Wednesday, May 29, 2024
Wednesday, May 29, 2024

On the Road Again: FNDM90’s Justin Nuñez

Below is an unabridged interview with FNDM90’s Justin Nuñez. We’d like to thank Justin for his time on a Thursday evening. If you’re a Patreon subscriber ($5/mo), you can listen to ths interview audio in full.

[Zoom voice]: “Recording in progress”

NDZ: Just overtly sexual, the Zoom lady, borderline inappropriate. Anyway, I’m joined today by Justin Nuñez. Nuñez? Nuñez.

Justin: Nuñez, yeah. I’m okay with either, but Nuñez is the proper way.

NDZ: What would your grandmother say?

Justin: Nuñez is what it was up until we moved to North Carolina and no one in the south knew how to say the enye.

NDZ: Okay. Enye, I like it. It’s close to Enya. Do you think that’s where she got her name from?

Justin: I hope not, but I’m actually kind of down, I used to listen to quite a bit of Enya back in the day.

NDZ: I still listen to Enya. It doesn’t go sour. Let’s just put it that way. But like, is it cultural appropriation? I don’t know. I’m not Irish.

Justin: I mean, if you’re feeling yourself, there’s nothing like a little Enya just in the dark just lounging.

NDZ: Or, in the broad light of day too. And there really is no bad time. So, Justin joins us. Actually, why don’t you tell a story of what FNDM90 is and how you kind of came across meeting me and the other Flock folks and Grant and this whole rag-tag bunch of misfits.

Justin Nuñez

Justin: So, probably five or six years ago… I’ve played soccer my whole life, I loved it. As I’ve gotten older, I love my teams, I love my players. But usually, my attention is always in the stands, the atmosphere or the environment that supporters bring. And so I sort of drift toward teams and watching teams with great fans. And so five or six years ago I thought, I’ve done political and nonprofit communications most of my adult life. I get to talk to amazing, inspiring people in the community, doing things everywhere from activism, volunteerism, and helping kids with inspiring projects they’re working on. And so I was kind of thinking about how to translate that to soccer, what I love. And that’s where the idea came from, to do storytelling around supporter culture. I think people who love this sport know that supporters are more than just wild folks in the stands. They do quite a lot in the community.

And that’s what got me to start FNDM90. Hit the road a year ago. Basically traveling to every and any city where there are supporters doing good work in the community. And it’s all about the connection to the community I think. That’s why I focus a lot on NWSL, USL. I think those leagues in particular really lend themselves to that and Madison — which I’m sure we’ll get into — is one of the best representations of that. So that’s how I met y’all and now I pretty much try to schedule my time around, at least coming back there once or twice a year. Both to cover and tell stories, but also as a fan of what y’all are building there with The Flock.

NDZ: Excellent. So I’m going to ask you a few questions just because I feel like people know me already fairly well, maybe, who knows, who knows? Man of mystery. What was the first trip that you went on for FNDM90? And what was that like? Because you’re kind of living out of your car, right?

Justin: Yeah. It’s all car, it’s penny pinching, it’s bare bones. It’s not glamorous. But it’s a passion project, so it’s a slight sacrifice to do what I love. The first in earnest, the first was Pittsburgh, but in earnest, I’ll say it’s Indianapolis. I know you know some good folks there in Indianapolis. That was the second place I went and really got to get to know what the folks, the Brickyard Battalion’s doing. Some of the great people there and see the connection and what they’re trying to build from the community aspect to the noise and smoke in the stands to what the future will hold when to get a new stadium there. And that sort of snowballed, I mean, Katherine down with Brickyard Battalion actually put me in touch with you and said, “Hey, you got to get to Madison ASAP.” So I sort of…

NDZ: She’s a troublemaker, that Katherine, I’ll tell you.

Justin: Yeah, right? And now she has put me on to some other great stories for everything since too, but I feel like that’s the nice thing. Yes, everyone’s in different cities, but there’s a connection in a lot of these places, not just Midwest, but all over and no, it’s been great. I mean, Indianapolis was a great spot. And then from there it was off to the races. I’ve been to most states. I think this year I’ll get to 50 games and see a lot of awesome places. The biggest to the smallest.

NDZ: How do you figure out where to go next? Like what guides that, is it just like people refer you? Is it like interesting stories you hear about? What steers Justin’s next tour stop?

