This weekend, Philadelphia Sports Nation had the opportunity to speak with, Mark Cole, who was just named the first president of the Bethlehem Steel Supporter’s Group. As Mark climbs the ranks of supporters, we wanted to take the time to introduce him and to give Union and Steel fans a look at the man that is Mark Cole.
Tell me a little about yourself, Mark:
Outside of soccer I am a car salesman. I live in a small town outside of Philly that no one has ever heard of. I am a proud supporter of the USNT, Bayern Munich and Arsenal. I was born in Philly and moved out to the suburbs when I was young. My dad is a huge Philly sports fan so I guess it was just kind of burned into me. My weekends usually consist of hanging out with a small group of friends. I graduated from Moravian College in Bethlehem, so I go back to visit friends and fraternity brothers occasionally. I guess you could say I’m just living the life of your basic 23-year-old American, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What is your background in soccer?
I played a lot of soccer when I was growing up. I stopped playing organized soccer around 14 or 15, when I switched to football. Now I mostly just kick around with friends once in a while. My soccer life is pretty much just being a supporter of my favorite clubs now. I’ve followed MLS, BPL, and the Bundesliga for many years now. Prior to Philly having a team, I was a Galaxy fan, because Cobi Jones was a total stud. As soon as a Philly team was announced my allegiances changed, and I’ve been a Union fan ever since.
Why did you start supporting the Union?
It’s simple. They are from Philly. I hate all things from New Jersey other than Mack’s Pizza, so the Red Bulls were out, and I don’t like DC/Washington teams either. It’s great to have a club so close to home. I attend almost every home game, and I have season tickets. Even though they haven’t been very good in their short history, the passion in the stadium keeps bringing me back. We have some real blue-collar guys on the team, and that’s exactly what this city is about.
Why are you so passionate about soccer? What is it about the sport that draws you to it?
The game is just so much fun to watch. From the high school level, to college, to the pros, anyone can win on a given day. Even the best teams of Europe lose a game to someone at the bottom of the table once in a while. You never know what is going to happen. Take the Union’s USOC runs the last two years. No one thought they belonged there, but they fought their [butts] off, and defied the odds. We beat some great clubs on our way to the final, only to fall short both times. I’m also a member of the American Outlaws in Philadelphia. Most of my friends aren’t huge soccer fans, and the outlaws gave me a group of people to watch games with. It’s that type of brotherhood that draws me to the game.
How did you become president of the supporter’s group? Why did you want to take up that role?
When I first heard about the club coming to Bethlehem, I had the idea for a supporters group. As the creator of a Union Discussion group on Facebook, I had a lot of recruiting power there. I made a page for the BSFC Supporters group and it blew up quickly. We had over 150 members in the first 6 or 7 hours. I guess people just kind of looked to me to lead this effort. After talking to the Union FO, they told me that efforts would originally be headed up by the Sons of Ben. After meeting with Ami Rivera, the president of the Sons of Ben, she asked if I would like to be the group’s first president, and I couldn’t think of anything else that I’d want to do. To have the chance to lead a group like this is a true honor, and I am extremely excited to see what the future holds for this group and this club.
What is the status of the supporter’s group currently?
This week we will be voting on a name. Three different named were provided to members of the Facebook group to vote on. The vote will be held on December 6th. Also we are currently just working on getting people interested in joining the group to get season tickets in The Forge. In December people will have a chance to apply for board positions. After that, the fun begins, as there isn’t much time between now and opening day.
Can you lay out a timeline of your objectives between now and opening day?
As I said, we will have a name by this weekend. Our Board of Directors will he established in January, and then opening day is set for March. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes, and those details will be released when we get things set in stone.
What is the meaning behind the name of the supporter’s section, “The Forge”?
Without the forge, there is no steel. We wanted to portray this in naming the section. You always hear players thanking the fans after a big win or a championship. The players know it. The coaches know it. Without the fans, there is no club.
What vision do you have for this supporter’s group? The Bethlehem Steel?
My goal is to make sure people in this group have the best experience possible while supporting the club. I also want to make sure the Goodman Stadium is a place opposing teams hate playing in. We will be loud, rowdy, but respectful. Away from the club, I really want to see us get involved with the community. Much like the Sons of Ben do their charity events, I plan to do the same. My hope is to link up with the Sons for a combined effort to support a cause, but that will be worked out down the road.
What do you anticipate being the most challenging part of your role?
The most challenging role for the first year will be getting everything in line properly. There is a lot that is going to happen in 2016, and we will hit some bumps in the road. I’m sure of it. The most important thing is that I, as well as my board and other members of the group, keep our heads pointed in the same direction. We all want the same thing: to have a great experience. Also, establishing this club as its own entity will be a challenge. While we are obviously connected to the Union, the Lehigh Valley has an interesting fan base. There are a lot of New York fans, and if we can convert a few Red Bull/RB2 fans into BSFC fans, I’d be ecstatic.
What are your expectations for yourself as president?
My personal goals are to build a solid foundation for this group, so that when someone else steps into my role, the transition will be smooth. I want to fill The Forge every game this year, and I want to hear at least one opposing player tell me they hate playing in Goodman Stadium. Most importantly, I want people to have fun. That’s what this game is all about. My goal is for us to have so much fun in the Forge, that the rest of the fans follow suit. Nothing is more exciting to watch than an entire stadium standing and chanting in unison.
Why is this team important to you?
As a Union fan, this club will be our direct pipeline for future senior club players. It will make the Union better. More importantly, it give the Lehigh Valley and the city of Bethlehem a club to support. The city gave me an education, friends, and most importantly a home for four years of my life. I love the community and atmosphere of Bethlehem, and this is my way of giving back.
What does it mean for the Lehigh Valley community to have a professional soccer team?
The Lehigh Valley is a great minor league sports market, and a lot of Philadelphia teams have already realized this. The Phillies have the Iron Pigs, and the Flyers finally brought the Phantoms back to Pennsylvania. Both of those clubs are in the Lehigh Valley. It gives the kids something to do that is fun and safe, and should provide a lot of jobs in the area as well. The city still feels the effects of the steel mills shutting down, and the teams coming into the area are a great way to boost the economy.
If you want to meet Mark or are gearing up to enter the Forge, feel free to join Bethlehem Steel FC Supporter’s Group on Facebook.