Back in 2007, I was drafted to work at Off The Hook. But before my hiring, I was always there hanging out and talking about the clothes. You know the kind of guy that always had time to kill at the shop and say hello once a week. There was always one guy that I connected with at the shop. He was a fan of soccer, Tupac, and video games. Our conversations was mostly about clothing brands and more less about sneakers. We would always nerd out and laugh. He also knew that I hated getting disturbed while I shopped, so the other salesmen would not really talk to me. But he would always serve me and show me all the dope brands that would come through the shop. He would whisper it even. Have you seen this? Have you heard of that? He gave me an education while I was a simple customer. But since I started working there, he taught me a lot on branding, but also a lot on being a positive human. Passion is what I learned the most from him. We made many mistakes together, but also achieved a lot as well. The right balance.
Last week I caught up with him again, Angelo Destounis, founder of Ringleaders FC, A soccer club that started back in August 2005. The club was born out of his frustrations towards the attitude he had seen in various garage leagues. He did not want to play in a negative environment where grown men with 9-to-5 jobs come to play and release their anger on the field. The sport that he grew to love started becoming something he hated. That’s why the RFC was born. The club has strict rules. There is a no jock/douche bag attitude policy within the club. If a player goes out of line they are immediately banned from the club for life. It’s some serious Sons of Anarchy shit. Angelo only wants to focus on the positive side football culture. The players are hand-picked by Angelo himself. The club consists of likeminded people like artists, reps, painters, skaters, photographers, etc. They all have a common goal: To simply have fun.
Angelo brought me on a little stroll through the Greek neighborhood in Montreal situated in an area called Parc Ex. We did a few pit stops.
“It was only a natural evolution of my relationship with soccer that I would eventually bring it in my field of work. I fused my passion and my profession. That’s when I starting feeling complete.” -Angelo Destounis
JOHNNY F. KIM: When was the first time that you were in contact with the sport? And what went through your mind when you discovered soccer?
ANGELO: I have my first memory at the age of 5. Very simple, my brothers were playing in our backyard with my older cousin George. The energy had captivated my attention. But it’s only a year later, when I saw Maradona celebrate the 1986 World Cup on the television, that I fell in love with it. I guess I discovered “glory.” I discovered success and I’ll never forget that.
While growing up, how has the sport evolved with you growing up throughout the years?
It’s been a love and hate relationship to say the least. Soccer is king in Greece. So as a kid, spending my summers there, we use to play ALL day. In the streets, like you see in them Nike or Adidas commercials. There was no grass or turf. As soon as the sun was up, we would go to the church ’cause that was the only place in the village that had a flat concrete area. We played until the sun went down. That was the most freedom I have ever experienced in my life. But coming back to Canada, soccer was close to nothing. And I couldn’t understand why.
In past conversations, you always brought up your cousin. How important is your cousin George in all of this?
My cousin George. He loved it so much that I felt I was about to miss out on the greatest secret on earth, know what I mean? He introduced me to Greek club Olympiacos, which is my heartbeat. He put me on to Pele, Maradona, Matthäus, and Baggio. He helped me understand style and finesse. Ultimately though my cousin George put a lot of importance to uniforms and crests and supporters groups… the whole culture side of it. He paid a lot of attention to footwear brands and collected boots from Diadora, Lotto, Adidas, Puma, Umbro… Just to be different, we use to wear indoor soccer shoes to school. That was our thing, that was our clique. Those were the ’90s for me.
How did the Ringleaders start out?
In August 2005, I met an artist called Mediah during an art show at my shop, Off The Hook. He blew my mind away. Never met someone that loved the game so much. I was almost jealous for real. We quickly became best of friends, and complained a lot about how brands are not doing it like they once use to. Hence, we made jokes about starting a new brand. Few months later, came up with the name, a crest, a blog, and launched 4 T-shirt designs with a mix CD.
Was there a particular reason to start a football club and not something else?
Keep in mind that I was running Off The Hook FC for 3 years prior to starting The Ringleaders. Off The Hook FC was a fail. It didn’t work. The vibe was wrong, ultimately, because it was just a soccer team based on weekly local league performance. It burnt me out and I hated soccer again. Ringleaders was a fresh start because it was a brand, based on the influence of my profession. I am the co-founder of OTH Boutique and Head Buyer. It was only a natural evolution of my relationship with soccer that I would eventually bring it in my field of work. I fused my passion and my profession. That’s when I starting feeling complete.
Why the name Ringleaders?
In the spring of 2006, I went to Toronto to finalize all the design work along with Mediah. Back then, we were really into [the name] “Casuals” and “Terrace Culture,” so I had a bunch of DVDs about hooliganism. That was our inspiration. So we would watch these flicks and take notes. Once the word “Ringleaders” came up, I knew that was the one. It was powerful. But please know that I hate violence in football. It’s pathetic when it happens.
Where are we now? Why do you chose to come to this place to watch your games?
We’re at Porto Leone in Montreal – this neighbourhood is called Park X. I watch a lot of Greek soccer and this place is home. The men are 60 years old and over. They are always grumpy, cause that’s how it is. They’d rather be here than with their wives at home. They drink all day and say crazy stuff. They barely acknowledge my existence but when they actually do, I feel like a million bucks.
You were telling me about following the old man that runs this place. What is that about?
