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The FBM Blog

Six-Pack Interview Series: Major League Soccer “Insider” Shawn Francis

Back at the end of the July the Free Beer Movement took flight to Houston to take in the Major League Soccer All-Star Game. While we were there we nearly had a meet up with an MLS VIP, but due to our schedules (well... his... that's why there's a "V" and an "I" in there) we didn't meet up.

But that didn't stop the man from getting in touch with us and writing one helluva article about the Movement on MLSSoccer.com (which you may have heard of). Mainstream media baby!

This fine gentleman was kind enough to give us a few moments of his time and participate in our "FBM Six-Pack" Interview Series (a more efficient version of the "Starting 11" Interview Series we also feature).

Ladies and gentlemen.... Shawn Francis, head writer for MLS Insider and The Offsides Rules, a great blog that's a mash up of pop culture, American soccer, and occasional partial nudity.
 

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We got inside the head of the "Insider".

1) Major League Soccer launched their new website before the current season and hired you as their in-house blogger at MLS Insider. How's life at MLS HQ? What's the coolest thing you've been able to cover in your new gig? The worst?

Life at MLSHQ is funny. Some days I can't believe that my 3-4 year long quest to get a job there actually paid off but then some days it's just a job just like any other; as the saying goes "once you get a check for something, it's work no matter how much you love it. That's not a complaint, that's just reality for all of us who aren't independently wealthy, on public assistance or heir to a Greek shipping fortune.

What's the coolest thing I've been able to cover? At this point I would have to say it MLS Cup last year. To be given as close to all access as possible to the premier soccer event in America was pretty rad. There were so many random, unique moments that week in Seattle: seeing the drummer for Rancid humping RSL's gear into the locker room, standing directly behind Nick Rimando's goal when Donovan missed that PK and seeing John Harkes belt out Bon Jovi like only a Jersey guy could in a bar at 2 a.m. won't be forgotten or topped easily. But Toronto in November has the potential to be just as memorable.

The worst? Hmmm. Covering the SUM Cup during All Star week this year was actually not bad, it was just the oppressive humidity that was a total downer. The tournament was held at some soccer complex in the 'burbs south of Houston, so far south that it was in coastal Galveston County. Bear in mind that this was in July. It was so humid that after standing on the sidelines for 4.5 hours (there were 2 games to cover back to back) the pages of the paper on my clipboard were wet just from the moisture in the air, air which incidently was populated by hummingbird-sized mosquitoes. Oh and the first thing you saw when you got out of the car in the parking lot of the facility was a sign that read "Beware of Snakes." Good times.

2) You made your mark on the American soccer Internet world at the writer for The Offside Rules, focusing on the culture, people, and personalities that surround soccer in America. What makes this side/face of the American soccer world so interesting? How much more rewarding is covering this angle than the statistics and game action?


 
You need to be reading this.

TOR started out as my bar stool. If I were a baseball fan in NY I could walk into any bar in Manhattan and say to the guy next to me "What the hell is going on with the Mets? They are horrible!" If I tried that with the then-MetroStars I would have be presumed to be one of the crazy guys that stand out front of the Port Authority preaching about Lord knows what. I lurked around the Bigsoccer and Metrofanatic boards a lot but I never posted too much because it was often argumentative for my tastes. So I decided to create my own space to talk soccer, specifically more about the lifestyle and off-the-field aspects because no one else was touching it at the time. And stats and analysis bore me very quickly, not my idea of fun.

My view of sports and blogging is differs from a lot of people's take. I look at sports as entertainment just like music, movies, TV etc and all of those things focus more on the celebrity aspect more than the numbers angle. Have you ever seen a music blog declare Arcade Fire the Band of the Year based on record sales, merch sales and ticket sales? Hell to the no. But in sports that seems to be the norm and that should definitely be the bread and butter but the other stuff is actually fun (to me at least) and that's why I follwo sports, to enjoy myself. Besides, I'm horrible at math.

The weird thing about TOR is that people who discover it and start following often don't get that it's just my personal playpen and not the news. It's not CNN; I don't claim to be a journalist, I'm a guy who likes soccer and needs to talk about it more than I get the chance to in the real world so I ramble about it on Blogspot. It's not the Paris Review; it's not meant to be that serious for the most part. And it's certainly not a commercial endeavor; I've run two ads in 4 years for friends' businesses (Bumpy Pitch; Onionbag.com) as a mitzvah. I've never made a dime from it. For the most part I'm just trying to have a laugh.

Having said that it's been really cool to make so many friends via TOR. Those who get it, get it. But I have to admit there were points where I didn't get it and have heard it from the readers. I've always kept it really personal and unfortunately I've been guilty of letting the worst of me out on occasion; some things that I thought were funny or worth airing out in public just weren't. For the last few years I've been trying to not say anything that I wouldn't say to anyone's face, not because of any self-appointed journalistic ethics but more or less because even though I like to make immature jokes I'm still an adult on some level. But I sometimes miss the mark on that sadly.

I guess that was kind of a serious answer for someone who just said he doesn't want to be serious.

3) With competition from all-corners of the globe (the English Premier League, South America, J-League!, etc) for the attention of a soccer fan in the United States what's the best case you can make for American soccer and Major League Soccer?

