HARLEM YOUTH SOCCER CLUB’S 15 MINUTES OF FAME, HANDED DOWN BY DAVID BECKHAM, WILL LAST LONGER WITH THE CONSTRUCTION NEXT YEAR OF A “WORLD CLASS” SOCCER FIELD IN THE BOROUGH
David Beckham and Ty Harden arrived in Harlem an hour early for the soccer clinic created for 30-or-so lucky FC Harlem under-12’s. The Red Bulls’ Juan Pablo Angel and Jozy Altidore, stuck in traffic, arrived about an hour later. Which was a good thing, because after experiencing first hand the blood thirsty papparazzi in action, I don’t want to think what would have happened if it was the other way around.
The photographers were crazier than the fans, and arguably outnumbered them. And there I am with my little Pentax Optio point-and-shoot in a sea of Canon SLR Cameras with lenses the size of my leg. Size has its priviledge. They got their HD, zooming close-ups and I muscled my little guy in there for what you’ll find after the jump. I now know, just a taste, of what it must be like to work for TMZ. I’ve never seen anything like this, but that had nothing to do with any of the soccer…
But it should have. Because something’s going on in Harlem.
The day started much much mellower. Before meeting FC Harlem’s director Irv Smalls in April of this year, when I thought of Harlem, I thought of jazz, the Apollo, soul music and soul food. I still think of those things, but now I first think of soccer.
“This is tale of god’s will. This is tale of god’s will.” The new Terrence Blanchard CD was swinging out of my iPod as I came up to empty Jacob Schiff Field around noontime. Blanchard’s inspirational requiem-of-sorts for New Orleans was in my ears, but in my mind were thoughts of the Power of one. What exactly can Beckham do for American soccer, for New York soccer, for Harlem soccer, for FC Harlem soccer?
FC Harlem went from a pipe dream in April, even May of this year to getting David Beckham to appear in order to help announce the first of what is hopefully many more soccer fields in Harlem and throughout New York City. Just a few weeks ago, Irv told me he had maybe 15 kids for his U12 team. At their last practice, he had more than 60 ranging in ages from 10-to-18. People often say in regard to Beckham’s arrival to MLS and the Galaxy, one man does not make a team. And Irv, I’m sure, can attest to that, as he’s had countless hands helping him build FC Harlem. But just as we’ve seen Beckham’s impact as a leader, these teams would be nothing without these men. The power of one can have an enormous effect.
Everything was ready to go, hours ahead of time (this is not my usual experience with soccer events in New York). It was ship-shape. Metal barricades outlining half the field. White tents to protect from the elements and act as dressing rooms. New FC Harlem jerseys, shorts, socks, and shoes laid out for the participating kids. Banners – MLS, MLS Works, FC Harlem, nothing with red bull on it – hanging on every viable open piece of fence. If there is one thing New York parks have a lot of, its fences. They needed more. If I learned one new thing today about this whole Beckham circus - and yes I can now say having witnessed it with my own eyes that it is indeed a circus – its that there is only so much control MLS or anyone this side of a riot squad can have over this thing. FC Harlem, MLS, and the Wizard production company contracted to help put on the event should be applauded for their efforts. And I hope they name the new field after Irv, a man whose immense dedication makes me question my own.
The actual goings-on were less than spectacular from a spectator’s perspective. The kids played around, kick and chase, kick and chase. Coaches place them in some semblance of order as the time neared. And when I say time, I mean the cameras are now rolling. Beckham and Harden arrived rather quietly and jumped right into the clinic with the kids. There was no enormous cheer as Beckham and that other guy slipped in through the back gate. What else would they be doing? Was that another MLS exception? Will the Red Bull players have to come through the front gate? Angel has to be a little pissed.
Some dribbling drills ensue, some small-sided scrimmages, though I’m not absolutely sure Webster would define this as a clinic. But there were pennies! Soon after Juan Pablo Angel and Jozy Altidore arrived (through the back gate), the players, both professional and youth, gathered around in front of the gawking cameras to address the crowd and explain that Surpise! – it’s not just a Beckham photo-op. It’s about giving kids a field in this here concrete jungle. “There will be gala in March of 2008 to benefit the construction of a new socc….”Hey move over. Your blocking becks! hey Sexy!” (actual quote from a female photographer muffled thanks only to the garlic press of bodies and amplified speaker.)
