There are measures of a relatively new sports team’s success in finding its local footing. For Stockade FC, it’s seen in the densely packed Dietz Stadium stands, even for preseason friendlies. It’s there in the Dutch Guard, a grassroots supporters group that started up even before the Kingston side played its first ever match last year. And it’s also there in The Fence Post, the first — and likely to remain best — unofficial Stockade FC fanzine.
“It’s awesome,” said club chairman Dennis Crowley. “I remember last year someone brought a copy to me and said, ‘Hey, there’s someone leaving these on the windshields of cars.’ And we took a look at it and it was hilarious.”
The Fence Post, which takes its visual cues from Stockade FC’s orange uniform embellishment and the cut & paste aesthetic of British football fanzines and classic punk rock flyers, was created by Spike Vrusho, a Rhinebeck-based sportswriter and cab driver, and the author of Benchclearing: Baseball’s Greatest Fights and Riots. The Fence Post was published twice last season, its third-ever issue handed out to fans in the Dietz parking lot earlier this month by Vrusho and his daughter before Stockade’s season-opening defeat to Hartford City FC, dubbed Dairy Queen FC.
“Fun is the whole idea, and I hope people see that,” said Vrusho. “A 53-year old guy doing a fanzine is kind of funny to begin with. It’s not really a chore. Two-sided Xerox, fold it, staple it. I did that the night before until 1 in the morning.”
Later start times for home matches weren’t the only thing to come out of a few of last season’s sweltering afternoons.
“I was sitting at one of the early games last year where it was super hot and people went over and sat in the shade on that grassy embankment,” said Vrusho. “And it just hit me then as we were reclining in the shade and people were running around, families were there, that it was just like a family picnic. It hit me that this team needs a fanzine. I go to London every once in a while and I go to games, and there’s always guys with fanzines outside of every stadium. And there’s usually a lot of them. And they’re pretty serious, but they’re mostly smart-ass stuff with inside jokes.”
“Smart-ass stuff with inside jokes” translates into gentle, sometimes obscure digs at an opponent’s logo — “Based on some famous building in Hartford (as if)” — or their supporters group — “Agents of Hale, who as of last week had a Facebook report of 6 people and 1 interested in making the trip to Dietz Stadium. So the Dutch Guard types should watch their asses on the way to Dallas Hot Wieners on Front Street because there might be a few Nutmeg State hooligans prowling.”
Some good natured ribbing is reserved for the home side, too. The most recent issue included a centerfold of Stockade forward Michael Creswick and his cat. “I was going to name the cat and do a whole little mini-bio, but I closed the picture on the screen and couldn’t find it again because [Creswick] has so many photos on his account,” Vrusho said. “It’s unbelievable. He has thousands of pictures.”
Crowley said Creswick, like everyone else he’s spoken to about the Fence Post, took it in the spirit Vrusho intended.
“After the game when we were cleaning up I was with Michael Creswick and his wife, and they were flipping through it and saw this spread, the centerfold with the cat,” Crowley said. “We were all laughing about it. How can you get upset? We take the club very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re dedicated to making this the most amazing thing it can be, but we’re all having a great time doing it. What Spike is doing kind of represents that kind of vibe.”
Vrusho has written about sports since covering the Yankees for the New York Press in the mid-’90s. He worked as the editor of the New York Sports Express, wrote voiceover scripts and highlight shows for the MLB Network, and won a couple of Sports Emmy Awards for Yankeeography scripts. He was also hired as a staff writer for the Classic Sports Network after writing a freelance piece about them, a gig he now calls a “dream job.”
“They were a boutique cable outfit that showed old games,” Vrusho said. “And then ESPN swooped in and bought them. Everybody got a sizable buyout or you could move to Bristol [Connecticut, location of ESPN’s headquarters] and work for ESPN Classic. I was young and single and living in a loft in Fort Greene, and I took one look at Bristol and said, ‘No thanks.’ I started freelancing after that.”
Vrusho was working as a copy editor for the Poughkeepsie Journal when Lyons Press signed him to write Benchclearing, which came out in 2008.
“It made some noise and it was fun to do,” he said. “It’s a kind of irreverent look at a pretty traditional sport. And that’s always been my angle: Part smart-ass and detail-oriented obscure references. Keep them baffled is the mantra. And a week later it makes sense.”
That mantra runs through every inch of The Fence Post, from its deliberately DIY design aesthetic to its rundown of Stockade’s next opponents, Westchester County’s New York Athletic Club, cast here as the yuppie squares from Caddyshack; and the “fowl creatures” of the Rhode Island Reds, who “had the nerve to finish third in our division last season.”
Vrusho said the zine is a distant cousin of those he used to create as a teenager. “I did a lot of fanzines starting in college and then up through being a freelance journalist in Brooklyn in the ‘90s,” Vrusho said. “I did one about baseball that got pretty big. But I always did it with a Xerox machine — real basic, cut and paste. The whole DIY-punk rock thing changed my life. I was an impressionable youngster growing up in the sticks in Ohio, and moving to New York and seeing bands at CBGB’s, that was a dream. It was awesome. That’s another influence, people making cut-and-paste flyers. I hope it never goes away.”
Crowley saw something instantly familiar in the Fence Post. “I used to do fanzines in high school about skateboarding and video games and stuff,” he said.
“It is exactly what we made in high school, but about the team. [Vrusho] gets soccer culture and gets fan culture and gets fandom in general. There’s a lot of things coming together there.”
Though its charm at least partly lies in its structural crudeness, The Fence Post may soon wind up online. Crowley, an Internet entrepreneur and the co-founder and executive chairman of Foursquare, asked Vrusho if it would be okay to scan issue 003 to share on social media.
“It’s gone high-tech now,” joked Vrusho. “It’s in the hands of Dennis Crowley.”
Vrusho said he hopes to be able to create a new issue for each home match this season, though he’s not promising anything.
“It’s challenging to dig up stuff for enough material that’s funny but not nasty,” he said. “It’s a family environment. I drive a taxi up here during the day and it gives me time to bounce ideas off the dashboard.”
Crowley said he hopes Vrusho is able to make it happen. “I think the first time we met he asked if I was upset about the fanzine,” said Crowley. “I was like, ‘No, this is like the best thing ever! This is amazing!’ He’s kind of the same mindset I have where it’s like ask for forgiveness instead of permission. I flip through it like a tabloid. I’m like, ‘Oh, gosh, what is he saying now?’”
Stockade FC travels to Westchester County to take on New York Athletic Club on Saturday, May 20. They’re back at home to host the Rhode Island Reds on Sunday, May 21 at 5 p.m.