The best case is this: it's ours. Would you rather be a in long-distance relationship with a super hot chick but you only get make out once a year and you have to get up at 7am every Saturday to call her or would you rather be married to a good looking local chick and have a real, honest-to-God daily relationship with her? For me there is no competition.

 

They said goodbye once already....

4) New York Cosmos? What's their deal? Are we really going to see this zombie team make it back to top tier soccer in the United States? What's the impact for soccer in the US if this is the real thing?

From what I gather the New York Cosmos is 1) a logo, 2) a youth academy, 3) a memory. I think they blew their wad early by bringing out Pele, Chinaglia and Carlos Alberto to say "the Cosmos is back" for what, a youth program? Kind of a waste. Personally, I think the only way that you get people excited about the Cosmos name again is if that it is playing in MLS in the 5 boroughs and the only way that happens is if the Wilpons (who own the Mets) get involved. No one has the land and the clout to get a stadium built in less than 5-8 years. Let's put it this way: the Jets couldn't get a stadium built in Manhattan and they are the NFL. The Nets took 8 years to break ground on their new arena in Brooklyn and they are the NBA with Ratner, one of the most juiced people in NYC real estate, as an owner alongside pop icon Jay-Z. Do you think a soccer team will get the breaks that the NFL, NBA, Ratner and Jay-Z can't? I don't but if Wilpon is in you don't need as many breaks because he already has the land right next to CitiField.

I'd love to see them as the second NY team, but it's not going to happen quickly. But who knows, maybe the powers that be at MLS have an ace up their sleeve provided the group that owns the Cosmos name has the cash.

5) How do you feel about being the bridge between soccer and cool? That may seem a bridge too far from your modest perspective, but there aren't a lot of soccer sites that can go from "A Tribe Called West" (cool) to Preki bobble-heads (nerdy) to River Coumo (cool, again) to Star War-Red Bulls connections (nerdy). Given that soccer fans are usually the equivalent of sci fi convention attendees this injects some must needed "cred" to our fandom.

Well thanks for thinking I'm still cool. I'm 34 now, married with 2 kids, go to church on Sunday and I am too fat for skinny jeans so I often feel that I've lost the cool. I guess it goes back to TOR being personal; I write like I speak --poor grammar, swears and all-- and write about the same things I talk about to the other ESC guys at the tailgate and it's not just soccer. Just like anyone else I like Star Wars, girls, music, clothes etc. It's not like some grand plot, it's just my normal interests in print as opposed to a verbal conversation. Make no mistake though, I am as geeky as anyone else.

But we need to inject "pop" into American Soccer. With the NFL, NBA, MLB we don't have to make pop cultural connections because those guys are part of the entertainment landscape in a way that most soccer players aren't in this country. My feeling is that is pop culture isn't going to come to us, we better start reaching out toward it. And there are other blogs that are doing their thing in a way that's more "lifestyle" driven and less hardcore stats; analysis; The Original Winger and The Third Kit are great examples of that.

6) Predictions for the growth of soccer in the U.S.? Where is this thing headed? Where will it settle in the American sports psyche?

Where is it headed? Canada it seems with Vancouver and Montreal joining TFC in the league soon.

The thing I find interesting is that even within the single-entity system you can kind of see haves and have-not emerging among the clubs. They may not be able to fight too much amongst each other for players as far as wage-wars go but I think it's going to be all about what a club can offer a player aside from money. "Can you offer me big crowds like Seattle and Toronto?" "Will I play on grass with your team?" "Can you put me in a soccer-specific stadium?" "Does your team feature any DP's?" "Will I be treated as a pro athlete with all of the perks that entails in your market?" These are questions that I can see players; their agents start asking and things that clubs are going to start touting. With that in mind I think players are going to want to gravitate toward the Torontos, Seattles, LAs and New Yorks while it's going to get harder for places who might have small crowds (Colorado), tight pockets (New England) or bad stadium situations (D.C.).



Do you think these pricks could
give us a couple of minutes on their show?

As far as what the nation thinks, I think times are changing for sure but it's still going to be a while before our game is water cooler talk outside of the World Cup. It does seem like we get closer and closer every year. I think the key for the national team is to reach the round of 8 in the World Cup; if we hit that mark again with the money ESPN; Nike are now investing in covering the Yanks and the attention that this year's World Cup generated I think we'll see even more people outside of soccer take an interest.

But the key I think is raising the interest in the domestic league. If all of the existing soccer fans in America, the ones who get up at 7am to watch Chelsea but can't be bothered to drive 17 miles to see Chivas USA, would become MLS fans it would not only change the league from a business standpoint but it would change the way the public and non-soccer media view the game. If we had a domestic league full of Toronto-sized crowds it would be very hard for SportsCenter to ignore it.

7) Can you get us five minutes with Frankie Hejduk? I think we've got a pretty good case for him to join us as our spokesperson.

Ha! He would be great wouldn't he? Your best bet is to try and catch him in the Bob Marley section of your local bookstore; he'll talk to anyone there apparently.

