would love to play soccer, but their parents aren’t paying $1,500 for their kids to play for a neighboring club team.”
For more info on Asbury Park FC, go here.