Justin: It’s a mix. I love to say that I spend way too much time on Google looking at who’s vocal on Twitter, who is doing some great projects? Also, you mentioned, I mean, driving around. So with gas prices where they are, I can’t be spending too much money traversing the country so much. So I try to maximize where I am, but really, it’s a combination of me doing research and other people putting me on a great spots. I mean, Ben in Charlotte was saying, “Get out to St. Louis.” Other people are saying, “Go to Knoxville for the rivalry between Asheville and Knoxville.” And so it’s just a mix of everything really. And a lot of planning so that I hit as many cities without spending as much money on gas.

Photo: Justin Nuñez

NDZ: Piggybacking on that, you’ve been to a lot of cities. You’re going to hit 50 this year. In your travels, what’s your favorite moment on the road, covering soccer stuff thus far?

Justin: I’ll give you two only because I’m sure you and others on this think I’m cheating. But when I’m asked that question all the other times, except this one, first thing I answer is Madison. It’s because the atmosphere in Madison is very different than a lot of places I’ve been. The game days are a party in the Flock End. And I know you know it, you see it. Obviously, you are a large reason why it’s like that, but it’s not like that other places. And I love supporter culture. There is not a place that I don’t enjoy, but Madison is super special. That stadium’s great when it’s rocking. It is just fun to be in. A lot of people say, “Oh, we sing all 90 minutes.” Not everyone does that. In Madison, that energy is, I mean, I don’t know how a lot of you go to work the next day.

When I got to go to Madison and see a few games, that was incredible, both kind of taking photos, but in the stands too. And I would say, Asheville. Asheville’s a great… You wouldn’t think it. And I mean, up until this year or last year they have a women’s amateur team and a men’s fourth tier team that they draw great numbers. If you’re looking at how big the city is, and it’s a cool community doing things right. There’s a lot of soccer who’s who behind that, especially the women’s club there. And they bring out a great support for their women’s team. And I mean, now that they’re in the actual USL, I think they’re only going to go up from there. So Asheville’s another great one I would definitely say is a memorable spot that I saw and that I was there for Pride Night. That’s their big night. So if you’re able to get to an away game, go to Asheville City’s Pride Night, each summer.

NDZ: So if I was to ask you what your three must-visit cities for soccer, or like must-do games or derbies or events, what would those be?

Justin: I’ll probably piss some people off saying some of these, but I’ll go with Madison. But for those in that area, Detroit, I know they get a lot of flack and rightfully so in a lot of times, but man, that stadium, the numbers they bring out the atmosphere on a wild night there, that’s probably one of the closest you’ll get to a European game in the US. So Detroit is great.

Atlanta. And I know it’s cliche. I went to a weeknight match there. I thought, “how good can it be?” And man, that place rocks. Atlanta’s a great place to see a match.

And then I would also throw out the Southwest. I mean, there’s New Mexico, Phoenix. There’s some great people in some of those cities that just, I mean, they didn’t know me, but they welcomed me with open arms and treating me like I’ve been a supporter of their clubs for years. And so I’d say the southwest has some great places to go visit.

NDZ: So for you, the attraction is not necessarily like, “the soccer is going to be great.” I mean, obviously it’s entertaining enough, but for you, it’s the people, it’s the culture, it’s the atmosphere in the stadium.

Justin: Yeah. And I think, I mean, we know it, players will come and go, coaches will come and go, front offices will come and go. But it’s the people in the stands that are going to be there for 20, 30, 40 years — and their kids. And I think for me, that’s what makes a club. That’s how I judge a club. I’m not going there to expect top level Champions League soccer / football. It’s because the people in the stands, the energy they bring. And I think it’s amazing to me — and you and I talked about this months ago — but good people in these types of leagues in a young culture like the US, can make all the difference. The energy you bring, that Chris brings, that Grant brings. Zach. So many people in Madison. I mean, there are dozens that you can see the tangible impact they have on match day atmosphere at Breese Stevens, and the same goes for other clubs anywhere else.

You can pick out the handful, the dozen people that are actually changing the culture. And I think that’s super special and that’s why I love covering US soccer. That’s why I love certain teams. It’s great.

Photo: Justin Nuñez

NDZ: So you’re in Tucson this weekend. Why are you in Tucson? What’s in Tucson, outside of Forward Madison being hosted by FC Tucson? Why are you out there? Is it for this game specifically?