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Tags: Major League Soccer, Six-Pack Interview Series

“Pelada” and Beer: Inseparable


(Editor's Note: You didn't think that we could go one article without mentioning beer, did you? We decided to split our interview into two parts and so here's the article from our conversions about what the "Pelada" filmmakers learned about soccer and beer... something we're very interested in. Read our synopsis of "Pelada" and the regular part of our interview with the filmmakers here.)

There's a scene in the stunning soccer movie "Pelada" where a group of seriously past-their-prime Brazilian men are resting after a brutally poor match they've just played in. The whole game the old men scream and yell at each other about poor touches and scuffed shots oblivious to the fact that they were probably making the exact same mistakes moments earlier.

But it's after the game and that no longer matters. The first and second halves are in the past and they're onto what is referred to as "the third half". Surround by dozens of empty, half-empty, and soon-to-be empty beers they revel in stories of their past greatness and of the beauty of soccer in general. This is the sport stripped to its core; what's left is the game's fans and, not surprisingly, beer.

For long-time fans, and probably new fans to soccer, it's hardly a shock as to how ingrained beer is in the sport's culture. It's one of the reasons for the foundation and growth of the Free Beer Movement. Soccer and beer; the two are inseparable.

"There are things that you can count on. We were always sharing beers after a game," says Gwendolyn Oxenham, one of the "Pelada" filmmakers.

The stars of "Pelada" readily acknowledged the fact that they easily could have made a whole movie about the tie-in between beer and soccer.

"Every game that's what you do at the end is that people just start drinking and eating a lot," Oxenham continues.

Whether post-match in Brazil or pubs in England or in the streets of Austria during Euro 2008 or the living room of Luke Boughen's old soccer teammate from Germany, beer creeps into "Pelada" almost as much as the game itself.

Ryan White, another member of the "Pelada" crew laments the fact that they missed out on many opportunities to further investigate the connections between beer and soccer.

"I think if we'd hadn't been making a movie we would've been drunker a lot more," he says. "We probably didn't drink as much as we should have."

The sense of community that both soccer and drinking create that makes them so intertwined argues Rebekah Fergusson, the fourth member of "Pelada".

"It's those communal activities where you end up, like that one field in Brazil, in a zillion chairs around these teeny-tiny tables with beers being poured. It's just pouring."

Then it's not surprising that when you combine the world's oldest drink and the world's most popular sport you create at an atmosphere that almost no one can refuse to pass up. Certainly the filmmakers, despite their work responsibilities, found plenty of time to devote to drink.

And in a movie that examines the global appeal of not just soccer, but soccer in its most pure , simple, and prettiest form as pick-up, it's reassuring to know that beer has its rightful place alongside.

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Tags: Beer, Six-Pack Interview Series, Twelve-Pack Interview Series

FBM Interview Series: The Makers of “Pelada”

(Editor's Note: After its world-premiere at the South By Southwest Music and Film Festival "Pelada" is blowing up across the nation at variety of film festivals and movie theaters. Tonight the movie makes its Los Angeles premiere! Hollywood, baby! Follow the movie on Facebook, Twitter, or their website for locations and showing in your area.)

It's the morning after the world-premiere of their movie at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The stars and filmmakers of "Pelada" still have that glow about them that proud parents of a newborn and newlyweds carry on even after the big day has passed them by.

For three years they've traveled to twenty-five countries in search of pick-up soccer, played in dozens, if not hundreds of games, met and heard the stories of countless more people connected to the sport, and all along the way recorded this incredible journey to share it with others. And now after all of their hard work their film and their story will be seen by people all across the world.
 
And if that wasn't reward enough I'm really about to make their morning after.
 
"You guys saved my marriage," I say, greeting the four behind "Pelada"
Luke Boughen, Gwedolyn Oxenham, Rebekah Fergusson, and Ryan White.

The four of them chuckle. The ice is broken.
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I stumbled across "Pelada" almost two years ago when it was still called "The Soccer Project". The story of two former college soccer players chasing the game across the globe sounded fascinating, like something you always wished you could do, but never had the chance, or the courage to do.
 
Sitting in the make-shift theater SXSW constructs in the convention center there's not an open seat to be found. Except for the four in front of me; that's where Luke, Gwedolyn, Rebekah, and Ryan will sit. It feels weird to be sitting behind the people who actually made the movie. I mean, if you were at an art museum staring at a painting and then Picasso was standing next to you what do you do? Can I even get up to go to the bathroom during this thing or is that rude?

I don't go to the bathroom.

Gwedolyn and Luke are the focus of the movie. Rebekah and Ryan stay behind the camera. Both played soccer in college; Gwendolyn for Duke and Luke for Notre Dame. They're faced with the daunting truth that their soccer careers are coming to a screeching halt. They're at a sporting fork-in-the-road and neither of the paths say professional soccer.
 
Of course neither of the paths point to what they do next, but I guess that's what makes this movie so wonderful.
 
Not satisfied with transitioning into the "real-world" they pack their bags and travel the globe in search of pick-up soccer.
 
"Pelada" is the Brazilian word for pick-up. It literally means "naked" and one supposes that a ball, a couple of people, and a bag of tricks is probably the most naked form of soccer. In a sense both Luke and Gwendolyn are completely naked in this film as well. Not literally, of course, but figuratively, as they shamelessly try to enter as many pick-up games as they can on their journey. From beaches in Brazil to a prison in Bolivia. From slums in Argentina to forbidden co-ed games in Iran. From skyscraper rooftops in Japan to a former landfill in Kenya their travels take on the exotic and sometimes dangerous, but always return the comfortable setting that it is still all soccer.
 
