LAFC Weekly Meets the Defenders of the Banc!

As LAFC grows in its second year, so does the culture surrounding the club. As a fan it’s impossible to ignore. Something beautiful is happening for soccer in Los Angeles, and it’s happening fast.

LAFC Weekly had the chance to sit down with two people who are helping push that culture forward. As hosts of the Defenders of the Banc Podcast and LAFC fanatics, J.R. “The Scarf” Lebert and Christian “Filly” Filimon know what it’s like to see LAFC fandom grow first-hand. They couldn’t stay on the sidelines any longer, so they decided to create one of the fastest growing new LAFC podcasts – the Defenders of the Banc.

Check out our interview with Filly & The Scarf to learn why they decided to start the podcast, how they became such avid supporters of the club, find out what LAFC player they’d want to hang out with most for a day, and more.

Christian “Filly” Filimon (left) and J.R. “The Scarf” Lebert (Right) – Photo by CJ Hays (@seejayhays)

Question: Describe a bit about yourselves, where you’re from, how you got into soccer (football), and how you found LAFC.

The Scarf: “For me, I was not a soccer/football fan growing up, I was a baseball fan, I swam and played water polo – I loved pretty much every sport but I didn’t get into soccer until LAFC. I got my girlfriend season tickets for Christmas and that’s how we got started. I’m born and raised in LA so I love seeing something new here, I was even an Avengers season ticket holder back when there was an Arena football team here. I’ve always done something fun with LA sports. It wasn’t until the first game at the Banc, with that free kick from Ciman and seeing the 3252 that changed my whole outlook on everything. Rich and the whole (front office) team at LAFC really do reach out to you. It’s not just a mantra for them “street by street, block by block, one by one” – they really take the time to reach out to you and they’ve just kind of won me over. I’m in now for a 5 year season ticket contract trying to up it to 7, and I’m now a football fan through and through for the rest of my life.”

Filly: “I didn’t grow up playing football, I played basketball and baseball, I was a cross country runner in high school, and I did amateur MMA. I got exposed to soccer when I was younger, my family comes from eastern Europe so soccer is in their blood but I’m first generation born in the US – in New York City in particular. I was born in Manhattan raised in Queens. I went to Germany in 1990 right around the time the World Cup was going on, and I watched West Germany win the cup and thought that was really cool. Then 1994 came about and changed everything for me, I really got bit by the soccer bug then. But 94 also coincided with the time my dad took a promotion and we moved to Germany. About that time, I was 14 years old, there was no way I was breaking into any German youth league for soccer (I was about 14 years late), and so I just sort of spectated and really enjoyed the sport from afar.

I wasn’t a big MLS fan until 2015, I went to a New York Red bull game in Newark and it was really a flat dead atmosphere, I though eh..I can’t get into this. Then NYCFC came along and I thought alright this is a real New York team, and the atmosphere there was unreal so I supported them for a while. Fast forward a year later, I took a job promotion, my wife Amanda and I moved to LA and she told me that LA was coming out with a new MLS team. Right away, I didn’t even think about it, no hesitation – dropped the money for season tickets and I was like let’s do it. We got to go to the experience center and instantly I wanted get seats on the pitch, but it was sold out at the time, so I ended up getting season tickets in the Founders Club – and that’s really where it all started.”

QUESTION: Who’s idea was it to start the podcast?

Filly: “I came back from my honeymoon and was so bummed about having to go back to work. I stumbled upon a Barstool sports article on the plane and for whatever reason it just inspired me to look at how Barstool sports began. I thought if this guy could do this with Barstool, there’s no reason I can’t do something similar. I came up with what I called couch potato jocks and it kind of fizzled out. I created a website, www.couchpotatojocks.com, it’s still up and running.. ”

The Scarf: “You’re really plugging that right now…?”

Filly: “Well I mean that’s how it started! At some point I’m gonna resurrect it. Maybe. If I have the time. But, that came through and I always had the desire to have some kind of sports thing. Next to music, sports are what I love more than anything. So I met Scarf in the Founders Club and was bugging him all season to start a podcast with me. And he was all for it! We waited until the end of the season came and we started debating it more, there was no more club news coming out so we were starved for LAFC content. That’s when we really started pursuing things with more of a herculean effort.”