Justin: It is for this game and fortunately, I’ve got the Open Cup. So to see what that atmosphere is like. I think that’s going to be a unique case because they used to be under Phoenix. They used to be the second club. And so it was hard to build a culture around that. As we know, now they’re on their own, they’re trying to rebuild it. They have some great people behind that project. So I’m interested to see how they’re separating themselves and kind of making themselves uniquely Tucson. So I’ll be in Tucson for two matches and then I’ll cover the Phoenix ones as well. And it’s sort of that balance, like Tucson is new and really trying to build something, Phoenix has been around forever, for a long time. And Bandidos there have… A lot of folks look to them as one of the stalwarts of supporter culture in the US. So it’s sort of a nice balance. I’m interested to see what Tucson has.

NDZ: You’ll be there this weekend. I think you’re going to hopefully get us some photos and hopefully some…

Justin: Oh, some good photos.

NDZ: Yeah. Obviously. Hopefully, maybe some audio afterwards, if you can swing it, but we’re super thankful for that. Before we get talking a little bit about the match and kind of what you do on a matchday, how can people find or get in touch with you?

Justin: Yeah. So go to you’ll see it without the vowels, but you can type it with the vowels and get there as well. I know it can be confusing and it’s probably the worst thing ever, but yeah, this is what you do. You make regrets later on, but yeah. check out some of the articles. And I would just say, if you can swing it, when you’re going on vacation, go see some of these other local teams. We all have our favorite clubs, but that’s why I’m doing this to highlight some really great people. And I can’t tell you how many are super welcoming. So that’s why I would just say, if you want to support the movement, just visit some other clubs and meet some other folks in the US.

NDZ: Sort of a bonus question real quick. What is one sort of running theme or a common thread between a lot of these clubs, a lot of these fan bases? Because we talk a lot about tribalism around clubs and fan bases. I don’t think we talk enough about what connects us as fans, as people, as just soccer/football appreciators. What have you found that’s a running theme from club to club, from fanbase to fanbase that kind of draws everybody together.

Justin: Yeah. I think, and this shocked me and that even when I say it every time aloud. At least 50% and I’m low balling that. At least 50% of the people I meet didn’t grow up in soccer. Didn’t play it, came to the sport maybe only a few years ago. Later and now they’re capos. They’re leading their supporters groups. They’re the influencers in their local towns. And it’s because most people will say, “I was seeking community.” Nowadays it’s hard to meet people. As adults, aside from work and maybe your neighbors, where do you find folks? And so many people came to this sport, came to supporter culture because they were just seeking friends, seeking that community that we all look for.

NDZ: That’s great. So what do you know about FC Tucson? I mean, obviously you mentioned a little bit earlier, they used to be sort of a B team to Phoenix Rising, kind of a pathway for those players, almost like a PDL side for them. What do you know about them now? I mean, everybody kind of knows the story of Drogba being there and playing for them for a handful of years and doing big things with them, to be quite honest, winning cups with them. What do you know about FC…

Justin: Did he win them him with Tucson or did he win them with Phoenix?

NDZ: He won it with Phoenix. But everybody kind of knows Tucson was their B team, but I feel like now that they’re separate, they’re trying to carve out their own identity a bit. And one of our guys who was here last year, Tyler Allen, is playing out there now and has looked really promising their first couple of games. What do you know about them as a club? What do you know about the team? What are you looking forward to this weekend as far as what you feel like you can expect?

Justin: I mean, if I’m being honest, I don’t think… And I listened to a while ago to… Their front office says, they’re in a rebuilding period as well. I mean, they’re not from a supporter culture, from game day atmosphere. They’re still trying to build up that community identity. I think Amanda, their leader over there talks a lot about how to develop supporter culture. And so I’m not expecting this packed house sell out. I’m expecting sort of a quieter atmosphere than you would expect a place like Forward Madison, Breese Stevens. But I mean, the unique thing is when you go there, you got to travel. They have something that few others do and that’s when other teams just don’t like going out there because you’re playing an hour or two after what you would normally like when you’re…

NDZ: It’s a trip too, right?

Justin: Yeah. And they can steal some wins that way, granted years passed and right now they don’t look like, I mean, it’s only one game, but they’re coming off a cup win, a nice cup upset. So they could be riding that high. But I don’t know, I think they’re still trying to find an identity. That’s a nice thing, they seem to have a good support group. But like I said, they’re still pretty small. I don’t think they have the infrastructure that some of the other clubs have. So it’s one of give it time.