So imagine my surprise when I got the chance to sit down with the four minds behind "Pelada". It's an oft used line when you meet famous people that you're stunned at how normal and approachable they are, but since I just watched an hour and a half of the four of them traveling the globe in a way that most can only dream of and speak so eloquently of the sport I so love and now we're sitting over coffee in the lobby of a hotel it's not that outrageous of a suggestion.

Despite their normal-ness their journey is anything but. For the viewer and the soccer fan it's one stunning shot and amazing story after another. The movie is like a fantastic soccer match in itself; end-to-end action leaving one extremely satisfied.

"Interesting situations bring out interesting stories and interesting characters," Fergusson says when I ask whether or not they purposely sought out the fascinating and, sometimes, dangerous storylines that are included in the film.

"We just wanted intense stories," Oxenham follows up.

So then it was almost unavoidable for the four of them to be involved in such places as violent barrios in Argentina, a Bolivian prison, and a co-ed game in Iran.

"That's where the good games were. In the Bolivian prison that's where the best players were in La Paz. They've got all the time in the world," Luke Boughen explains.

Ryan White suggests that "Gwendolyn always kind of wanted to up the ante a bit more" when it came to looking for compelling story lines and quality pick-up matches. At one point in the film Oxenham is not content watching Luke play pick up in Iran with a group of men. Head scarf and all she joins in, but it spotted by some policemen which leads to a nervous part of the film where the crew may have its equipment confiscated by Iranian government authorities.

"It was like the chicken and the egg. Did the adrenaline or the game come first?" White asks out loud.

The truly difficult parts were not if the four could find enough stories to fill their moving, but which ones would make the final product.

"At the end of the day it's still like a piece of art to translate the experience to something that people can digest," says Fergusson. "It was really hard. The four of us collaborating and arguing and debating."

In the end the filmmakers' goal was to make a movie that both soccer fans and non-soccer fans could both appreciate.

Oxenham says, "It was always important doe us to not have it be a soccer movie just use soccer as a vehicle to tell these other stories."

"I think we know, for the most part, that we'll have the soccer crowd. I think the most rewarding comments are going to come from people who don't like soccer." White adds.

"Pelada" is movie that satisfies multiple angles.

At its very core White says their movie was simply about "a trip around the world."

And Fergusson delves deeper into their mission, "To be able to show the world that Americans play and to bring it (the movie) back and show the U.S. this deep passion that exists outside in all these countries."

But in the end the movie is going to most satisfy those people who love the game as deeply as the filmmakers do.

When it was suggested that their movie may have saved my marriage I wasn't just looking for an ice breaker, but hinting that one of "Pelada's" most enduring messages might be that it helps explain the sport's attraction for millions upon millions of people across the globe to those who might never "get it".

For someone who's love of soccer is often viewed as an oddity or mystery to my friends and family the power of persuasion that "Pelada" has could be summed up when my wife said to me, "I may never get everything about soccer, the offsides rule, but tonight I get you a little bit more."

"I had a conversation with a guy whose wife came with him to the screening and she's like 'I don't get it, I don't like soccer, I never go to his games, but now I get it. I understand now more of what it's all about and why he loves it.'" Oxenham tells me.

"We've had a few people come up to us and say that I didn't want to go to this movie; I was dragged here by brother, father, someone and I'm so glad that I did."

Much like surfers have "Endless Summer" to show others just what makes them tick inside, now, perhaps, American soccer fans have "Pelada" to communicate and, hopefully, pass on their passion and dedication to others near and dear in their lives.

A suggestion that White finds, simply, "cool".

Read PART 2 of our interview with the "Pelada" crew where they talk about the global appeal of, what else, beer.


(From l to r): Luke Boughen, Ryan White, Gwendolyn Oxenham, and Rebekah Fergusson

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Tags: Six-Pack Interview Series, Twelve-Pack Interview Series

Basketball Will Never Be America’s Sport

 

LeBron, who?

 
NBA, what?
 
I'll admit it I was fascinated for a time with this whole free-agent saga in the National Basketball Association, a professional basketball league in the United States. All these players that I've never heard of, competing to play for all these teams that I've also never heard of. It was quite the spectacle!
 
But I grew weary. By Thursday evening the highest profile player of this little basketball-league-that-could, one Mr. LeBron James, who had played for a team called the "Cavaliers" of Cleveland, pulled off quite the "cavalier" move and jumped ship for the sunny beaches of South Florida to play for the "Heat" of Miami. He joins "D-Wade" and a guy named "Boch" to make them some sort of Three Musketeers of basketball.
 
This was all televised by the so-called Worldwide Leader in Sports, ESPN. All week they had been hyping this sports history moment, but it all felt artificial. Here the network that was the home of Monday Night Football, "Soccer Night in America", and College Football Game Day was forcing basketball down the throats of millions of mainstream sports fans with the dramatic, televised three-ring circus that was dubbed, "The Decision".
 
I've made my decision.
 
Basketball is boring.
 
