Late afternoon, early spring, a vanilla sky descending upon us and tinting the surrounds with soft, pastel brushstrokes. A large group of young men from the neighborhood sit in the cement stands surprisingly patient and disciplined, only their anxious, excited eyes betraying an otherwise cool resolve. A sort of calm before the storm you might say. They listen as Adam and Yazid go through League Rules. Finished, the two look over to me. A beat passes before I snap out of my reverie.
Then, with my feet quickly back on the ground, I begin drafting the forty-three players who arrived on Monday evening to take part in our newly formed soccer league. We balance age, size, and skill in assigning them to one of five, historic franchises. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Lyon, Bayern Munich, and Arsenal. They are all greeted by their respective coach and team manager, a collection of gifted and generous volunteers (not to mention precocious footballing minds) that have stepped forward to help Adam and I in the running of the league. I walk around as the teams begin to talk strategy, positioning, what do you think lads, are we designed for the orthodox, efficient, structured and technical play of the Germans? We’ve got some height…perhaps we should look to get the ball wide and knock in crosses like the English. They’ve been convinced of the aerial game’s merits since WWII, after all, and have seen (some) success. Or are we more South American in character, players that need space for individual expression, freedom for flair and cheeky touches, for dribbling displays, spontaneity, spur of the moment creativity?
I’d imagine the conversations went down like that, at least. My Arabic is not quite the stuff of legends yet. Whatever the content of the team huddles, however, after about ten minutes of discussion, the Nablus Premier League (although Champion’s League is probably a more fitting title) at long last officially kicked off. Battling it out on the asphalt pitch that lies just outside the ground floor of the TYO facility, the night witnessed spirited contests, striking displays of skill and collaboration, and even a last second winning goal delivered by Mohammed Hassameh of Real Madrid.
The matches all ran fifteen minutes (five in total) as Adam, myself, and our incredible translators refereed, organized, registered players, passed through a few transfer orders, and were swept up in the great energy of the young men. In view of the league’s auspicious debut and the incredible enthusiasm these young folks displayed, thrilled and appreciative just to have a place to compete, to socialize, to be young and enjoy the camaraderie of youth sports, I feel safe in predicting wonderful success going forward.
In case you were wondering, Arsenal sits atop the Table right now with two convincing wins, the team pushing forward with the same understated confidence that their manager Ali Ramadan displays on the sideline. Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are just three points behind with a match in hand, while Lyon and Barcelona are still working out the kinks at the bottom of the standings. With the temperature rising and the days growing longer, I can’t wait to watch as the League really hits its stride in the weeks to come.
Until next time, stay fly.