Creative Soccer Culture

Phoenix Rising | A Photography Q&A With Grace Stufkosky

Phoenix Rising are leading their own charge on football out in the States. A club co-owned by Didier Drogba, Diplo and Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz among others, from the stand to the pitch they're making all the right noises. Grace Stufkosky is continuously documenting their progress and it's with a view from the fans perspective she has brought us these photos and words.

You've had the pleasure of being around Phoenix Rising for a little while now, how has the club developed?

"Phoenix Rising have come such a long way in a just a little less than their two seasons of play. They’ve managed to build a pretty special soccer complex on a rough patch of desert on Tribal Land in under two months, bring on Didier Drogba as part owner/player, max out capacity at a majority of their matches, and become a strong contender for MLS expansion."

What do you notice about the fans that sets them apart, there's a lot of passion in there…

"Oh man, the passion is incredible. There aren’t many places where you’d find supporters that consistently come out in 115 F heat and go for the full 90. They don’t stop. Ever. The two main supporters groups (The Bandidos and The Red Fury) really create an atmosphere in the stadium that’s electric. I’ve heard from a lot of people who’ve never been to a match before and they get sucked right in by the environment once they get in the stadium. It’s contagious and it needs to be if you want to keep people committed to the club - especially in the summer."

From a photography perspective, capturing the energy around these people is pretty unique isn't it?

"I’ve had the opportunity to shoot a lot of matches around the states but there is really something different about shooting a Rising match. I’m sure it has to do with the fact that it’s my home club, but I have a huge soft spot for the supporters and what they’re doing for the team. I shoot pitch-side for Rising occasionally but I always prefer to be in the supporters section to photograph the enthusiasm first hand. Sweating your ass off in the summer, ripping flares, throwing beers, singing your hearts out right in the middle of the desert - so damn good. I feel very fortunate that I get immerse myself and capture the passion for the club."

In America, they have adopted a European style of watching football but taken it to new places, doesn't it feel like there's a real swell of fan culture building out there?

"Absolutely! It’s exciting to see fan culture building out here in the states. I find it particularly interesting to see how some supporters have adopted a European style like you mention but have put their own, unique spin on it. Maybe it’s because I’m usually surrounded by other soccer fans but it seems like American soccer culture is growing at a rapid clip - especially in the last few years. We still have a long way to go but I look forward to enjoying the ride and seeing where it goes from here."

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Some things you can't do in the UK but you can out there like light flairs, drink on the terrace - what do you think the atmosphere would be like without that freedom?

"I do think that those things lend themselves to creating a pretty killer atmosphere and it would be different without it. Especially the smoke - as a photographer, I’m all about the smoke.The fans love it too. They know that once the boys score a goal, that smoke is going to come pouring out of the supporters section."

"These freedoms can be a bit of a double-edged sword occasionally. The majority of supporters can handle those beers with no problem but every once in a while you’ll get a rogue idiot or two who take it too far."

"I suppose if we weren’t allowed to have those things, the supporters would try to find another way to create an exciting and supportive environment for the club - but it would certainly feel different."

Obviously vocal support off the pitch but as the club builds, what do you think the aspirations are?

"MLS. There’s no question that MLS expansion is the goal for the ownership of this club and they have done remarkable things to try and get there. Time will tell if their goal is successful. But even if it isn’t, true Rising supporters aren’t going anywhere."

You can see more work by Grace Stufkosky here.


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