A Moment of Soccer Playing Laziness on a Busy Saturday

As you can likely tell form my soccer blog I’m a bit of a nut for the sport. I’m not as hard core or intense as some, but it does take up a large chunk of my life. I volunteer for my local team, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and I’m up for a weekend of volunteering at a local soccer tournament next weekend. Not to mention the fact I’m looking to give my life up to looking at soccer in another country for the love of the sport, and for the love of others who share my passion. Alright, maybe I should take that back, I am pretty hard core about this sport.

I played soccer growing up, there were games going on pretty much every warm recess back in my elementary school, but gradually I was lead away from soccer into basketball, baseball, and volleyball. My friends stopped playing it too. There wasn’t much soccer going on in my hockey crazed city to begin with, and it seemed to become more distant the older I got. That all changed when I went to my first Whitecaps FC match 5 years ago. I was instantly reunited with that simply complex sport of movement and creativity and fun that I had played so intensely when I was young. I haven’t stopped watching soccer since, and after all the things the Whitecaps have done for me after hiring me on to work for them as a game day media volunteer, it will always be how their love of the game helped me discover what sport can be.

Even with all this fun being had by watching those down on the pitch I kept my love of soccer as one of a spectator. I didn’t play the sport at all, I didn’t even have a soccer ball. That changed today while I was out campaigning for this project. I bought the cheapest ball they had (a Sporteck Electra) at Soccer West on Broadway in Vancouver. My intent was to buy something I could kick about on the sidewalk to and from work. ‘Why?’ is the question most grown ups would ask at this point. ‘For fun,’ would be my reply. It is a traditional size 5 ball with the pentagon sided pieces making up its construction, with a yellow overall colour, and big white circles outlined in black. I never thought I’d enjoy looking at a ball this much. I find its simple patterns very appealing.

I bounced it around for a while walking down Broadway and carried it until I got to my neighbourhood, a quieter residential area. Then I dropped it on the ground and started kicking it, too hard at first as it got away and I ran and caught it and directed it back ahead of me. A bump in the sidewalk rolled it in front of one of the endless parade of joggers you’ll find in this city and he playfully tried to kick it back to me. I turned the corner to head to my house and juggled the ball a little, difficult in jeans with a bag over my shoulder, but still doable for a kick in the air or three.

I found myself to be smiling. I realized why and I hoped beyond anything that outside of all the valid criticisms there are for charitable organizations interfering with peoples way of life by merely showing up and helping, that people never forget how kicking a ball around can make me, a child, or anyone smile. I’m reading a number of critical pieces right now, to be brought up later, that bring up valid points against soccer being used for societal development as it impacts traditional notions of individual achievement and advancing possible neo-liberal visions. We should look at these greater societal impacts, but we must also look at the faces. We must look at the human impact. I for one will not forget smiling on a warm summer day when it was just me, a new ball, and the love for a sport I share with the world.

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Review: Feet of the Chameleon: The Story of African Football

In this book review I am discussing ‘Feet of the Chameleon: The Story of African Football‘ by Ian Hawkey. If I were to summarize your potential liking or disliking of this book in one sentence I would say:  if the title alone doesn’t draw you in then you are not going to enjoy this book. I will say though, that if you don’t like a phrase such as ‘feet of the chameleon’ on its own, with no context, then you and I will not ever understand one another. This book is full of similar phrases and sayings, the kinds of phrases and sayings that make African football so beautiful and so much more than just a sport played for goals, wins, and losses.

At the beginning of this book I felt lost. This was not the first book I’ve read on African soccer, but I found myself having difficulty following along for the duration of the prologue and first chapter. This was due to these sections being a bit jumpy and not quite as focused as the rest of the book. When trying to introduce people to a whole continent this can certainly happen. I would definitely recommend sticking it out, working your way through it, and taking this trip from Cape Town to Cairo, and from Senegal to Somalia.

