Sam Maller/The Players’ Tribune

When people find out that I recently became an owner of a professional soccer team in Birmingham, there are usually two things that happen next. Two questions, actually. First it’s like….


And then, almost immediately it’s….


So I wanted to write a little something on here to let people know what’s up. Right off the bat, let me start out with a secret, something not a lot of people know about me: I’m an absolute soccer fanatic.

My two youngest kids played back in the day in Atlanta, and all my nieces and nephews, too. So I was around the game a lot while I was with the Hawks. But things really took off for me with soccer when I went over to Europe in the mid-’90s to play ball in Greece and Italy. I got a crash course introduction to the sport, and just how massive it is. With upwards of 100,000 fans crammed into football stadiums, all singing and dancing and having a good time.

I still remember my very first game over there. The passion in that crowd — the loyalty, the intensity — it was unlike anything I’d ever witnessed. Everyone in that stadium was absolutely locked in on the game — kids, grownups, business leaders, shopkeepers, little old grannies, everyone. It seemed like the game was life-or-death for all of them. I remember at one point these two old men who were apparently diehard fans started screaming at each other and shoving, and then next thing I know there’s this old-guy fight going on. Can you imagine? Two Greek grandpas trying to throw hands over whose team is better.

I was like: This is something totally different right here.

From there, I was absolutely hooked. And in the years since I’ve been to dozens of matches where the energy level and emotion in the stadium was off the charts. It’s something that’s gotten into my body. That energy, the spirit of the game.  

But there’s a huge difference between loving a sport and wanting to own a team. There needs to be more than just a love of the game. And that’s where Birmingham comes in.

This city, this community, it’s just … special. As part of my work with the KultureCity nonprofit, I’ve spent a ton of time here over the past several years, and I’ve been truly blown away. Birmingham is incredibly inspiring to me. And it’s not just for the reasons you may assume.   

When people talk about Birmingham, a lot of the time, they talk about the history. The past. And I get it. To be honest with you, I do it, too. I mean, it’s almost like: How could you not? Birmingham played such a crucial role in the advancement of civil rights in this country. The women and men who bravely put their lives on the line to fight for fairness, and for a better nation, are true heroes. What they accomplished, this town’s legacy, it should never, ever be forgotten.

At the same time, though, I feel like it sometimes gets lost how incredible Birmingham is right now — like in the present. Business is booming here. The city is growing and expanding, you see it every day. It’s become a technology hub, a leader in the healthcare field, the banking industry is huge, there are world-class colleges and universities, wonderful museums, and on and on. Birmingham has become a town of opportunity. And then, when you really hunker down and visit the neighborhoods and get to talking with everyone, I mean … you won’t find nicer, more welcoming people anywhere in the country.

So now, what we’re hoping to do with Legion FC is to build out a team and franchise that embodies the spirit of this extraordinary city. Soccer is a sport that everyone plays. It brings people together. And what better place to help make that happen than in Birmingham?

Our hope is that this team can be something all the people of Birmingham can get behind and be proud of — an inclusive, diverse, passionate organization, with a team that shows up and plays hard. We want a team that makes you jump out of your seat and cheer with all your heart because those players on the pitch … they’re representing your city, they’re doing their thing for you. It’s almost like you’re out there on the field with our players, and everyone has gathered together in the spirit of community. 

So if there’s one thing I want to say more than anything to the people of Birmingham before I get out of here, it is this: Everything I’m doing — everything about this franchise — my whole reason for investing in this team and working my butt off to help build something great at Legion FC is for you guys!

This isn’t about building a brand or some second act for me. This truly is about bringing together my love for this sport and my love of this community, and trying to make some magic. For you all.

I want this to be so much bigger than me, bigger than any one person, really. I want it to be about us. Together. And to build something that will have longevity, something that will be a source of pride for this community for a long time. I want this team to be a huge part of Birmingham’s future.

And I may be biased, but I feel like that future couldn’t be any brighter.