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Posts Tagged ‘football’

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Paul Watson (right) and Matthew Conrad arriving in Pohnpei to reenergize Micronesian soccer. Previous coach Charles Musana, from Uganda, came along to do introductions.

Sometimes giving up on your dream lands you in the wrong profession. That’s what happened to Paul Watson. He wasn’t good enough to play Olympic soccer. So he tried soccer journalism, but it bored him. Then he and his friend, just for fun, started researching teams they could have qualified for had they been born in those countries.

James Parkinson reports at the WBUR radio show Only a Game, “From the time he was very young, Paul Watson had one dream: to play soccer.

” ‘My first passion was that I would play for England,’ he says. ‘You know, that was the dream. Despite not having any talent, really. No discernible sort of natural talent. [As] the years went on, it got less and less likely.’ …

“So he became a football [soccer] journalist who kept his dream alive by playing for a semi-pro team. But he says, that wasn’t enough. …

“In 2008, Paul Watson and his flatmate Matthew Conrad found themselves reflecting on their footballing dreams, wondering what life could have been like if they had made it in the professional game.

” ‘We would sit around in the evenings and kind of watch Brazilian second division football and sort of lament our lack of talent,’ Paul remembers. ‘And, one day, like a lot of fans probably around the world, we came up with the thing of saying, “Well, what team could we have played for if we’d been born there?” … We trawled through the FIFA rankings, got to the very, very bottom. … That was when we found the non-FIFA rankings — you know, places that aren’t recognized by FIFA. At the bottom of that was this island, Pohnpei.’

“Pohnpei: it’s an island in Micronesia. Population: just over 36,000. …

” ‘We sent them an email to the address that we could find for them. And that was it. That was supposed to be the end of it. But it was only actually when their head of their FA got back to us and said, “You know, I’d love to help you, but I’ve just moved to London.” ‘ …

“That man was Charles Musana, a Ugandan who had spent 15 years on the island of Pohnpei playing and coaching football.

” ‘And he said to us: “You can’t go there and play. It’s harder to get a Micronesian nationality than it is to get a British one. … Why don’t you come over and coach? The team’s basically disbanded, so come over and coach the team.” And I think he thought we’d laugh about that and go home. But instead, we said, “Yes.”  …

” ‘It was a good sort of 13 months ’til we actually were able to leave because, you know, we had to save up money, we had to give up jobs,’ Paul says. …

” ‘My long-term girlfriend — and now wife, amazingly — Lizzie, basically said, “You should do this. It’s something you want to do.” …

‘Crazy as it might seem, the thing I was most worried about, that gave me sleepless nights, was that someone would get their first,’ Paul says. …

“After 13 months of research, Paul and Matt finally booked their flights to Pohnpei. They were only planning to stay for three weeks to assess the situation. …

“Charles Musana, the man who proposed the idea of coaching the team in the first place, would come along to make introductions. …

“After 24 hours in the air, Paul and Matt arrived in Pohnpei.

” ‘It’s a U.S. protectorate, so it has a bit of a U.S. feel to it,’ Paul says. “Uses the dollar. But in many ways, it’s a tropical paradise. You know, it’s this incredible, shocking greenery and beautiful blue ocean. It’s absolutely stunning. It’s just such a friendly island. Everyone nods to everyone. It’s incredibly laid back. You drive at about 10 mph, and you swerve around all the potholes.’ …

” ‘We met the head of the Olympic committee in Micronesia — he’s called Jim Tobin, a really amazing American man who’s administrated sport there for years. … We were going down to the field every day and just seeing what level of interest there was.

” ‘And it would range. You know, some days we had a five-on-five kick around on this sort of flooded field. Other days, it would get up to sort of 20 people kicking around. Some days, we’d arrange everyone to turn up at 6:00 — they’d get there at 8:00. You know, it was a mess. But there was interest, and there were kids coming out and kicking a football who’d never done it before. There was some who were actually clearly really good.’ …

“When their three weeks on the island were up, Paul and Matt returned home to plan their next move. For Matt, that decision was taken out of his hands. He had gotten into film school — something he’d always wanted to do. But Paul decided to return to Pohnpei and take the coaching job.