My favourite chapter would have to be title’s source, Chapter 3: Feet of the Chameleon. It starts off with a story about barefoot Nigerians boarding a boat heading for England in 1949. They are sent off with a good-bye from Bishop Vining: “Fare ye well, boots or no boots.” They are the first team Nigeria ever sent abroad, and were well known for their bare feet, and for the ability of these bare feet to control the ball. This story weaves into the story of ‘the feet of the chameleon,’ but not in the way you think. This phrase comes from a South African television commentator named Zama Masondo. Hawkey’s decision to include a lengthy discussion of this man, so valuable to African football, was a wise one. Zama Masondo dared to be original, and proudly African, when other commentators were content with rehashing translations from English commentators into their own languages. Zama used a mix of his native Zulu language, and came up with his own phrases, to give his broadcasts a uniquely African feel. Who can forget having heard him, or anyone, yell ‘LADUUUUUUUUUUUMA’ upon the scoring of a goal? Hawkey takes the time to explain what these phrases mean (it roughly translates to ‘it has thundered from the foot’) and giving a context for their creation. The context for ‘feet of the chameleon?’ It was how Zama first introduced slow motion instant replay to an audience that had also just been introduced to television. I love the imagery of it.

Beyond this one specific example, the book travels fast and wide across all of Africa. You will hear stories titled ‘The White Witchdoctor,’ The Tortoise and the Hippo,’ ‘The Swoop of Eagles,’ and ‘Whispering at Pigeons.’ This last story is all about the rituals, superstition and ‘juju’ that once was prominent in African football, but is now kept around much like any other good luck charm is in other soccer leagues. Meaning people believe it as much as a lucky rabbit foot, or always putting your right shoe on first. The comparison is also made, slily, of a goalkeeper dismissing the use of ‘magic,’ but espousing the power of keeping a bible next to his net. Hawkey does not point it out or highlight it, he merely presents the story and lets you drawn your own conclusion.

If you’re looking for a glimpse at African soccer as it is across the continent, with a focus on the soccer and not the politics, ‘Feet of the Chameleon: The Story of African Football‘ is a great place to start.

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The Family Values Tournament Benefiting Uganda Soccer

When I arrive at The Family Values soccer tournament in Vancouver Canada on August 12 it is a warm day, but a warm West Coast day so it is not overbearing, and the soccer is well underway. The tournament itself is set up to raise funds for the Bavubuka Foundation which has been running a soccer academy in Uganda since 1996, serving thousands of children. The tournament is being held at Charleson Park where two pitches are in play at a time for simultaneous soccer action. The area being used also functions as a baseball diamond and playground for the nearby school. It is a Sunday in August so there are no students, but there are still plenty of children around alternating between watching the matches, and only being mindful of the monkey bars.

I start asking around for Ben Newman, my contact, and am quickly directed to speak with a man standing with two women. I later figure they must be his Aunts, or some other close relations. We exchange a quick ‘Hello, nice to meet you face-to-face’ handshake which is cut short. Out on the pitch far from us a skirmish has gathered. A group of 5 or 6 players are approaching one another with menacing body language. This may be the first time this 5-a-side tournament is being run, but to the players out on the pitch it could very well be their World Cup. Ben leaves to intervene, “Oh that Ben, he’ll get in there and do his diplomatic thing, talk it all out with them” says one of the women next to me. Sure enough he gently steps in and ends it with words, soon after it is game on.

While I wait for this little disagreement to be sorted out the two women take the time to familiarize me with some of the people around. “The linesman on the far side there, the lady, that is Ben’s Mom. And this linesman here close to us with the hat, that is Ben’s Dad.” They weren’t kidding with the ‘Family’ in ‘Family Values.’ I look around and see musicians playing drums as hula hoops are swung around hips to the delight of many clapping children.

I wait in the shade of a tree, my pale skin not meant for this mid day sun, as Ben finally has time to continue our conversation. I ask him about the funding so far, “We’ve raised about $1800 today, and at the end of the day we’d like to raise $10 000. The reason is we’d like to put some in reserve to buy some land there and build facilities for soccer, basketball and whatever amenities the community needs.” I ask him why the foundation wants to go in and do this themselves, and he struggles with a way to put it in a sensitive manner: “There is so much corruption that a lot of the time when you put money into things it goes to the wrong place, or someone pulls the rug out from under you. So we’re trying to get in there, put our own feet on the ground, so we know where everything is going and…” He is interrupted mid thought as it is discovered that the score for one game may be missing. The game stops, but drums still beat on as people sway to the lazy Sunday rhythm. Mothers dance with their daughters and sons in a dance that is all arms moving in a back and forth motion. The smaller ones are picked up, held over shoulder height, and turned steadily back and forth to a slow beat as mom shakes her hips in time. It is a warm scene for this warm day.