It is a children's sport. Sure millions of kids play the sport growing up, but after that they're off to the soccer fields to play a real sport. I mean... what kind of sport only lets five kids play at a time?
 
There are players who's names I can barely pronounce. Dirk Nowitzki? Manu Ginobili? 姚明 (Yao Ming)? These names are giving my spell-check a headache!
 
Third, the diving. Oh, the diving! Players flopping about the court, looking for phantom fouls to give their teams the advantage they don't deserve. So unprofessional!
 
Fourth, the rules. They are so confusing! Two-points for some baskets and three-points for others. Then sometimes only one-point. Make up your minds, people! I have seen easy shots worth three-points and hard ones worth only two-points. It is like they are trying to make a scoring show out of everything. Make goals worth ONE. End of debate.
 
Fifth... two words: Thunder Sticks. One word: annoying. I can hardly make it through and entire match with out hearing the incessant banging of two inflated bars slapped together. I am told it is a part of America's basketball culture, but it made it very hard to watch the game on TV. I'm just glad I wasn't at the stadium! Perhaps NBA Comissioner David Stern should have listened to all of those critics before the Finals and banned them then maybe more Americans would be willing to watch the games.
 
Lastly, basketball is America has no history. The sport is barely 100 years old. Invented by throwing a ball through some peach baskets. Real complicated. Soccer has been played in the Americas since ancient Native tribes kicked around shrunken heads for religious ceremonies. Even modern soccer dates back to the time of baseball's creation during the Civil War. Names like Bethlehem Steel Corp and the Fall River Marksmen and Portland Timbers ring true through sports history unlike such laughably short-historied clubs like the Oklahoma City "Thunder" and the Toronto "Raptors". Are there any Raptors in Canada? My point exactly.

I tried. I really did. The NBA Finals, the end-of-the-season tournament that determines the world's champions of basketball (despite it being played only in America), was interesting. Apparently the two teams, the "Lakers" of Los Angeles and the "Celtics" of Boston (named after the storied soccer club from Scotland to try an catch some of their magic) faced off against each other. In seven games of action, the Lakers took the "crown" and Kobe Bryant is now considered one of the game's greatest players.
 
Where was this James character? Should your "finals" feature the games greatest players? If he deserves an hour-long, reality TV-like special shouldn't I have seen him showing his stuff against the best competition?
 
Soccer's World Cup never has this problem. Unless injured almost all of the world's (and this time we mean the whole world) best players are on display. And at least American's recognize their best players. Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Tim Howard are all household names among your average beer-swilling American.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas? Is that even a real name?
 
So now the Miami Heat are the favorites to win the NBA Title. Will Americans begin to care about this sport? For a few days in June and July Americans turned their eyes towards American basketball, but will it last?
 
The World Cup Final is this Sunday and Major League Soccer All-Star game will be in a few weeks against a real world champion Manchester United. The United States National Team will face Brazil in August just as the new NBA season kicks off.
 
Will Americans even notice?
 
"NBA: Where Amazing Happens?"
 
Yawn.

Tags:

Six-Pack Interview Series: Soccer Without Border’s Founder Ben Gucciardi

Editor's Note: We continue our interview series, this time with questions for Ben Gucciardi, Founding Director, Soccer Without Borders. As opposed to our "Starting 11" series, this is what we like to call the "FBM 6-Pack," a short, straight-to-the-point Q&A.

Soccer Without Borders is an international organization focusing on youth and community development while giving children the opportunity to play organized soccer alongside learning. Read on about SWB mission, accomplishments, and Gucciardi's future vision for SWB.

If you'd like to donate money, time, or soccer equipment to Soccer Without Borders there are links at the end of our interview.

1) Where did the idea for Soccer Without Borders come from? When did the organization get off the ground? What was your first project?

The idea to start Soccer Without Borders came from a strong desire to contribute something positive to the world and to do meaningful work. At the time when it started, soccer had been such a powerful force in my life. Mostly, soccer had been a positive thing, but towards the end of my playing career, I also started to feel that there was a lot of missed opportunity to do more with soccer to address social issues, both large and small. When you look at sports, you see so much negativity in the way people interact, fighting, trash talking, parents complaining etc, and all of this is an expression of larger societal issues. But none of that is inherent in sport. Instead the coach and program leaders create a certain environment and set the tone for the way a program functions and behaves. So my thought was to try and expand the potential of soccer and capture the extremely powerful and positive aspects of the game. You can then use that appeal of the game to engage youth that are often difficult to engage, and once they are engaged, it becomes possible to use soccer as platform to create dialogue around relevant social issues.

Like most things, you start with an idea and with time it evolves and becomes more focused. I think our program is still very much in the process of being refined and finding its best expression. We have learned so much about what really works well and what is less effective since the organization got off the ground with our first program in Granada, Nicaragua in the fall of 2006.


2) What does a traditional (if there is such a thing) project look like for SWB abroad? What are your core areas of emphasis (models and methods)?

There are four aspects of an SWB program: soccer play and instruction, life-skills education, training coaches from the communities and themed camps and tournaments. Our programs are always run in partnership with schools, community centers and local NGO’s and we try to staff them with local staff as much as possible. We also maintain an SWB office in each of the communities we work in that serves as a youth centered sage space for the community, as well as a place kids can come for programming and gear.

