Bilal & Saima
What is your role within the organization? Chairman and Co-owner
When did you fall in love with the game? I think the exact moment was my first orange slice after I played my first game for my first team, "The Little Americans." I grew up playing and still (attempt) to and was around the game a lot in general. I spent a lot time visiting my Mom's side of the family in England. My grandparents have always lived close to Upton Park so I can remember seeing and hearing West Ham supporters from a young age. When the World Cup came to the Silverdome, my Dad took me and my two older sisters and I remember falling for the game in a different way. Maybe because of the atmosphere but I think a big part of it was because I shared it with my family.
What do you love most about this club? Getting to know our supporters and seeing the impact we can make with the youth in our community. Visiting classrooms or training with young players is the most rewarding opportunity for me and I'm lucky that I get to do what I do.
How do you share this experience with your family? The club takes up a large part of my life and I feel lucky to have that opportunity but it's even better that Saima and I can share that. She not only does all of the graphic design and some content creation for the club, but she's been known to slang some merch, help set up before games, fold uniforms (sometimes), cook for players...you name it. When Hector and Dario came to stay with us for a week when they first arrived in Ann Arbor, we both realized that this club was way more than we ever expected. We had an amazing experience getting to know them and I will always remember that as the point we became a family.
Both of our families have also embraced the club and attended matches, bought merch (a lot) and follow the season as close as our biggest supporters. Outside of her Dad, most of Saima's family is new to the game but you couldn't tell by the amount of AFC Ann Arbor merch you'll find at their house. Thanks to my nieces, everything is branded with our stickers. Although my family is a bit more familiar with the game, no one has the energy my mom does who is back in her element cheering very loud for The Mighty Oak (pretending like she's yelling Go Bilal!).
What has been the biggest surprise to you in the 3 + years of being involved with AFC? Seeing how much other people care about this club. From Eric and his staff, to all of the grinders behind the scene to supporters and community members who we've never met and even those who had never watched a soccer match in their life- we are lucky to have so many people who genuinely care about The Mighty Oak.
What is your most memorable moment since starting the club? The comeback win over Lansing United in 2016 was one of the craziest sporting events I've ever been a part of. I think knowing we did the unthinkable to comeback against Eric's former team made it extra sweet. But for me, the win at Kalamazoo in 2016 to clinch our club's first playoff berth and our first playoff win in 2017 will always be at the top of my list.
But there's a moment that stands out to me a little bit more than the others. It was the rescheduled rain match at Detroit this past season that I realized how much Saima had fallen for AFC Ann Arbor. She was on her feet most of the night and I remember seeing how into the match she was. After we came back to win that match (3-1), she was acting like we had just won the lottery. It was amazing.