When he returns, Ben gives me a bit of a break down on what is going on around me. “Over there in front of that tent is Silas Balabyekkubo, he actually stated the foundation. He and the foundation go into Uganda and find out what the locals want, what they need, and then they try to fund these platforms and source out people to go. For instance, Silas asked me if I wanted to be involved in the sports side of things. And I have 20 years of soccer playing experience, I worked for Nottingham Forest FC, and I owned a fitness business for 10 years. So he was looking to help fill the gap because there is so much sport that happens in Uganda. I said of course I’m totally interested in helping.

Ben then begins to break down the press plans they have: “We’re planning on doing photography, a video, we’re planning” and at this point I lose him as one of the players is coming right at me, fast, and the fence between us. He is easily on the plus side of 6 feet tall, powerfully built, and sweating heavily during the intense game. I watch him as he breathes heavily and glances at the ball, judges its speed, glances at the fence and its approach, and adjusts his considerable momentum with careful foot placement to become closer to being parallel to the fence. His safety assured, he turns 90 degrees back towards midfield and flicks the ball towards goal to the awaiting forehead of his teammate who perfectly directs it into goal. It is a poem told to me in two glances and one kick. The end goal of this tournament is to allow the children and people of Uganda the chance write scenes such as this on their own pitches. Ben and I conclude our talk with a handshake as he goes to arrange the Championship match. I leave knowing that the winners will not only be those on the pitch today.

If you didn’t make the tournament you can still donate to them on their IndieGogo page. Funding is ongoing right now.

If you want to read more stories that profile groups like this, please go to my IndieGogo.

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Am I Launching a Successful IndieGogo Campaign, or Falling to New Depths?

This soccer blog is all about my efforts to get to Africa. One way I am trying to get there is through crowd sourcing funding. I have now launched my second IndieGogo campaign for this project. My first raised a total of $15. Ten of those dollars were from my Mom. Not too impressive, right? I have since looked at my last campaign, sought the advice of friends with experience, done some reading, and launched a second campaign. Let’s look at what I’ve done differently on my Journey Getting There this time.

The first thing I did was reevaluate my ‘Perks,’ the gifts I give back to those who fund me. I moved them further down the chain of value so you get more gifts sooner in the funding pyramid. I hope this encourages funding in the lower end of things by giving people greater value for their investment in this project. This was first suggested to me by my dear friend Amy Jephta ( @thegravegirl on Twitter ), who’s advice caused me to change my perks on the first campaign. I believe it is demonstrable that I did not change them enough (ie; I got no funding!) to reach my goals. I was again told by Chris Cruthers, a coworker from my theatre days, that my perks needed a change. I took the hints from both and have really altered them this time around.

Another big step I’m taking is including more team partners. All too often I try to go it alone, and while I am doing the majority of the work again, the support and encouragement from my team is invaluable. A big big thanks to (here’s that name again) Amy Jephta, Kim Fowler, and Rebecca Copiat. If only behind every great man there were 3 great women, we would all be a success.

Last time around I spoke with a number of organizations that were interested in my project, but needed time to think, plan and organize. I am hoping that this time these groups have had the time they need and want to get on board. I suppose all I can do is keep talking to them, have those lines of communication open, and see what shakes out. My recently acquired friends over at the New York Cosmos have been a great help by tweeting out my articles and posting them to Facebook. With more friends like them on board I can’t help but succeed.

Last time I tried to do all my advertising online. This time around I have designed a flyer to post around Vancouver. I am planning on posting it around local soccer significant locations at first, and expand to busy areas of the city afterwards. What really shocked me was getting a cost estimate on the black and white flyers: my local print shop quoted me $7 for 200 flyers sized 8.5 by 11 inches. I thought it would be much more, I will very likely print off more. If you want to help advertise with flyers contact me (Matthew@MatthewYeoman.com) and I can email you the flyer. I’d really appreciate that.

