If you ever got the chance to take a sneak peek into the lockers of Philadelphia Union players, there would be a lot of the normal accessories that you'd expect of an athlete. However, in many of these same lockers there is also one item that is unique to each player courtesy of one of their most loyal fans – their own personal skate deck.
Bill Gusler, a Sons of Ben member, Upland Borough native, and die-hard Union fan, has been designing customized skate decks for the players since the inaugural 2010 season. Gusler is not a professional designer, but rather does it purely as a hobby and as a way to give back to the players that he has enjoyed watching. Each skate deck he has designed over the years has been custom made with each player in mind and with artwork that highlights a unique characteristic. Within the organization and in the locker room, Gusler has earned the nickname “Skate Deck Bill” with many of his designs displayed in many players’ stalls and in their homes.
Recently, philadelphiaunion.com caught up with Gusler to discuss his designs and why his skate decks has made him such a popular fan.
PhiladelphiaUnion.com: When did you start designing skate decks and what was your original influence?
Bill Gusler: I originally started to design skate decks back in college. My professor said she didn’t really consider it art so I wasn’t really allowed to do it, but I still designed a few just for fun. Kyle Nakazawa had a fan art contest and when he did that it sparked my memory to think about skate decks so I started drawing a few up. I couldn’t get one in for his contest because the board didn’t come in on time and it wouldn’t have been done, but I still wanted to do the decks.
PU.com: So who was your first deck for?
Gusler: I actually did one for Danny Califf and did one for Kyle. For the Danny Califf one it was a yellow board and blocked letters that said “Califf” across it. I gave him the nickname, Captain Ink because of his sleeve tattoos and everything when he was the Union captain. I used the “C” and the “I” in his last name and put script through it that said “Captain Ink” with “Califf” in the background. For Nakazawa’s I used a couple different colors to make it look like a sunset over an island and had palm trees in black and maybe one-eighth inch black bars going through the whole thing. Those were the first two I did.
PU.com: How do you decide on what designs you are going to do for each player? Are they based on their personalities or games?
Gusler: It all depends actually. It would depend if I had some sort of design idea or if I just wanted to play around with the color scheme and keep it somewhat simple and clean. For some of them I based off their personalities, their character. For some other ones I used their heritage, their country, or even their schools.
PU.com: What are some examples of designs you have done?
Gusler: Conor Casey’s is based around the old Extreme Championship Wrestling, ECW. I used the old logo they had, but I changed the letters to Casey’s name and it has barbed-wire going through the background because he is a big, tough, hardcore type of guy. For Chris Konopka, I know he is an artist so I wanted to try something different. I laid out a flat red paint and then did his name in graffiti style and painted it white. Then I put a little bit of blue dropping down from the top so it fades from light blue to white. To finish it I drew in bricks using the red background.
PU.com: Very cool, any others?
Gusler: Jack McInerney’s was a flat black with lime green in Old English and it had a four leaf clover in the background. Antoine Hoppenot’s has part of the Princeton crest in its colors, the orange and black. In Zac MacMath’s, I used his last name, but the middle “M” I related to the Terps and used the Maryland “M,” since Maryland is where he played in college.
PU.com: Do you ever enter your skate deck designs in contests?
Gusler: I really just do the skate decks for fun. I do a lot of the banners on game day that feature the players and I have won contests for work like that, but I really don’t enter the skate decks in contests; I really just do them for fun and as a hobby.
PU.com: How long have you been a fan of soccer?
Gusler: Back in college was when I started really being a soccer fan. Some of my fraternity brothers were on the soccer team so we used to go to watch them and heckle the other team a little bit. My one roommate would wake up really early on Saturday and Sunday mornings just to watch Manchester United. So eventually I just started getting up and watching with him and really started learning about the game through that. So that was when I really started getting into soccer.
PU.com: When did you join the Sons of Ben?
Gusler: Right after I graduated college, I heard about the Sons of Ben so I started following them pretty intently and so I joined. I got a few tickets for the first year and I would just go myself because I really didn’t know anybody who would really want to go at the time. I started going and with the Sons of Ben, you just become great friends with the people you would have never met.
PU.com: Explain the dynamic, how does that happen?
Gusler: With the Union and the Sons of Ben you become involved in each other’s lives and become like a separate family pretty much. One of the great things about the Union is how much they try and give back to the fans and to the city and also how much the fans give back to Chester and the other surrounding communities. Also the players are really down to Earth and it is surprising that these pro athletes have no problem talking one-on-one to fans or helping out, which is great.
PU.com: Do you ever bring any friends or family to the games with you?
Gusler: I will bring people to matches who have never watched any soccer game in their life and they will go to a Union match in the river end with me and they’re hooked, they love it and just want to come back. I took my sister and she went from being seat filler to now joining the Sons of Ben. She even changed her work schedule just so she could start coming to more games, which is something I never thought would happen.
Contact Union writer Howard Hutchinson at email@example.com