“There was no pay. …

” ‘In a weird way, I felt more comfortable that way. Because if I’d taken on a professional role and commanded a salary, it wouldn’t have felt particularly ethical. Because I would have felt I was painting myself as something I wasn’t. … I was getting more out of this than they were in many ways. So it felt like a deal that made sense.’…

“When he returned to Pohnpei, he met a young man named Dilshan Senarathgoda.

” ‘He had been coaching this group of young kids. So I met up with him, and he was absolutely over the moon that I was there,’ Paul says.”

Read what happened next at WBUR, here.

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Northampton Town v Forest Green Rovers - Sky Bet League Two

Photo: Pete Norton/Getty Images
Reuben Reid (front) of the Forest Green Rovers in England went fully vegan after the team’s owner introduced healthful food. He says it’s made a huge difference in his life.

Even after the retirement of founding host Bill Littlefield, the WBUR show Only a Game continues to have stories that appeal to sports lovers and lay people alike. I got a kick out of this one about England’s vegan soccer team.

Gary Waleik was the reporter.

“The menu at sports events has traditionally been a bit limited … and unhealthy. Especially at soccer games in England.

” ‘On a match day, you’re looking at a lot of sausages, burgers, bacon sandwiches. Quick and easy fried food,’ says Forest Green Rovers striker Reuben Reid. His team is broadening its menu with healthier fare. But that’s just one part of a much larger mission.

“In 2010, Forest Green Rovers, then a fifth-tier football club in Nailsworth, England, was in financial trouble. Dale Vince, who loved the sport as a kid, was approached by the team.

” ‘They said they needed a little bit of help to get through the summer,’ Vince says. ‘And I thought it would be a nice thing to do — because we could, so we should. But within a couple of months, it was clear that they needed much more than just a little bit of money.

” ‘And they said to me, “You really need to be the Chairman.” And I said, “I really don’t. I’ve got so much else to do.” But I then faced the choice — if I walked away, they would fold.’

“It was heady stuff for a guy who, two decades before, was living a hermit’s life on a hill in England’s bucolic Cotswolds region.

” ‘I had an old U.S. Air Force radar trailer that I rescued from a scrap yard and converted into a home,’ Vince says.

“In 1991, he was traveling in Cornwall. And something caught his eye.

” ‘It was England’s first modern, proper wind farm,’ Vince says. … That inspired him to build his own windmill farm, beginning in 1996. He called his new company Ecotricity. It was a big risk.

” ‘When I got started, renewable energy powered about 2 percent of Britain,’ Vince says. ‘Last year, it was 30 percent. And we’ve grown to be a company of about 700 people supplying about 200,000 customers.’ …

” ‘I saw the opportunity to use football as a new channel to speak to a new audience of people about sustainability,’ Vince says. ‘It’s still a football club, but it’s become something else, as well.’ …

” ‘We cut red meat out of the menu straight away for the players. We did it across the whole ground at the same time, so staff and fans and visitors as well. And then we took a series of other steps over the next couple of years toward full-on veganism.’

“The team dropped all meat, fish and dairy. By 2015, Dale Vince was the Chairman of the world’s first vegan sports team.

‘There were people at the time that said, “You’re gonna kill the club. Nobody’s gonna eat it. This kinda stuff,’ Vince remembers.”

Read more here.

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Photo: Steven Senne/AP
New England Patriots 23-year-old rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell joined a suburban women’s book club when he was at the University of Georgia.

Here’s great story that John sent me. He had been to an event at Life is good and heard a young football player talk about the sequence of events that followed his joining a women’s book club.

Emmett Knowlton wrote about the football player at Business Insider.

“New England Patriots 23-year-old rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell is perhaps the biggest book lover in the NFL and, now, a published children’s-book author — all thanks to a chance encounter in a bookstore.

