By Eduardo Maisonet, III / @edthesportsfan
Ben Hooper is a cool dude. I’d never tell him that to his face, so this is the closest to a compliment that he’ll get from me.
Hooper, co-founder of BumpyPitch (a clothing brand based in American soccer tradition) and The Original Winger (an online blogzine based in soccer culture), has helped me become a better soccer fan. Through conversation and dialogue, Hooper’s perspective on “the beautiful game” is always thoughtful but authoritative. Laid back in his reflections, you know that the man’s lived it and been through it. From playing professionally overseas to creating an innovating soccer brand in the states, the resume is real.
Check out the Q&A with Ben and I as we talk about Clint Dempsey, the evolution of Bumpy Pitch and over 100 years of American soccer history.
Eddie Maisonet, FOX Deportes: You’re in an elevator and Clint Dempsey steps in. You have a chance to give him 30 seconds worth of advice, what do you say?
Ben Hooper, Bumpy Pitch: Years ago Clint said he was so hungry his ribs were touching. That mentality and hunger has driven him to achieve great things in his career. I would tell him don’t ever lose that mindset and inner hunger.
FOX Deportes: Do you think Dempsey’s done enough to earn the crown of best American footballer ever? If so, when does he get his commemorative shirt? I want one.
BP: I think he is certainly in that conversation. You can’t talk about the best Americans and not mention Clint. If he gets his move to a big club, challenges in European matches and continues to score goals the way that he has, then I think we will be able to say that he is the best American to date.
FOX Deportes: How did Bumpy Pitch get started?
BP: Bumpy Pitch was started because we felt there was a lack of soccer inspired apparel that could be worn away from the field. The only soccer gear I would see when I was out was replica jerseys and sweat pants. We felt that the culture and the lifestyle of the sport presented an opportunity to create product from a different perspective. So we decided to do something about it. We had never done anything in the apparel world. We didn’t know where to start. We didn’t know how to design clothes. To be honest, we didn’t know a damn thing. But we had an idea and a belief and we figured it out little by little. We are still doing the same thing to this day.
FOX Deportes: What has the evolution of Bumpy Pitch looked like? How has the integration of The Original Winger helped things grow the brand?
BP: The evolution has been interesting. When we first started we would tell people that Bumpy Pitch is inspired by the lifestyle and culture of soccer. People looked at us like we were crazy. They had no idea what that even meant. So part of the evolution has been introducing people to what the lifestyle is about and educating them on it. We had to let people know that you could be a soccer fan but also be into music, sneakers, films, art etc. Professional players all around the world are into these things, but fans often times forget that that you can be a soccer fan and live a lifestyle that incorporates these other elements.
The Original Winger has helped tremendously as it was a visual and editorial outlet to support and showcase this lifestyle. If we show Drake and Mario Balotelli hanging out talking soccer, music, video games, fashion, etc, then that shows the lifestyle better than we can ever try and write about. It’s natural and authentic and supports our whole idea behind things. So The Original Winger has been a platform to showcase this lifestyle, but it’s also created an opportunity to have a dialogue with people and get to know soccer fans from around the world. We didn’t start it with the intention of it becoming it’s own stand alone entity, but it has become that and it’s been exciting to see it grow.
FOX Deportes: Bumpy Pitch’s brand expands on the history of American soccer. Are folks surprised how in-depth our history is with “the beautiful game”?
BP: I think most people are. Lots of folks know about the NASL and Pele and all that. But most don’t know that there was a professional league here in the US in the 1800’s. And people have responded really great to this history. Some of the best selling graphics we have ever released have been these teams that are 100 years old. We made up the logos because these old teams didn’t really have logos. So we created our own that we felt were authentic to that time period and city. So they have been fun to do but we also think they are important because they provide a groundwork for the sport and show that the US has a much more colorful and rich history with the sport than most people realize.
FOX Deportes: How has your experience playing overseas (Holland) shaped the way you look at soccer culture and make it transcendent to fans here across the pond?
BP: It certainly has influenced how I look at the sport and soccer culture as I was lucky enough to experience what it was like to play in a country where soccer reigns supreme. One of my business partners played overseas for a bit as well and we’ll have conversations about that and what the sport looks like in different parts of the world. But I’m not sure that playing overseas has had the biggest influence on how I look at soccer culture. Although it does play its part. We take our experiences with the sport, what is going on with it both domestically and internationally and then kind of re-purpose it in a way that makes sense to us.
FOX Deportes: Being based in LA, you are close to a ton of Mexican football history as well. Have you ever thought about digging into the Mexican archives to put together some vintage tees?
BP: Most definitely. Mexico has a great history in the sport and some of the imagery from there is amazing. It’s just a matter of attaching it to the right story when we do something based on that. We don’t usually do graphics just for the sake of doing graphics. We try to have a story and a purpose for the vast majority of items that we do. So when the right story presents itself on this topic, we will definitely dip into that history and the culture that it inspires.
FOX Deportes: What are some of the upcoming projects that BP has on deck to close out the year?
BP: We just released the first two graphics from our “fantasy league.” So there are more cities and teams to come with that. We have a couple collaborations we are working on that should keep people on their toes with what we are doing. There are also some big things in plan for next year that we’re super excited for. We’re just going to keep trying to move the needle forward and do our part in helping to continue to build the sport of soccer in the US and maybe make it a little cooler off the field than it has been in the past.