The Scarf: “We went to watch an away game at Tom’s urban, and that’s where I was like you know what, I had my notepad, I thinking about it for quite a while and I told Filly dude I got the name for it, finally, Defenders of the Banc – this will be perfect. For the last 20 years I’ve done play by play for 4, 5, 6, and 7 year old soccer for the city of LA so this was kind of a perfect fit for me. I decided this was kind of what I wanted to do, but nothing really ever panned out. But I’ve never had a problem talking sports so when Filly approached me I was like we have to do this. We felt almost compelled to do it after our first season because we’re so passionate about the club. Here we are 10/11 episodes later, and the response we’ve got has been really cool.”

Question: You said you want to be the podcast for the people, can you explain a bit more about what that means exactly?

The Scarf: “Being on Christmas tree lane and seeing the energy before a game, whether it’s a supporters group or just a family hanging out means a lot. To be able to try and put into words what we are feeling from the fans at the Banc is my goal. This city means the world to me, to have a team represent our culture, and our passion and our drive the way that LAFC does, makes it so easy to want to represent them on a pod for everybody else who can’t be there.”

Filly: “Defenders of the Banc is such an appropriate name because, it’s not just J.R. and I who are Defenders of the Banc, we’re all defenders of the Banc everytime we go into that stadium. The club’s culture would have still grown the way it did even if the team wasn’t successful on the field, because they’re just so integrated and involved with the community. One thing we wanted to do with the podcast on top of interviewing players, was bringing in some of the super fans – some of the people you see any time the club is depicted. Would the experience be as tremendous without the fans? Not a chance. That’s what’s going to outlive even us.

Question: J.R. – how did the name The Scarf come about? How many LAFC scarves do you have? Can we have one?

The Scarf: “I’ll answer the last question first, because of something happening on my birthday March 20th – I’m really excited to have made the soft announcement on our podcast; I’ve been working with the team on designing a scarf that will be sold in the LAFC HQ releasing on March 20th. The scarf is an homage to the 3252, to soccer culture here in LA, to the Latino/Latina community at the Banc, and of course to the Black and Gold. I hope everybody likes it when it comes out, it’s pretty cool. They’re not buying a lot of them, I think there’s only going to be like twelve dozen or something so if you’re reading this interview recap on LAFC Weekly make sure you go get one. I’m supposed to be have been able to order a couple dozen for myself, and I’ll make sure LAFC Weekly absolutely does get one.

The name the scarf all started with MLS’s kick childhood cancer campaign. If you post a picture of yourself with a scarf of the team you support they donate $5 to help try and kick childhood cancer. As a teacher, the thought of kids with cancer is the worst possible thing I can imagine. So I said look, in my own little silly way I’m going to try and raise as much money as I can. I had 5 or 6 scarves at the time so I started hunting online for exclusive scarves to collect and also to raise as much money as I could. As we sit here today, I have about 63 LAFC scarves total – and that doesn’t include the supporters group scarves. Plus, I like to eat – so the name kind of works as a double entendre too.”

Photo by CJ Hays (@seejayhays)

Question: Has the growth of the podcast surprised you at all?

Filly: “Absolutely. I see the numbers on a daily basis and I’m really blown away by the support. To me this is sort of like a second shot, or a redemption type thing. I wanted to go into sports broadcasting. So I went to school for it, got an internship, and was shot down by my boss at the time. He pretty much said unless you’re an ex-professional athlete, or someone who’s easy on the eyes, you’re not going to make it in the sports broadcasting world.” (J.R. interjects, letting Filly know he’s neither one of those) “I didn’t get the chance to do it then, went to school for something else and ended up where I am today. The podcast is a way of touching into something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a kid. This is my way of fulfilling a need I’ve always had to follow a passion.”  

The Scarf: “Where it’s taken us in the last 3 or 4 months since we started has been unbelievable. We want to represent LAFC the same way they want to represent us. They’re not just putting a team together, sticking a star (player) out there and hoping things go for the best. They’re trying to bring a high end football brand to LA from day one, we want to do the same with the podcast. I’m shocked at how quickly things have taken off for us. To hit the number of listens we have on the podcast is amazing. We’re at over 5,000 plays right now. We never started with numbers in mind or a goal really, but it really has taken off for us and it’s surprising. Right now to get the support from everybody who listens is what’s been driving us to move forward.”

Question: What’s been your favorite episode/moment so far through the first 10 episodes?

