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In the summer of 2020 New York City Football Club committed to the ‘Starting XI’ initiatives aimed at doing more to address the inequalities and injustices brought to the fore with the murder of George Floyd. 

Among those is the recognition of Juneteenth as a paid holiday and the dedication of a match each year to celebrating the Black Lives Matter movement. As part of that commitment, this summer saw the Club commission an illustration by Brooklyn-based illustrator Matt Williams to celebrate Juneteenth.

To learn more about Matt and the inspiration behind the finished piece, we spoke to him earlier this week. 

How long have you been working as an illustrator?

I have been working as a Brooklyn-based Illustrator since 2019. I have always loved figure and portrait drawing growing up. I studied Industrial Design and worked in Fashion as a Footwear Designer for over six years prior to changing careers to Illustration.  

How did you first become interested in soccer?

First time was age 4 in Massachusetts, all seasons every season, indoor and outdoor. I played competitively in D1 Massachusetts Premier League as well as HS Varsity Captain. After finishing design school in Brooklyn I resumed playing in the semi-pro D1 Cosmopolitan Soccer League here in NYC along with other small-sided leagues.  

What are some of your earliest memories of the game?

The area was mostly Portuguese so all the clubs I played for at a young age were Portuguese (Benfica, Sporting…) “o jogo bonito” everywhere…, you can imagine the local love for Cristiano at this time (2002-2003)! Coming back to the little Benfica club house after a win, surrounded by red posters, flags and dusty memorabilia, the congratulations from the old heads from The Azores and toasting Sumol glass bottle sodas in celebration, feeling like we were stars partying next to an old foosball table.

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How would you describe your style as an artist?

My style includes dynamic, bold images that pull the viewer in and in the process, experience a narrative. I have always admired creative work that expresses the essence of a subject in the most natural and effortless way.

Can you talk us through the process of an illustration like this?

First exploring images of the stadium and got an idea of what I wanted to capture, then found reference of what a dynamic low angle being deep in the crowd would look like, then used images of family as reference for my figures to complete the composition. I then took my pencil sketch onto my iPad and illustrated it digitally.

What were your inspirations for this piece?

I was inspired by the energy and excitement of being part of a soccer game atmosphere for a young aspiring kid with big dreams of the future.

What do you hope people take away from the finished piece?

I hope the illustration helps inspire the next generation of Black kids to keep loving the sport, playing hard and continue contributing all that we do to the beautiful game, not only in the United States but Worldwide.