“In a fun story in The Boston Globe back in May, Mitchell said that when he was a junior at the University of Georgia, he decided to join a suburban, all-women’s book club after a serendipitous meeting with one of the members in the stacks of a Barnes & Noble.

” ‘I was there picking up “Me Before You,” the next book for the club,’ Silverleaf Book Club member Kathy Rackley told The Globe. ‘Malcolm walked up to me and said: “Can I ask you something? Can you recommend a book?” ‘

“Rackley had no idea that Mitchell was a star receiver on the Georgia Bulldogs, but the two got to chatting. When Rackley revealed that she was in a book club, Mitchell asked if he could join, and the two exchanged contact information. …

“Two days later, Mitchell showed up to the meeting. From The Globe

‘ “I didn’t mind [inviting him] at all,” [the hostess] recalled. “Because I didn’t think there was any way he’d show up!” But he did and [impressed] the group with his thoughts and opinions — and his own life experiences. …

“Mitchell continued to participate in the club, and he became a real book lover. According to The Globe, he was often found reading at his football locker, and when it was his turn to recommend a book he made his new friends read Marcus Luttrell’s ‘Lone Survivor.’

” ‘The book club helped me grow into a better individual, a person who learns and grows throughout life in general,’ Mitchell said.

“Mitchell’s current lifestyle has made it difficult for him to regularly attend the club. But he remains an avid reader, and he recently published a children’s book, ‘The Magician’s Hat,’ about the magical powers of reading. He started a foundation, too, called Read With Malcolm, that encourages childhood literacy.” More here.

I love the openness and enthusiasm of a guy who would ask a stranger for a book recommendation and then ask to attend the book club!

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If you’re a country called Ireland and your soccer team doesn’t make it into the 2014 World Cup competition in Brazil, what do you do?

Change the “r” in your name to “c” and adopt another team.

I like David Trifunov’s headline at the Global Post, where you can read the background: “Iceland closes in on World Cup bid. Wait … Iceland has a soccer team?”

He continues, “Iceland is now one game away from becoming the smallest nation ever to advance to a World Cup. … It started in 2008 when the national economy, under the weight of an inflated currency, tanked.

“The modest Iceland soccer league cut ties with nearly all its more expensive foreign players, leaving the door wide open for homegrown talent. They took advantage, getting the experience they needed. …

“Ireland is one frustrated World Cup nation that has taken notice. At least the fans have. Eoin Conlon and friends were lamenting their country’s failed attempt to reach Brazil when he realized there’s only one nation that deserves their support now.

“ ‘And we kind of laughed, saying: “Well, that’s as close as Ireland’s going to get to Brazil. It’s only a letter difference. A ‘c’ for an ‘r.’ We might as well be brothers,” Conlon told Public Radio International.

“So they struck up a website and Twitter profile to encourage Irish football fans to back tiny Iceland.

“ ‘There are only about 320,000 people in Iceland,’ Conlon told PRI. ‘So if they were a county in Ireland — I’m calling them the 33rd county — it would [be] only the fifth-largest county in Ireland.’ ”

More here.

Photo: (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)
Iceland’s striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, right, and Croatian defender Vedran Corluka vie for the ball during their World Cup playoff in Reykjavik on November 15, 2013. 

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The Manhattan Paris Saint-Germain soccer team is made up of both rich and poor boys from many cultures. Coach Wilson Egidio thinks the team’s diversity is part of its success.

Vivian Yee has the story at the New York Times. She writes that Amara, for example, “joined the team after an eagle-eyed former player for Mr. Egidio spotted him playing on a Bronx playground. [He] wound up scoring the goal that made Paris Saint-German the first Manhattan youth club to reach the national playoffs.

“For the players, their coaches and parents, the team’s diversity is a source of success as well as pride. Their international styles, they say, add fluidity and creativity to their game.

“Combined with Mr. Egidio’s Brazilian approach — he grew up in Brazil and played professional soccer there — that could be key in the national tournament.”

Click here to read about this week’s competition and the backgrounds of the players.

Photograph: Christopher Gregory, New York Times

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