The pictures tell the rest of the story:
This is what passes for a pool in New York
(everyday is) a nice day for dominoes
So this guy showed up to scrimmage; does anyone want to play with him?
Kazunori Obuchi from Japan’s Fuji TV
Gol TV’s Julian Gonzalez. It’s hilarious watching broadcast reporters tape their bits; Julian went through his mini script – “This is another kind of Globetrotter” – several times. Definitely a harder job than it looks, contrived Harlem line or not. Glad to say Gonzalez came to the same opinion and scrapped it.
I didn’t get this little guy’s name, but that’s Big Apple Soccer and the NY Daily News’ Michael Lewis asking him some questions. There really wasn’t one answer today that was something you wouldn’t expect. “Everybody loves him. Me too.” – was my favorite answer from the kids.
The ridiculous scrum of photographers when Beckham ventured outside the main park fence for a few minutes to oblige some screaming fans. It never ceases to amaze me, amid the Britneys and Lindseys, how quiet, polite, and generous Beckham is. He takes everything in stride. His parents (or one hell of a handler) should be proud. I mean, look at the smile on the guy on the right.
Irv Smalls takes center stage.
The photographers were a mixed bunch of polite, rude, and insane. While Irv and even Beckham spoke, they were calling out for people to move out of the way so they could get a clear shot of Beckham. At one point i heard, “Get the kids with the dreadlocks. He is so Harlem. I wish we could get a shot of Beckham and that kid.” (and you wonder how stereotypes get perpetuated.
I couldn’t help but think in this moment that it must be nice for David Beckham, the father, to be able to share himself with kids. When he was around the kids, his smile was bigger, his attitude relaxed. A stiffer, more photogenic mask came on for the cameras. Sometimes it has to suck to be him.
Hands down highlight of the day: Fox Soccer Channel’s Max Bretos (center). In town for their broadcast of Saturday’s, Max and a small crew showed up to see what they could get. Not much, as the soccer-specific journalists quickly came to realize. I chatted with Max for awhile about FSC, and all topics soccer. On Beckham: “Even if it’s fleeting, the excitement, the euphoria I’ve seen has been great.” On the Galaxy making the playoffs: “oooh, it might be too late.” Max could not have been nicer or more laid back. We talked about his brother of all things. Turns out he is an environmentalist, so of course you know if you’ve been around these parts for very long that I bit on that bait, When I showed Max and his producer how while the rest of the media was hunkered down behind a fence, CNN had a tent set up inside the barricade, right next to the field and was going to get the single Beckham interview of the day, Max humorously replied, “CNN Dude. We’re down on the pecking order. Who is that Wolf Blitzer?” For the record. It was not.
Soccer America and NY Sun’s Paul Gardner interviewing Juan Pablo Angel
Jozy was gracious as always with the press, answering all questions asked of him for a good 15 minutes. “What do you think about playing Beckham?” That question was asked of him in about 329 variations. Then I got a chance. “So Jozy, the blog on NY Times?” his eyes lit up like a 17-year-old kid meeting David Beckham. He told me TIAS favorite Jack Bell inquired as to his interest in their new soccer blog GOAL, and Jozy jumped at it. To my surprise, Jozy said the plan is to post three contributions a week, and in the very least one a week. Great pull by Jack for the Times. It’s cool now, but will be even cooler if Jozy keeps it up when he leaves for Europe (by the way, that was the other question all the reporters asked to no avail).
The CNN interview. Beckham was not the focus today. (yeah right). It all got me thinking – why not build one bad ass field in every major urban neighborhood – in New York’s five boroughs you’d have five fields for example – or at least one in every city. Given the money that was represented on the field today, between Beckham, MLS, USSF, and the Parks Department, I don’t think that would even be a big deal.