Tim Howard is well known to English football fans after the USA stopper spent 13 years in the Premier League, first with Manchester United and then Everton. He now plies his trade with MLS outfit Colorado Rapids, but at the age of 39, his thoughts have inevitably turned to life after his playing career, and those thoughts have included owning a football club.

The first day of September is known as 901 day (09/01) in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s a special day for the inhabitants of the 901 area code, celebratrating what it is to be from the 901, and it’s touted by locals as a grassroots, hater-free holiday. So there couldn’t be a better time than 9:01am on 901 day to announce the arrival of Memphis 901 FC – downtown Memphis’ newest professional sports team.

There’s a distinct musical vibe to the culture surrounding the club, the neon-inspired crest paying homage to downtown Memphis’ historic Beale Street, complete with an LP record in the centre as a nod to the city’s immense music history. For Tim, it’s a fresh approach to a game that has already given him so much, and as part of the group of owners that are heading up this exciting new venture he took the time to talk with us about all things Memphis 901 FC.

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Tim, getting right to the heart of it, what struck you about this project that made you want to get involved in the first place?

Memphis is actually my hometown and I’ve been wanting to be a part of an ownership group for quite a while now. You know, it’s not easy to come by as you’d imagine. So when I spoke to Peter Freund, who was the principle owner, we talked about the possibility of bringing the team to Memphis and I jumped on board, and it was a very good match between Peter and myself. I was wanting to get on the ownership side of things so I could help build the club and use some of the things that I’ve learnt over the last 21 years and obviously it’s been so far, so good.

The styling of it, the obvious musical influences, it’s truly bespoke. Does that reflect a vision of where you’d like to see the game go and where you’d like to take Memphis in particular?

Yeah, look, we want to build a club and a team that Memphis can be proud of. It’s a working class city and you get nothing for free there and we want our team to reflect that. We want to win games, obviously – it’s a sport and we want to win – but more than anything we want to be a hard working team that rolls its sleeves up and plays attractive football, winning football. When we recruit players, we’re letting them know that this is no Mickey Mouse organisation, we’re determined to do things right and we want this city to not only enjoy soccer, but we want the city to be proud of the team.

The club branding is out there now. Those creative elements and those behind the scenes elements, is that something that excites you on a personal level?

Yeah, it’s incredible, because you build an organisation from the ground up and it’s a blank slate of paper. You see the paper and you see you have to start adding the pieces with nothing there. And so I think for everybody in the organisation, the people, the men and women selling tickets and doing the marketing, for all of us to see our brand unveiled and to see our logo and to see people clamouring for merchandise; it was a moment to step back and take stock and be proud of the work that we’ve been doing. Now the hard work continues, but that was definitely a milestone moment.

On a personal level, when you're away from football would you say that you are inspired by other creative industries?

I think the game of football that we love is creative, it has flair. If you look at what soccer is in America it’s become very en vogue, and people are attracted to the cultural side of it, right? Neymar’s tattoos, and the Jordan brand with Paris Sant Germain. Everyone’s attracted to elements that belong to the game of football so we’re trying to tap into that. We want to win football matches, because that’s what the business is all about, but surrounding that, we also want to make a product that people are excited to see and to wear and to talk about, so yeah, there’s the branding element too.

Have you always had a state of mind that likes to mix football with fashion and style yourself?

I’ve always kept it separate. There’s nothing stylish about being a goalkeeper, you know? So I’ve kind of kept them separate but I think once you have a certain persona it begins to morph and clearly I’m into the art of tattooing and I love fashion, so it’s started to go hand in hand. 

What would you say are your major influences when it comes to fashion and design?

I don’t know. I mean with my tattoos I just love the art, so on any given day I could… heaven knows what I get. I’m getting one today and that [was arranged] on Tuesday. There’s that, then on the fashion side of things I like to mix street with high-end and sort of put my own twist on things.

Do you think you’ll get a Memphis tattoo when you get that first kick-off moment?

Maybe, [laughs] we’ll see. Our club slogan is “Defend Memphis” and it means a lot to the people of Memphis and it means a lot to our club, so I think that would look pretty cool as a tattoo. We’ll see.


The English football culture is very proud and you obviously know how passionate it is. What do you make of the American soccer culture right now? There are a few new teams with serious support...

English football is healthy and well and it always has been so, the English do it right in that regard. But yeah, there’s been some excitement around the new teams, around new signings that are within the MLS that are really good. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is playing brilliantly, Wayne Rooney has lifted D.C. leaps and bounds up the table, so much so that they were dead and buried and now they made the playoffs. I think if you look at what we’re creating here as an American soccer culture, it’s unique to us, but certainly one that we’re proud of.

Going back to the connection that you have with Memphis, how involved have you been in the whole process of the club since the opportunity came around?

