Vermont Green is about as startup as it comes.
Behind the slick branding of one of U.S. soccer’s newest teams, you will find the humble beginnings of a club that is being built by a long list of passionate volunteers.
From the front office to the supporters in the stands, everything is organic and that’s just the way they like it.
When profiling supporter culture, it’s easy to praise the raucous crowds and goosebump-worthy atmospheres in places like Phoenix, Madison, and Detroit.
But just like any club in the world, those all had to start somewhere. In Vermont, it’s happening right before our eyes.
After one of the first home matches of the Vermont Green season, a group of a dozen passionate supporters lingered on the metal bleachers at the far end of the University of Vermont stadium. Some had arrived in pairs but most were meeting each other for the first time. And it was in between those introductory handshakes and hugs that you could see the momentum building.
“Who can bring drums next time?”
“Should we schedule a day to practice some songs?”
“What are your plans before the next game?”
No one was really in charge but everyone was visibly excited to get to work.
“Vermont has a real independent do-it-yourself vibe and I think the club taps into that,” shared Tyler Littwin, the unintended founder of the Green Mountain Bhoys supporters group.
As he explained, Vermont Green sits right in the middle of the venn diagram of his life – overlapping soccer, Vermont, graphic design, and progress activism.
When the club was first announced, Tyler reached out to the founders to offer his support. A skilled designer by trade, Tyler found a role creating the club’s matchday posters. But his impact didn’t stop there.
“I started thinking about other ways to support the club and half-jokingly started the Green Mountain Bhoys supporters group,” recalled Tyler.
The name, half an homage to the Revolutionary War militia group in the region and half a reference to Scotland’s Celtic FC, was never something that Tyler thought would stick. You can guess what happened next though. The joke quickly caught on and is now the name of the club’s first supporter group.
It’s all on brand with the organic nature of the club and its origins.
On the day I visited, the scene inside the Vermont Green clubhouse/home/headquarters/workspace felt like something you would have seen in dozens of Silicon Valley garages during the early days of the tech boom. The small group of leaders were running around making final preparations for the match that night, which included everything from pressing jerseys and double-checking the matchday timeline, to throwing out grand ideas the club could pursue in the future.
While sitting in the backyard on a couple old patio chairs that day, Connor Tobin joked about the startup culture and the importance of letting things grow on their own.
“It’s not about day one or season one,” noted Connor. “It’s about building a club 40, 50, and 100 years down the line that means something to this community and this state. And a lot of that has to come organically.”
Sure, the amount of sweat equity Connor and his front office peers are putting into the club is inspiring, but they aren’t too worried about what a supporter culture is supposed to look like. Instead, it’s about doing things that are authentic to Vermont.
As supporter Ryan Robertson described, he found something he was missing when he moved to Vermont.
Ryan grew up in a small town in Nevada and fondly remembers the closeness of his community. Residents looked out for one another, and everyone was invested in their neighbors’ wellbeing. But when Ryan moved away to work in a bigger city, he found himself longing for that small-town experience he once had. Which is ultimately a big reason why he now calls Burlington home.
“When we moved to Vermont, it brought back that hometown feeling I had growing up” shared Ryan. “Everyone is so accepting here and that culture translates into the club and why I’m so excited for what Vermont Green can become.”
Continued Ryan, “What I love most is that it’s not just about soccer. It’s about looking out for people and looking out for the environment.”
If you’ve heard anything about Vermont Green, you probably know that the club is committing 1% of its annual sales to environmental justice organizations and causes. You probably also know that the team has worked on a net zero plan that offsets the club’s greenhouse gas footprint and makes all its merchandise wit ha company that uses 100% recycled products.
And while the environmental justice aspect of the club often leads the headlines, it’s the community tenet that might be the biggest driver of its long-term success.
At first glance, Vermont may not appear as diverse as most soccer cities in the U.S. Yet it has long been home to numerous refugee populations, many of whom have been building a soccer culture in the region for decades.
For example, Juba Star FC is an amateur soccer organization and club in Vermont centered around the large Somali Bantu community in the region. For over 15 years, they have been providing free youth and adult programming to residents in the area. Their work through soccer, career mentorship, and academic support, is aimed at creating a space where immigrants and former refugees can grow, remain safe, and feel at home.
Given this, it was only natural for Vermont Green to link up with the organization early on. Before the season even began, the two announced a partnership that includes building a connection between the two soccer teams and providing financial support for Juba Star’s programs and events.
The club has also partnered with the Vermont Labor Council, AFL-CIO to create a link between Vermont Green and the labor movement in the state. As the leaders explain, the partnership affirms the relationship between athletes and owners as the same as that between workers and bosses.
“We all know that this sport can be a force for good in this state,” shared Connor.
That’s why every action they take focuses on the intersection between soccer, advocacy, and community.
From deepening its relationships with the labor movement and refugee communities, to taking a stand for environmental justice and racial equity, Vermont Green is in the early days of something special.