This is where I am at with trying to make this campaign a successful one. I may also add a video, but I haven’t crossed that bridge yet. I’m hesitant to cross the line between people reading my words and hearing my words, but it is probably one I will have to cross. So here is me hoping that these changes all add up to a successful second IndieGogo campaign. Please share in your social media circles and contribute!

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NYC Senegal: Coming Together Across The Ocean

While around the New York Cosmos Copa tournament I spent the majority of my time huddled around NYC Senegal. This team represented a proud tradition of Senegalese soccer that began back home, and continues in New York. With the majority of their players being born in Senegal (19 out of 25 was what I was told) it is fair to say that this team really does represent Senegal, even though all of their home games will be played in America, and all of their players live in the Tri-State area. That fact matters little when you look at how this team continues to honour its traditions from back home, and what this team does to help build a community and support network for the players who are living in a place very foreign to their home. This community is essential to their personal development as it allows them innumerable ways to connect with good people who can support them.

The President of NYC Senegal is Sadibou Sylla. I wrote about his fiery brand of coaching briefly in my first post about the Cosmos Copa, and his intensity rarely dropped during the whole tournament. He is well aware of what discipline can do for a group of young men far from home. While success in soccer is a focus, Sadibuo has loftier goals for his players: a solid education, and helping his players attain legal immigration status. Education is something the players will have to truly pursue on their own with the lessons learned on the pitch, and from their coach, as encouragement. One player who has done well in this is Mamadou Doudou Diouf, he is currently playing soccer for the University of Connecticut where he is an imposing goal scoring forward with 13 goals in his 25 game sophomore season. Perhaps a better example, as he has completed his education, is Sadibuo himself. He came illegally to America at the age of 14 and attended a school now infamously known for its talented soccer teams: Martin Luther King Jr. High School in New York. After graduating there he attended St. Peters College in Jersey City, earning a degree in Mathematics that has him now working as a math teacher.

Here in America, on the Senegal sidelines, you can listen to the players speak to one another and it is likely you will not understand them. If you happen to speak Wolof, a language native to Senegal, chances are good you can follow along. Most of what they say will be Wolof, but other languages native to Senegal have words worked in here and there in a sort of mixed language that is richer for its variety. When the coaches speak to the players though I noticed that they always spoke in English. I found that the reason for this is because those few players who are not from Senegal do not speak the native languages, otherwise I’m willing to bet you would hear a sideline filled with words completely foreign to North American ears.

Sadibuo was back home in Senegal this past June setting up a soccer and basketball camp that the New York Cosmos have donated some of their equipment to. This included socks, shorts, and t-shirts. You could call it the spirit of Ubuntu through sport, or you could call it one man’s quest to make the world a better place in any way he can. Above all it shows how setting up communities here in America for those who have emigrated can benefit those back home. It is a cycle of acceptance and positivity that we should always encourage, and soccer can be a great vehicle for this growth between nations and people. If you doubt that, head out to East Harlem to watch an NYC Senegal practice session, and see young men becoming more than just immigrants. See them become successful Americans who still respect their homeland.

Please visit and fund my IndieGogo campaign for this project!

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The New York Cosmos, The Cosmos Copa and Building New Communities

New York Cosmos logo

A photo of the New York Cosmos logo on the wall of their Soho office in New York City.

When people come to a new home they will all do the same thing: try to find aspects of home which they can incorporate into their new lives. This is true with sport, and very true with soccer. The New York Cosmos soccer organization exists in one of the most diverse cities in the world. With this in mind they promote a yearly tournament called the Cosmos Copa which tries to gather these differing cultures around soccer teams representing their former countries. I sat down at the New York Cosmos new SoHo headquarters with Sofia Sanchez, who has been working on the Copa since the beginning of the tournament when she was an intern, to get a look at how it came together, and what they hope to do for the communities they serve.

I asked Sofia how this tournament started and she replied “It was started in 2009 by two guys, one is named Spencer Dormitzer and one was Chris Noble. They were very much involved with the New York City soccer scene and they came up with this concept of a mini World Cup in the city. Because of the way the soccer scene is, with so many diverse communities, they thought this idea could take off.” I would have to agree, I’m actually surprised I haven’t heard of a tournament like this in other cities. Is there one in your city? Please comment below so we can talk about it.

