For Jonathan Collura, Thursday was the culmination of a life-long dream. He finally got to bring semi-professional soccer to Lincoln.
Bugeaters FC, a Lincoln-based soccer team that will play in the United Premier Soccer League starting in April, held a launch party and uniform unveiling for the club in front of more than 100 eager fans at Backswing Brewery.
“We didn’t have a team back in my younger days, and if we did I would’ve been the No. 1 fan and the first season-ticket holder,” Collura said in front of the newly released jersey renderings.
“I wanted to be the first semi-professional team in Nebraska and the first team to develop local talent and take them to next level. There have been teams but we have a solid business model and a true plan. I want this to be about the community. They’re ready for this team.”
The goal of the new club is simple: represent the soccer community in Lincoln in the best ways possible. The club’s name harkens back to Nebraskans in the 1800s, while the logo and crest, which both feature a tractor, are a nod to the state’s agricultural background.
“I’m a third generation Husker, so I really want the club to focus on Nebraska and it’s roots,” Collura added. “The tractor on the ball is an homage to Nebraska’s agricultural community and it’s also a tractor my grandfather had in Lincoln. I wanted a tractor because it’s different. Arsenal has its cannon, Lincoln has its tractor.”
It wouldn’t be a legitimate soccer club without a supporters group filled with songs, flags and possibly smoke bombs, so the Bugeaters FC turned to a veteran to implement their fan community. Mike Blankley founded the Columbus Crew’s supporters group, the Crew Union, when he lived in Ohio and he’s now turned his attention to Lincoln’s newest group, the Fieldhands.
“I’ve been part of supporters groups since I was a child in Europe, so my goal here is to build something that’s the destination in the spring and summer for fans,” Blankley said. “I want the Fieldhands to be the heartbeat of the team. When the guys' legs are Jello in the 70th minute I want our drums, our chants, to be what drives them.”
Blankley has been all around the world as a “Navy kid” and has seen the pull soccer has over other communities regardless of race, gender or social status. He views the game as a unifier and hopes the Bugeaters and the Fieldhands can transform fandom in the Capital City.
“As soon as I saw the club announced, I messaged Mr. Collura and asked how can I be a part of this,” Blankley said. “A good supporters group is like a family and that’s what I want to build here. We want to go for 90 minutes. We take turns on drums because people’s arms are tired. The night before every match we’re in someone’s garage making banners. That’s what I’m looking for here and I think we can achieve it.”
For the on-the-field product, Collura turned to his founding partner, Tim Pendrell, to handle general manager duties. Pendrell announced that tryout dates will be posted soon on the team’s website, www.bugeatersfc.com, and it’s his hope to attract players from all backgrounds.
“This is a community program with local players and we really want to put resources back into the community to help grow the sport,” Pendrell said. “We want to give local players something to aspire to.”
Pendrell’s goals with the team are simple: conquer U.S. Soccer.
“I want us to qualify for the U.S. Open Cup and kick ass,” Pendrell added. “I want us to play Major League Soccer teams and go deep into the cup so basically we want to put together a talented roster full of Nebraskan athletes.”
The team will be playing their home games at Abbott Sports Complex and announcements about the team and schedule will be forthcoming.
Any hopes of getting a team scarf might be dashed for a minute, however. They sold out quickly.