Filly: “I got this one. My favorite moment, we’re at Ken’s house (Falconer for LAFC) and he brings out his falcon, Bond. He has Bond on his arm throughout the course of the podcast, so we learned how Falcons uh…shoot out their excrements. They don’t drop…they shoot out. At one point in the pod if you listen very carefully, you hear a “SPLAT” and then a “WOAH!”…One of Ken’s falcons almost pooped all over JR, it just missed him. And it was the greatest thing ever.”

The Scarf: “The reason it missed me is because Ken chose not to aim the bird at me. He could feel the bird was about to do this, and moved it just in time – it literally whizzed by my body. And we’re not talking about a little here, I would have been covered in Falcon poop. If you had to pick both of our favorite moments I think that would be it.”

Question: Favorite LAFC player?

Filly: “Latif Blessing, hands down.”

The Scarf: “Mine was Laurent Ciman, I’m still bummed about how that whole thing played out. He went from being the man back there, to kinda losing his step a bit. It’s hard to see that. I’m still a huge fan and it sucks that he’s not with us anymore but, when he comes back to the Banc this season I will have my Ciman jersey on. He was my favorite player by for the games we had him. Now, my favorite is Christian Ramirez. It’s great to see a hometown kid playing for LAFC, he plays big, and the kid just wants the moment. I hope we get to see more of him, that’s my guy.”

Question: Which LAFC player would you want to hang out with most for a day?

Filly: “Jordan Harvey. Just cause he’s one of the older players, and he’s probably someone I could relate to. If I threw out some pop-culture or joke references I feel like he would understand them a bit better than some of the other players on the squad.”

The Scarf: “Maybe I’m trying to live vicariously through my 24 year old self, but I would want to try and keep up with Shaft Brewer Jr. for a night of partying. I don’t know that he’s a huge party guy or anything like that, but all I know is we’ve had several times where we were able to hang out or talk with Shaft and he is the most genuinely energetic, effervescent, fun guy on the team that we’ve met so far – so I’d wanna hang out with him for a little bit.”

Question: If you could have an LAFC player on the podcast tomorrow who would it be and why?

Filly: “That’s like a two parter for me. Carlos Vela would be #1 well, because he’s Carlos Vela. But I think if I had any choice of someone who would bring energy and a lot of laughs – probably Lee Nguyen. He’s a big gamer, which I am not, but he always has a smile on his face and he always looks like he’s having fun – and I just love his energy. He’d be my choice.”

The Scarf: “I’d want to have Christian (Ramirez) on the pod. Just because I feel like as an LA kid to another LA kid, being able to talk to him about what I missed out on, what football culture must have been like growing up in LA would be such a cool thing. That was foreign to me because I was always busy on baseball fields or in the swimming pool.”

Photo by CJ Hays (@seejayhays)

Question: If you could bring one player from any league to LAFC, who would it be and why? (besides Messi or Ronaldo)

The Scarf: “No doubt in my mind, my favorite soccer player of all time, he is still playing – Gianluigi (Gigi) Buffon! He would not help our team at all, I don’t even care. Oh my god, if Gigi Buffon came to LAFC – just to have somebody from the Azzurri on the team that would be the coolest thing. Buffon is my favorite player of all time, he would probably have to backup Pablo Sisniega on the bench at this point but, if he came to LAFC that would be my first player jersey, my second player jersey, my third player jersey, however many different Buffon jerseys they made I would buy.”

Filly: “I appreciate Buffon because he’s a pro and he’s older than me, so I appreciate anyone who still plays and is older than me but I can’t say I share the same sentiments as JR. If we could pay him the money he deserves, it would be really cool to have Christian Pulisic on the team. Just to have an American who has Bundesliga and soon EPL experience would be a cool, and it would be awesome to see an American kill it as a designated player in the MLS. Griezmann would be a cool individual to have, Raheem Sterling, or Sergio Aguero – those would be my 4.” (we told him to choose one but he couldn’t help it..)

Question: Any upcoming episodes we should be on the lookout for?

The Scarf: “We are in the process of booking a couple players, which will be fun. We are working with Aubrey, – if you will help us please, Aubrey, call us back. So yeah we are working on that. Plus some people in the front office hopefully.  (names were mentioned off the record, but they are exciting)

******

You can listen to the pod on all major streaming platforms and you can catch them at almost every LAFC home game. We had a ton of fun getting to know these two and we’re sure they will be a staple in the LAFC fan community for years to come. Be sure to come out to LAFC HQ on 3/20 at 7:30 PM for the limited edition “Golazo” scarf drop – we’ll see you there!

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