The Cosmos bought the Copa tournament off Chris and Spencer because they want to build their team from the grassroots level up. The Cosmos of the past tried to build from the top down, signing Pele being the prime example, but soccer doesn’t work like that anymore. Sustained success requires either New York Yankee level unlimited funding, or a strong and developed base of players to draw from. The Copa is the Cosmos way of staying involved in the grassroots as they prepare for their first season in the new NASL in 2013. “It’s very much part of the plan moving forward to keep Copa going.” Sofia went on to say that it is also part of their long term plan to “have the final (of the Copa) played in whatever stadium we’re able to build.” Which would be an excellent opportunity for these young players to play in a professional stadium and really show off their skills.

With the success and growth of the tournament some teams began to feel that it was becoming too commercialized. That their communities were not being spoken to. Last years tournament was held entirely in Flushing Meadow. This year it is being held all over the city so that teams have the chance to play a ‘home game’ of sorts. Sofia explained why it changed this year: “For me it’s more about listening to the teams, they’re the ones who put in so much work. We run the tournament, but they’re the ones who are training, getting the guys there every weekend, who have to travel, it is a lot to ask. Especially for a tournament with no cash prize.” Wait, no cash prize? Why are they playing? “It is for community pride. That’s why the most important thing is to listen to them and the changes they want to make.”

Sofia went on to explain that the teams themselves also work towards building followings: “Some of them have a big presence in their community. Bolivia has an area in New Jersey that they’re based out of. They have a club there that they invite their fans to, they have a website. Argentina and Uruguay have community centers that they do barbeques at. We did viewing parties with the teams who were in The Euro’s this past year. Our interns also go out to Haitian barbershops and things like that and they’re surprised by how welcoming they are. I love sending my interns out into the communities.”

This last quote illustrates that last important gap being crossed which I aspire to examine in this soccer blog: when cultures gathered and comfortable with one another openly welcome those who are not part of their group. I believe that without these sort of structures, these gathering points of like minded individuals that soccer can attract, that our societies would be even more fragmented then they are. I do not mean only that the groups themselves would not exist and that would further fragment societies, I also say that without them we would eliminate the opportunity for connections to be made between those who are not like minded at all. A gathering place provides a focal point, for those inside and outside the group, to meet and discover one another in a comfortable social setting, rather than the all too uncommon random meeting on the street. Soccer, the world’s most popular sport, offers the greatest opportunity for these connections and that is why I believe that tournaments, like the culture gathering Cosmos Copa, are vital to continued societal development and progress.

Please visit and fund my IndieGogo campaign for this project!

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When a Writer Tries to Write His Own Story

The absolute biggest challenge I am facing as a writer trying to execute a big plan, like going to another continent and covering their sports, is getting the right people to listen. And, falling short on that, getting lots of people to listen with money. I have been unable to generate the interest of people willing to help fund or publish this venture. Which happens, I’m a new writer and people are always cautious about what is new. I am in no way short on comments that it is an interesting and worthwhile project, but turning that into interest that has funding behind it has been tough.

The initial story I wrote for myself is that I would find someone to publish these stories and pay me for them. Simply enough, right? Good luck Mr. Yeoman. I have not received any real response from anyone….at all. A few secretaries/assistants have responded with encouragement of continuing to speak with editors, and I have, but it will take some more time to knock that wall down. “So we beat on, boats against the currents,” etc. The back-up story that I wrote for myself was to start an IndieGogo campaign. I currently have $15. I am not a fundraiser, I suppose I will have to learn. Or become a better known writer. Hm. It is all part of The Journey Getting There, I suppose.

Positive aspects are that I continue to build relationships with people in all sorts of positions. I have contacts in New York, Boston, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Darfur, Senegal, Vermont, and a number of others. You get the idea though, this is a big project that covers a large cross section of people and plenty of the Earth. I can’t possibly do this on my own and I thank every one of these people for their help so far. It only gets bigger from here. That is the truly interesting aspect of all this, I keep finding more to write about. Everyone wants their story told, and most are worth telling. I will keep working so I can tell their stories through this soccer blog and the book I wish to write. It seems like the right thing to do.

Please visit and fund my IndieGogo campaign for this project!

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