A new story from Men In Blazers

Men In Blazers


Special with the one and only Chris Richards. Joining me today, I've got a gent who I admire greatly. A 22 year old American who's already journeyed the road less taken in his career from the Deep South of Alabama to deeper Bavaria and now deeper, steeper South London, forging a singular path in inimitable style, one that we can only hope will be followed by many Alabama born football dreamers in all corners of that glorious state in years to come. True joy to welcome U.S. men's national team and Crystal Palace center back. Bama Beck and Bauer all round great human being. Mister Chris Richards. Hey, roger. That was awesome. That was a cool introduction. Chris, you know what? It's all true and I want to start by going right back to the beginning because you are a native of Hoover Alabama just south of Birmingham to traditional place and that the risk of stating the obvious, not one of the major hotbeds of soccer culture in America, hardcore, high school football territory, Friday night light style. What was it like growing up as a soccer player in a place so devoted to gridiron? It was tough, you know, I wasn't at the high school I went to there was very limited amount of football players or sorry, soccer players. And so like you said, Friday night lights is what we were doing. Every Friday, like that was a thing to do was to go to the high school football game and hang out with your Friends. And so I had to miss a lot because I was on the way trips for soccer, but it was the thing growing up was just high school football. You know, there's so much about this that's fascinating to me because you've talked about how you were pretty much the only African American kid in Hoover who played soccer. And I'm fascinated how self conscious were you of that the whole time, because you've said retrospectively, you heard things that tournaments that you shouldn't have heard. I think in general, I was like the only kid in my friend group that played soccer. And so I didn't really think too much about the race aspect and then looking back, it was one of those things where I was very much kind of the only black kid that was playing. And like I said, once I finally moved to Europe, it was like the first time seeing people that look like me playing on the same team. And so it was really refreshing. Yeah, so I saw an incredible interview you did with Rio Ferdinand, where you said, as you've been kind of unpacking that, almost being a double outsider in America and not until you got to Europe, did you find people who look like you who kicked the ball that you loved to kick. You said retrospectively to Rio, you realize that you grew up around a profound identity crisis. I think being biracial, you kind of already have that identity crisis, you know, sometimes it feels like I'm a little bit too black for my white friends and a little too white for my black friends and just on top of that I was also playing soccer, so it was like I was like you said like a double outsider. I'm kind of giving me the sense of independence growing up where I didn't really necessarily need the people around me to kind of gas me up. Like it was just I was kind of had my own path that I knew I wanted to take. Birmingham. In the early 2000s, the closest thing you have by way of a professional team, I believe, with the Atlanta silverbacks, two hours away playing in the second tier, the NASL, and I'm curious how much exposure did you have to the professional game back then? Were you watching it on TV? Who were you watching? Did you have idols that you looked at outside of your world and said, him, him, I want to be him. In Alabama, of course, there weren't very many soccer games being played on TV. And when they were, it was like, you know, back then it was Clint Dempsey maybe at Fulham or land and Donovan at Everton. So those are like the games that were being played. And you get the occasional united game when Cristiano was there, so that was kind of like my introduction to soccer. But like you said, the closest team was Atlanta silverbacks and those games were never on TV. So I didn't really have any type of introduction to MLS or things like that until I was probably like 15, 16 years old. When the Lenny united finally got the startup. I mean, were you what were you watching Clint and Brian McBride and Landon Donovan? And were you like them? I won't be there. That is a fantasy land I want to jump into or will you like that feels so far away? How do I even get through the enchanted forest to find my way to glory? About too far away for me, honestly. You know, I think we had a player from Birmingham named Chandler Hoffman and he ended up making his way to MLS and that was like, you know, that was a thing where like, wow, like we saw him play at UCLA and go to galaxy and we were like, that's the dude. You know, that's what everybody wants to be. And last thing online was playing primarily league, you know? And so it was, it almost felt like it was too big of a dream for me at that time because I've never seen anybody around me do it, especially not at the caliber that we're at now with the Americans. It's like everybody's able to do it. If we really put our mind to it. Not everybody, not this guy, Chris, but you gave it interview once. We talked about the single moment that you decided you were going to go all in on football. You and Buenos Aires and under 16 regional ODP team. They took you to a local club game. I think it was Lannister against banfield. Been as always classico del Sur and was the first professional game you'd ever attended, which blows my mind. Take us back there. The atmosphere, the experience, the passion, the emotions you felt, what was it that had such a profound impact? What did you see? What did you think? So my club coach growing up, he was from Argentina and so you could just see the passion. Like when he would speak, you could just kind of feel the passion in his voice, I didn't quite have the passion for it at that time because I wasn't kind of had one foot in one foot out because I was doing everything at that time. And then I get to Argentina and, you know, like I said, at that point, I'm 15, 16, and we're going to this game. And we're all wearing green tops because that was like the color of our region. And apparently that was the color of the away team as well. And so we're driving up on the bus and they're throwing stuff on our bus and we're getting off and like, of course, you're 15, you're kind of like shitting yourself, but also you're like, all right, this is also sick, you know? This is my first professional game. So after that trip, you know, I come home, I tell my parents, I was like, you know, this is like, this is something I've never experienced before, but I want to experience the rest of my life. And of course they were a little bit skeptical. They threw crap out of us. I want that. Exactly. Like kind of anger. Yeah, I mean, like they're throwing flares, they're throwing hot dogs, coffees. It's just like whatever they get their hands on their throne and at us. And like I said, we're 15 year old kids, like, I can't imagine playing for the first team at that time. It was scary, but also was very inspiring at the same time. It was around that time that you just started the play center back. And you were in midfield up till they ran the age of 14. One fateful day, a teammate was injured, the coach moved you back and you have never looked back. most kids want to sit up front, score the goals, grab the glory, and your 6 foot two now, but at the time you get to hit that

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