The life-skills aspect of the program varies from place to place, and we try and get a lot of input from community leaders about what to focus on as well as inviting them to leas sessions. One of the programs we use is the Girls For A Change program (www.girlsforachange.org) . This program asks youth to look at the negative issues in their communities and work together to design a project that works at addressing the root cause of the issue, and then the youth actually go out and do the project. In this way, young people can start to see how much of an impact they can have, which I think is a key aspect of confidence, just feeling like your voice and your actions matter.

3) How many projects has SWB established thus far? Where? What have been some of the organizations greatest accomplishments?

So far we have established six ongoing programs in Granada, Nicaragua, Solola, Guatemala, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Ndejje, Uganda, New York City, NY, and Oakland, CA. I think our greatest accomplishment to date has beet the growth of the program in Nicaragua. When we were first there, there was about a handful of girls playing soccer. Today we have more then 200 members of the girls program and we run a league for girls and hold popular life-skills events on a daily basis. I think across the board, our biggest success has been in engaging populations that would otherwise not have access to soccer opportunities, and witnessing the positive things the program has brought to their lives.

Another thing I would say is that we have been able to reach a lot of young people here in the U.S. through presentations about the program. These presentations are done by our staff as well as volunteers that travel abroad and return, and in this way, we are able to use soccer as a way to raise awareness about social injustice and the huge disparities in opportunity that people have in different places.

4) You have been personally involved in a refugee and immigrant team in Oakland, CA. Can you tell us a bit more about what that encompasses? Some of the hardships and some of the successes?

The program in Oakland is run in partnership with an amazing public high school called Oakland International High School. This is the school where most newcomer immigrant and refugee students that arrive in Oakland get referred to because of its emphasis on English language development across the curriculum. Our teams are called “Internationals United: and we play in a club soccer league through the CYSA, and we practice two days a week with games on weekends. What is unique about our team is that in between the girls and the boys teams we have youth from 13 countries (Burma, Bhutan, Nepal, Liberia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Uzbekistan, Russia, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua) speaking a wide range of languages. It is a pretty amazing experience to watch the team begin to form connections across language and cultural barriers and build meaningful friendships. For most of the girls, it is really there first time playing soccer and being on a team, and while not always easy, it is pretty special to watch them progress and build their confidence by learning a new skill.



The challenges are many as well, things like paperwork for the league (many parents don’t speak English and the forms are not translated), getting to games (very few parents drive so al the kids bus in to downtown Oakland and we have volunteers who drive to the various fields), end up taking a lot of time and energy to get done. Cross -cultural relationships can also be complicated as well. There are tensions that need to be worked through and talked about and misperceptions that occur all the time, and while we can usually deal with them, it is not easy for people to want to say something to their teammate and not be able to communicate. Things get bottled up, and then let out in unhealthy ways. A final challenge is that much of Oakland is a difficult place for all youth to be in, and immigrant and refugee families are often targets of gang violence and recruitment. For example, a father of one of our girls players was murdered last year outside of his apartment in Oakland by a random drive by shooting. This was a refugee family from that came here seeking safety and the chance to build a new life. While this is an extreme case, a lot of these youth experience and witness violence in their communities.


Soccer Without Borders: 25+12+6=1 from Clare Major on Vimeo.





5) SWB is particularly committed to promoting girls’ involvement in soccer and education. Why is that such a crucial component to the SWB mission? Give us a few examples of where this has worked well.

 
About 85% of our staff are women who played in college or the pros. I think across the board these women had immensely powerful experiences playing soccer, and they have done so much in order to share their experiences with other girls that lack the same opportunities afforded to American female athletes. The two most successful areas where girls’ programming has really taken root are in Granada, Nicaragua and in a slum Buenos Aires, Argentina. In both of these areas, we have built a girls soccer movement that has far reaching affects that girls have verbalized about their self-confidence and the perception their communities have of their abilities.





6) What would you like to see SWB grow into? What are some future goals for the organization and what are you doing to help accomplish them?

 
Right now we are in a transition period from an all volunteer staff to beginning to have some full time people that actually make a living doing this work. I would like to see us make this transition successfully and to begin to be able to really improve our existing programs. We are currently doing a lot more on the business side of things, trying to focus more on fundraising and standardizing a lot of our policies and procedures. This is the less fun but equally necessary aspect of our work.
 
Once we really hone in on best practices for our programs and solidify the existing programs, I would like to see the program spread to new areas. One thing about this work is that there are just so many areas where a program could be successful. In most of the world, nothing gets kids attention like soccer.
 
We have lots of ideas we would like to implement, like having a tournament where the girls from all our different programs could travel and play each other, to having the players in Oakland and NYC go to the other project sites to coach and volunteer. It’s all just a matter of time and funding…
 

Editor's Note: There are several way to support the Soccer Without Borders mission.