Very involved, and I think that was part of the discussions between Peter Freund and myself early on, getting to know each other, him asking the questions of what it is I want to do and basically I want to do everything I can to help the club be successful. And I mean that, so I’m on technical calls every week with our general manager, our head coach and our assistant coach, helping to scout players, helping to speak with players. Again, doing everything I can behind the scenes to make this club what it can be and I’ve been around some amazing football clubs in my time so trying to mirror some of those really good things I’ve seen in my career and put them in place in Memphis.

When did the discussions about ownership come to the table? Was it an instant thing that you had in mind?

Yeah, I finished my playing career and I think the two things that really standout in my mind majorly are television and broadcasting, and ownership. I set my sights on those two things in particular and that’s kind of where I see my future. And so it’s about building relationships and talking to people and making inroads with the right people to let them know that I’m interested in being on the ownership side.

When you do hang up your boots and gloves do you see this as being an opportunity to be able to create a new legacy that’s going on a different adventure?

Yeah, 100 percent. I want to have success in what I do next. To be quite honest, when I finish playing and I hang them up, I don’t want to be known as an ex-player. I want to embark on a new path and try and be great at that. That won’t happen over night, but I’ll try and be great at the next phase of what I’m doing and then have my playing legacy be a part of that.


Having that blank canvas with Memphis, have you got countless ideas that you just can’t wait to get out there?

Well yeah, trying to get a team out there is the first step, but on that side of things once I’m done playing there’s clearly a lot more influence that I can have on the day to day and part of that will be helping to form the culture and see where we go. I think the exciting part is that we want year one to be a success, what ever that looks like, but then the challenge is being better in year two and better in year three, so it’s a constant work in progress.

Are there elements to the cultural side of the game that could bring something completely fresh to football, from experiences that you’ve had in the past?

I know a lot of good, because I’ve seen a lot of bad. In all facets, recruiting the right players and making sure the club is run in the best possible way and that we don’t take short cuts, those are the kind of influences that I have on the club. Again, we want to be an up tempo, pressing team that’s in your face and you have to have good footballers, but you have to have people that are willing to roll their sleeves up and do the work and so that part of who we are will be our statement. It’s easy for us to say though, we haven’t kicked a ball yet. So the challenge is to bring in the right sorts of players to help create that.

Things like making your own kit and all that sort of stuff, do those elements jump out as moments of excitement for you?

It’s exciting for me to see people all around Memphis, everywhere I go, wearing 901 FC gear: hats, shirts, sweatshirts. So yeah, obviously the more trendy we can be, the more people will want to wear it. If we can get the masses in Memphis to be proud to wear 901 FC, then it becomes more than just a football club, right? It becomes a part of the fabric of the city.

With the momentum that’s gathering with the club now, and again looking forward beyond the initial setup and being an established team, how big are the aspirations?

The easiest way to answer that is to say that we want to win, and we want to win the championship. That’s normal, right? Everyone’s going to say that. But we’d like to put butts into seats, attracting top quality players and then ultimately chase some sort of silverware, whether that be the US Open cup or USL Championship, it’s hard to put a finger on it without having kicked a ball. Next year, we’ll be a little bit closer and we’ll understand where we need to improve and what’s really good and so at the moment, in those three areas. Attendance, player recruitment, and on field wins: that’s what’s going to give us our success.


You're now part of a consortium group with Peter Freund and Craig Unger (President of Memphis 901 FC) who own Dagenham and Redbridge. So as well as Memphis 901, you’re also involved with the Daggers on this side of the pond. Is that just kind of because of the opportunity that it presents?

Yeah, I think in getting in this ownership space it certainly played nicely that they did become the owners of Dagenham and Redbridge [as well] and brought me on to the ownership group in that realm. It’s a group that I trust. I don’t do any half measures with anything that I put my name to and so I did as much homework as was humanly possible, had long, lengthy discussions with Peter [Freund], and thought that this was something that I wanted to sink my teeth into. I’m actually trying to pin down the date to get over there in November/December to see a game and meet the supporters and the rest of the board and obviously have a chat with the players and Peter Taylor as well, so this was just an opportunity that I had to jump at. I know English football, it’s in my blood and it’s something that I’m incredibly passionate about.

It would be amazing to see a Memphis 901 v Dagenham and Redbridge friendly lined up. That’s definitely got to happen!

I think that would be easy. We’re going to make sure that happens for sure.

One final question... if we came over there and you took us to Memphis, where would you take us to that defines such a unique setting for a football club?

I’d take you to the stadium and then from there in any direction: you’ve got the National Civil Rights museum, you’ve got the best barbecue joints in the world, and you’ve got some studios where Elvis Presley recorded, all within a four block radius. And then there’s Beale street, where if you fancy a pint or two or ten, then you can go and party and hear some good music.

Find out more about the club on memphis901fc.com