I follow the old man because he has a lot of wisdom. You know what it’s like to follow a team for 50 or 60 years every fucking week? It’s more a disappointment than anything else. I admire the mental toughness it takes to support a club that ALWAYS lets you down. Year after year after year they blow it somehow but you still remain there, through thick and thin. I guess that’s my ultimate upset with North America. Fans don’t stick by their team. It’s only about winning.
What is your biggest achievement with the Ringleaders?
To keep 60+ members together, loving and in harmony. Without these boys (and girls!), RFC would not be possible. They have made my life worth living, and I can never thank them enough. Secondly, my designer and partner Jeremy Wirth. When we relaunched Ringleaders in Fall 2007, he designed the “Snowflake” logo crest, along with all the new fonts and graphic work. Jeremy made a timeless logo and that is a very hard thing to do. Lastly, Frostbite Cup, which is the strongest concept and rebirth of the brand. Being from Canada, it was our duty to tell the world “We love soccer too. So much that we play on snow. No one can stop us.”
“Being from Canada, it was our duty to tell the world ‘We love soccer too. So much that we play on snow. No one can stop us.'” -Angelo Destounis
What do you have in works in the near future?
We plan on releasing limited runs of apparel and accessories, and we also have a few collaborative projects in the works. Personally, it’s a lot of fun right now and I’m enjoying the dream. It’s been many years of hard work, and the support we’re getting is amazing.
I know that you and the Ringleaders have a big involvement in the cultural part of football within the city. Why is that part more important then the sport itself?
The sport sucks for the most part of it. It’s very corporate, geared towards making profit and obtaining prime television contracts. If your team doesn’t win, there’s no other feeling of involvement. Some clubs haven’t won a championship in over 30 years, so you stop watching them until they start winning again. As far as Ringleaders is concerned, we do everything else but that: The winning part. Our success comes from a cultural standpoint, like hanging out on a Sunday morning, exchanging ideas for our next event, laughing at our last game cause we were terrible… feel me? Creating conversations that will carry and entertain us throughout the weeks to come.
If we rewind a few years back, soccer was never really a popular sport in North America. We have hockey, football, baseball, and basketball being the more dominant sports. Why do you think that right now there is a lot more people loving soccer in North America?
It’s a mix of business and culture. Businessmen and European clubs see opportunity to extend their fan base and make more money. Guys like us just dream of having what they have in England, for example, enjoying a Sunday match on a weekly basis at a pub. It’s that simple for me. Satellite companies are giving us what we want. And we pay them for it. Growing up I had no soccer on TV. I had to cut articles out of the imported Greek newspaper and clip them on my bedroom wall. I would read them over and over for months. It’s amazing how far we’ve come over the years.
We can say that the last year or two, soccer has become somewhat of a trend. We see many brands jump onto the bandwagon. A great example was the last world cup. How do you think people perceive that? A lot of time it can be seen as a quick cash marketing plan. How do you feel about the whole thing?
Well, I can’t complain. I dreamed about this my whole life and now that it’s here, why would I knock it? Ya, there’s money grabs here or there, but bottom line it pushes the culture and fuels our movement. People will always end up by knowing who the true heads are, and that’s when we shine.
Specifically in the last World Cup, we have seen the public sort of create a battle of the brands amongst their conversations. What is the importance of brands like Nike or Adidas to have as much exposure within the sport? Is it even important for the culture?
These brands invest a lot of money and time as far as product is concerned. The World Cup is a platform to expose and elevate these innovations. There’s a lot of cool stuff being done at the moment, so I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s always funny to see people count how many teams are left in the tourney and which brands have stronger visibly. It’s important because these brands create, produce and endorse. In return, athletes must perform. It’s a winning formula.
The Ringleaders seem to have a really close relationship with the CSC (Chinatown Soccer Club) out of New York?
After Off The Hook FC failed, I was on Slamxhype trying to figure where I could market my Ringleaders t-shirt brand. I fell upon a blog post about Chinatown Soccer Club. The photography instantly triggered that “Yo! That’s what I’m talking about!” kinda feeling. They had that ”street” vibe but it was not fake, it was not pretentious. During my next visit to New York, I emailed them and asked If I could play. In the meantime, my t-shirt launch had failed. My partner Harry had tried to convince me to restart a team under the Ringleaders banner but I had such a bad experience that I was afraid. But after meeting Coach Stochl and the guys, I was inspired again because they were all friends, co-workers and all around good people, having fun and being creative. Ever since that first contact in 2007, we’ve been tight and often visit each other cities, setting up little tournaments and events. I want to shout out our other sister clubs as well, Soho Warriors in London and Gastown FC in Vancouver.
Why do you collect so much soccer-related things?
I don’t do it on purpose or plan it. If something comes my way, like a dope vintage jersey or a crest I’ve never seen before, I freak out and buy it. Then I regret it ’cause I have so much stuff and I’m running out of space. But once I get nostalgic or I need inspiration for work, I’ll go through my archives and get creative again. I don’t collect popular clubs. The more obscure the better for me. Defunct teams preferably. That’s why I like soccer in America (that includes Canada). It’s constantly under construction so we don’t take it for granted.
Tell me about the art piece behind you.
This art piece was done by Argentinian artist painter Ruben Ramonda. It’s the goal Angelos Charisteas scored in the Euro Cup final 2004 against Portugal. Definitely a once in a lifetime moment I will never forget.
What is your most prized possession within your collection?
My wife got me the greatest gift ever: a Olympiacos jersey signed by my favorite player Kostas Mitroglou. She gave it to me on my birthday. I almost passed out.