 

 

Tags: Six-Pack Interview Series

12-Pack Interview Series: Bumpy Pitch Co-Founder Ben Hooper

The brainchild of two former professional soccer players, Bumpy Pitch is setting the standard for off-the-field soccer style. Founded in 2004 by ten-year MLS veteran Brian "Dunny" Dunseth and Ben "Beans" Hooper, who spent time playing in Holland, Bumpy Pitch has established itself at the forefront of soccer fashion beyond the jersey and training gear. But Bumpy Pitch is more that just a high-quality t-shirt company, they're the promoters of the soccer culture and lifestyle that exists in orbit around the game. And that's where their other website, The Original Winger, comes into play. While BP focuses on the apparel-side, TOW is the documenter and promoter of the culture and lifestyle that is weaving their way into mainstream America's head.
The Los Angeles-based company (with Ace Harrison also as a partner) is getting love from soccer fans, professional soccer players, and celebrities the world over. Part of these shirts' appeal is their high-quality, but mostly its about what's on the front of each; and that's American soccer history.
 
Bumpy Pitch has saved a little slice of the sport's history on each one of their shirts, rescued the North American Soccer League from the dustbin of time, and, in some cases, brought century-old clubs into the soccer consciousness.
 
"Beans" was more than happy to sit down and pound out a few answers for the Free Beer Movement about Bumpy Pitch, where they came from, their mission, where they're going, and about The Original Winger and its role in this whole sha-bang.
 
1) Where did the idea come from for Bumpy Pitch? How did the company get started?

The idea for Bumpy Pitch and the start for the company were all very simple. We didn’t feel like there was any fashionable / lifestyle clothes that represented for soccer. So we decided we would make some. The early stuff we made was mostly for ourselves and friends, and was incredibly basic. But the idea was there and we believed in the idea of the “lifestyle of soccer.”

2) If you ask a lot of soccer fans they say that “soccer is young in America,” but the shirts you make tell a different story. Why is looking into the past of American soccer important for its future?
I think the growth of the sport may be in its early stages here in the States, but the sport itself

has a pretty rich history in America. As the sport continues to grow here, we thought it was important to understand where the sport has come from before we could fully embrace where it’s headed. Besides, the stories, histories and imagery from these old teams are pretty amazing.

3) How do BP and The Original Winger work together to promote the game and its ties to fashion?
I think that what we do with both Bumpy Pitch and The Original Winger is about more than just fashion. Obviously fashion drives a lot of what we do, but it’s more the lifestyle of the sport that we really push. Fashion plays a big part in the lifestyle, and since we design and produce clothes that are an obvious focus for us. But we are a lifestyle driven company, more than just a clothing company.

4) BP has garnered some pretty high profile wearers of your shirts. People like Steve Nash, several members of the USMNT, Tom Morello, even Ryan Seacrest. What is it about BP that appeals to not just soccer fans, but a larger cross section of America?
I think the quality of the shirts is the first thing. We spent quite a bit of time developing the shirts and getting them exactly how we wanted them. Everything from picking the type of cotton that is used, the cut of the shirts, and the treatments to get them to feel as soft as they do. I think people pick up on that quality. I also think a lot of people appreciate the stories that are associated with the shirts.

5) You write on your site that the focus of soccer has always been about what’s on the pitch and almost nothing beyond that and that BP and TOW is about changing that. What does the scene look like several years after having started BP?
It’s still a challenge to get people to look at things in a different light, but things have definitely changed from when we first started talking about the lifestyle side of things. We get a lot of incredible feedback from people who appreciate our approach to things so we know we are doing something right.

6) Tell us about your current collection.

The original shirts we did were inspired by the history of soccer in the US. We featured teams such as the Fall River Marksmen and Bethlehem Steel which date as far back as the late 1890’s. We also had some teams from the NASL days. So history was a big part of what we have done so far. We’ll continue to feature some of the older team inspired shirts while we continue to introduce new designs and products.

7) When is the next collection rolling out for BP? Can you give us any clues to what it will be about? Or what teams might be featured?

We’re currently releasing a couple shirts a month right now and plan to continue doing things that way as opposed to one collection every few months. We also have some products we have been working on for awhile that we will be releasing like hoodies, polos, etc. As for the theme or direction, it’s kind of fluid. We come up with ideas we like and then go from there, as opposed to trying to make something fit within a pre-defined theme. We’ve got some pretty incredible new shirts in the works as well as brand new products.

8) So far what’s the coolest shirt, in your opinion, that BP has put out?

I really like the ones featuring the old teams like Fall River Marksmen and the Brooklyn Wanderers. These teams date way back, and also didn’t have any logos that we could find so we got to design the logos based on what we thought a logo should look like for these teams.

We also did a shirt with Nick Egan that blends soccer, punk music and 1970’s London. Collaborating with Nick was a lot of fun, and I’m really happy about how we were able to mesh the different elements without watering down the message.

9) TOW just started a really interesting feature called, Soccer in America, can you talk a little about that project; where the idea came from, what’s the goal, and how it’s going so far?

The easy answer is we are fans of photography and soccer and we wanted to combine those elements. The deeper answer is that we wanted to explore the culture of soccer in America via photography. We are all a part of the greater soccer culture here, but the way that looks in Southern California might look very different in some ways to how that looks in the northeast and so on. The series has been incredible so far. Getting to see soccer images taken from people around the country will never get old for me, and hopefully it helps continue to build the community.

10) A few selfish, and pretty slanted, questions for the FBM. What is it about seeing a live soccer game and having a cold beer in your hand that makes everything seem right with the world?