NDZ: Well, sweet. I think that’s it. I’m super glad that we were able to chat tonight, it’s been a while. Oh, like I said, I think a lot of us up in Wisconsin are sort of envious of people that can make it out to those Tucson games. I mean, we’ve had folks come up from New Mexico before that are like New Mexico United fans. That for some reason, our Forward Madison fans too, that made it up there the last couple of times that we’ve played against Tucson. It’s definitely, I mean, this year, League One added Fresno. So Tucson isn’t our furthest trip away from home, but it’s one of them. And I know our guys will be excited, there’s almost always some sort of Forward Madison support at away games. Even if there’s just one or two people.

Justin: I’m curious. Where do you see? You’re in between, you got another cup game coming up. Obviously, that’s going to be the big one everyone’s looking at. I mean, you having to make this long trip…

NDZ: And Tucson has really, really good pacey players on the wings. I mean, Tyler Allen, he played here last year, incredibly pacey player. I don’t think I’ve seen a soccer player with… Maybe outside of Jack Wilshere with thighs as big as Tyler Allen has. That dude, you could tell has some power behind both his running and his shots. But I feel like Tucson is a dangerous team. I mean, they were dangerous when we played them last year. And I don’t think that is going to really change that much. If anything, they’re going to be going for it even more now that they’re separate from Phoenix.

I think they have something to prove as a club too. I feel like maybe they haven’t had a league win yet so far in their 2022 campaign. So they’re going to be hungry for that. Our guys, who knows how tired they’ll be when they show up after a day of travel. But no, I think, especially because it’s cold today. It’s been somewhat hot and cold this week for weather and they’re going to be showing up. And one of the main reasons why they play so late at night out in Tucson is because they have to wait for the sun to go down because it’s too hot to play during sunlight hours, even at this time of the year, which is wild to me. But you know…

Justin: As someone going to be on the sidelines. I’m glad about that too.

NDZ: You’re glad for that, right? You’ll have those flood lamps like lighting up all those players real nice for the cameras. But yeah, no, I think it’s cool what they’re trying to build out there in Tucson. And I just saw a couple of people on Twitter that are actual FC Tucson supporters that probably initially paid no attention to FC Tucson in comparison to Phoenix, just because Phoenix is such a big club and there’s not a whole lot of room for people to show up and actually get to meet people and feel like they’re really part of something. And there’s always more of that feeling when a club is in its smaller stages and in earlier years. So, I’m all about the folks trying to build stuff around FC Tucson out there, partially because Tucson’s a totally different city than Phoenix.

Justin: I think that that’s the thing. I mean, it’s two hours away, but there’s a real identity in Tucson in the Southwest. I think people really forget that when it comes to some of these states here and that’s why I’m excited to see what they build. I think there can be cool identity, Tucson versus Phoenix — and not any sort of animosity — but just, like you said, there’s an opportunity for some of the locals in Tucson to make it their own.

NDZ: I always think like, what would’ve happened if they would’ve had a USL club out of Milwaukee before Madison. And I know Forward Madison’s ownership also is working and developing a USL Championship club in Milwaukee. But I wonder what it would’ve been like if they were to launch that before Madison and I feel like it would’ve been drastically different, because anyone from Madison will tell you that Madison and Milwaukee are vastly different cities.

Justin: Yeah. I mean, I’m curious. Now this gets too deep in the political weeds and everything, but you know, I think soccer is more built to thrive in a city such as Madison versus a city like Milwaukee and some of my best friends are from Milwaukee. So they’ll probably hate me for saying it because they want a club, but I just don’t think it’s as best suited versus a Madison and same goes for any other state with the makeup of the cities and just the demographics.

NDZ: Yeah. I mean, we’ll probably see sometime soon when Big Top launches their Milwaukee club. Who knows, we might have a US Open Cup matchup between those two entities. We’ll see. Anyway, Justin, thank you so much for joining me today. It was super good to chat with you. Let’s do it again sometime sooner this time.

Justin: Yeah. I’m eager to see my first home Madison match of the season. So let’s do it over beers and Madison soon.

NDZ: Twist my arm, why don’t you? All right. We will see you next time. How about that?

Justin: Done.

NDZ: All right.

Justin: Thanks for having me

NDZ: Absolutely.


  • Andrew Schmidt

    Eclecticist, FMFC supporter, Flock co-founder, designer of things, and taker of photos. Writer, wrench, motorcyclist. Pro-intellectualist, anti-pedant. Drinker of coffee and greeter of dogs.


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