The supporters’ section and the club president’s seat generally offer markedly different viewpoints on any given soccer match, literally and figuratively. And that reality can sometimes complicate matters for both parties.
No matter what’s happening on the pitch or in the stands, the New England Revolution’s most devoted fans can rest assured their club’s leadership has seen things from their perspective.
Revs president Brian Bilello has worked for the club or its parent company, Kraft Sports & Entertainment, since 2003. But his roots run back further still as a soccer fan who saw games at Foxborough even before MLS launched. He went on to become a Revs season-ticket holder and denizen of The Fort, the home of the Revolution’s loudest and most devoted faithful in the north end of Gillette Stadium.
“When you look around sports in general, not just MLS, you have sports business people that wind up working their whole career in sports,” Bilello explained to MLSsoccer.com this week. “I was a soccer fan who went into more general business, and fortunately, I guess I wandered my way into the sports business side of things. So it’s probably an unusual path that I took.”
A lifelong fan and player of the beautiful game, Bilello, who grew up on Staten Island, was studying at MIT when the 1994 World Cup came to Foxboro Stadium, Gillette’s predecessor. He and some friends snagged jobs as ushers at the venue and despite the gig’s “ridiculous, weird, military-guard uniforms” highlighted by purple berets – “we were just supposed to stand there and make it look like there's a lot of security,” he recalled with a chuckle – he caught the soccer bug hard.
You can catch a glimpse of Bilello, beret and all, in the center of the below photo, enjoying Argentina’s celebrations of a goal vs. Greece in a 4-0 win on June 21, 1994.
When MLS launched two years later, he felt a strong urge to get involved.
“If you go talk to a lot of fans back then, I think anyone who was like a soccer player or loves the game, when this league was starting, we all felt some sense of excitement, but also responsibility for the league,” Bilello recalled. “It was like, if I don't support this and I don't go to games and I don't buy tickets and I don't attend matches, who will?”
He caught as many games as he could as he wrapped up his degree, including the rain-soaked inaugural MLS Cup in 1996, then really took the plunge two years later.
“I somehow convinced my fiance at the time – now my wife – who was not a soccer player or necessarily a soccer fan, that we should buy Revolution season tickets,” he said with a laugh.
For the next several years Bilello and his future wife, Vanessa, sat in The Fort at nearly every home game. Even when the tech boom took him to San Francisco for career reasons, he trekked down to Spartan Stadium to catch the Revs’ annual visits to the San Jose Clash/Earthquakes. Then came an epic trip to support the US men’s national team at the 2002 World Cup in Korea.