It’s kind of like peanut butter and jelly. They compliment one another and just fit together perfectly.

11) How cool would a Free Beer Movement shirt look in your next collection? (feel free to respond with “no comment”)

I actually have the basis of a design for a BP x FBM t-shirt, and I think it would look pretty rad.

 

 

Tags: DrinkWear, Twelve-Pack Interview Series

12-Pack Interview Series: American Outlaws President Korey Donahoo

Site Note: This is the second in a series of interviews the FBM is doing with interesting and important people and ideas in American soccer. Read our first interview with Jesse Nechodom, soccer-hater-turned-soccer-lover with part 1 and part 2.

It's easy to forget that The American Outlaws are only two years old. The US National Team supporters group has taken the American soccer scene by storm with hundreds of members, dozens of chapters around the country, and take a no prisoners attitude. The AO and their chapters host dozens of viewing parties, tailgates, and match events around the country each year in support of the US National Team.
 
Several AO members and chapters are planning to head down to Honduras for that crucial CONCACAF clash on October 10th (if its still held there) and on October 14th they'll be loud and proud at RFK Stadium in Washington DC for the final "Hex" World Cup Qualifier against Costa Rica (a match in which the FBM is skipping on their day job to fly out for!).
 
The Free Beer Movement had a chance to shoot a few questions over the AO President Korey Donahoo, who was nice enough to actually respond to them.
 
1) How did the Outlaws start? Where did the idea come from?
 
Just going to games, we saw a lack of consistency of events planned surrounding the game. Some games had killer tailgates, others had nothing planned, but there was always passionate fans looking to connect.
 
2) How have you been able to create a nation-wide following?
 
Consistency has been everything. Being at every game and having stuff set up for people to enjoy themselves for EVERY game has been the key, I think. Also, allowing people who want to get involved to pitch in, whether it be with designing shirts or starting their own chapter.
 
3) How many chapters do you have now? Where are they? What’s their function?
 
Off the top of my head, probably 15 or so. Their function is to unite fans from a certain area, let's say, Lincoln Nebraska, give those fans a place to meet for EVERY game, and a banner to display at the bar. Then, if that area were lucky enough to host a US game, (which Lincoln obviously won’t), the chapter gets to plan the national party.

 
4) What does US Soccer think about the Outlaws? What’s your connection with them?
 
US Soccer has been pretty helpful with certain aspects, mainly ticketing. They usually offer supporters section tickets at the best price and before general ticket sales, which has helped us a lot. There’s always room for our relationship to grow, but its been a good one thus far, overall.
 
5) What’s the current state of the union for American soccer (the game, the culture, the fan following, etc), in general?
 
There’s definitely a ground swell of new fans, a lot of which has to do with our success at the Confederations Cup. ESPN buying the English Premiership rights tells you everything you need to know…that it's only going to get bigger for the foreseeable future. I hope that Outlaws can help usher in some of these new fans, get them to a US game or two, and keep them coming back to support our boys.
 
6) What about the future for soccer in the United States?
 
It's bright, see #5…
 
7) One of my inspirations has been the passion I’ve seen when I’ve attending international matches abroad and the want to see that same passion in our stadiums in the US. How have your experiences been when travelling with the team in other countries? How does that influence you and the Outlaws?
 
Ironically, sometimes the best pro-US atmospheres I’ve experienced have been abroad. I’m thinking specifically of the 2nd world cup game against Italy in 2006. The camaraderie between US fans is something that never ceases to amaze me, and taking it abroad adds a new dimension. I’ll never forget the friendly against the English fans the night before US v England at Wembley, when we kicked their ass!
 
8) I was following your road trip to SLC on Twitter. Sounds like a lot of drinking and a few problems with your RV. Tell us some of the highlights and lowlights of the trip?
 
The highlights were everything related to the game itself. The camaraderie (we were broken down in Wyoming, and AO Houston drove almost 2 hours each way to pick us up, as well as getting a 2 hour ride back with complete strangers) was awesome. The tailgate was fun and intense, and the game ended with 3 points.
As for lowlights, everything related to the RV. 2 blown tires, breaking down in Wyoming and having to keep the windows open in order to not die of exhaust inhalation can be detrimental to any trip, even a US victory.
 
9) What sort of role do groups like the American Outlaws and the Free Beer Movement play in growing the sport?
 
Everybody likes feeling like part of a community, and then helping the community to grow in positive directions. We feel we follow the best team in the world, and we want our friends to share all the good times that it has brought us, and I think buying a skeptic a beer is a perfect way to usher in newbies.
 
10) What’s the beer of choice for the Outlaws?
 
Speaking for myself and Justin Brunken, the vice-President, Budweiser and PBR.
 
11) What’s next for the American Outlaws?
 
The World Cup (assuming we qualify) is going to be amazing. TenDot travel company in Lincoln has helped us with the logistics, and its going to be a wild ride. Until then, all the pretournament friendlies will be a great way to bring in new fans and prepare for South Africa.
 
 
Photo Credit: Taken from The Shin Guardian's post on AO's trip to Salt Lake City
 
Video Credit: AO

Tags: American Outlaws, Twelve-Pack Interview Series

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