Pinny lanes | On the margins and in the barrens, soccer gains a foothold

Link to Bangor Daily News article
Celebrating Washington County’s wild-blueberry heritage is Wild Blueberry Land in Columbia Falls. The site features gift shop and baking on premises, as well as lots of blue paint. (Copyright © 2006 Alice Sneary)

Deblois, Maine | In the part of the state that Mainers call Down East, soccer has flourished along with a bumper crop of wild blueberries. For the seventh consecutive summer, migrant blueberry harvesters, many from Mexico, on Aug 19 contested former area high school players for the Wyman’s Cup. The cup is named for the Jasper Wyman and Son blueberry processing company based in Washington County, the source of some 90 percent of the nation’s wild blueberries, and represents one of several grassroots soccer stories recently in the news.

Surprising organizers, several hundred spectators turned out for the 6 p.m. match, a fixture set only after the harvesting had been completed faster than expected (see Katherine Cassidy,Soccer Tourney Caps Blueberry Harvest,” Bangor Daily News, Aug 21). “It’s like a Fellini movie” said Wyman president Ed Flanagan of the stream of cars arriving at the remote field. Occupants set out blankets and lawn chairs and drank beer while watching the Mexican side prevail 3–2 over the locals.

Some 300 Hispanic workers, from Mexico and Honduras, work seasonally for the Wyman company. Honduran workers, in fact, asked to play soccer as well and were scheduled for a game versus Mexico on Sunday. Overall, an estimated 8,000 migrants work at a dozen camps in Washington County. About 65 percent are Hispanic with many of the rest from the Passamaquoddy and Micmac tribes of Maine and Canada (Katherine Cassidy, “Harvest Harmony,” Bangor Daily News, Aug 15).

A compelling description of the area comes from

The barrens are a stark, wild, almost surreal landscape, a smooth undulating carpet of blueberry plants, rhodora, tea-berry and bracken with only an occasional lonely pine or great glacial boulder to break the horizon. In June the barrens are speckled with the white blossoms and on a nice summer’s day the air is thick with the fragrance of ripening berries and sun-warmed laurel.

Link to showcases another of the unique soccer cultures in the USA (Amy Bracken,Embracing Refugee Youths with Soccer,” Aug 15). Ten thousand refugees from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe resettled in the Rust Belt hamlet of Utica, New York, have struggled to assimilate, but the pickup football matches at a local high school have proven popular with the large numbers of youth. Refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burma, Somalia (Bantu), Haiti, El Salvador and Jamaica mingle and create an ad hoc community, while a local refugee center assists with language and job training.

Many immigrants and refugees here call soccer the one reliable joy in a transient and difficult life. But also, in this depressed town, soccer brings together those who might otherwise live in isolation from one another. Before, during, and after games, players ask each other where they learned to play soccer, what the rules are in their country, and what the conditions were.

Local youth clubs have noticed the talent on offer. Win Zaw, 14, of the Karen refugee community from Burma, played with former Burmese national-team members at refugee camps in Thailand. One hundred and twenty more Burmese families are due to be resettled in coming months. “[T]he only word they had to hear was “soccer,’ ” says youth coach Mike Koperda of the new arrivals, “and that was enough to inspire them.”

Moving south, the annual International Festival in Baltimore from Aug 5–6 featured a soccer tournament. “It reminds me of my home country,” Sergut Admasu, of Ethiopia, told the Baltimore Sun while watching Ethiopia versus El Salvador. “You don’t see people [here] playing soccer this often.”

The Washington Post published a recent front-page feature on the attraction of area Latino soccer leagues—and the relatively lucrative construction jobs that go with them—to professionals from Central America (Nick Miroff,Constructing Lives Off the Soccer Field,” Aug 7). For example, Calros Nerio of El Salvador, working in suburban Virginia in the off-season and playing for Liga de Manassas, “makes more in a week installing windows and doors than he made in a month as a pro fútbolista.” More than 30 Latino men’s leagues field teams in Washington, with between 8,000 and 12,000 players competing each weekend. (See also 11 Apr 06.)

Finally, lest one think the grassroots phenomenon is confined to the Northeast and Atlantic states, the Kansas City Star reports on a local league for African teams (Peter Makori,Soccer Brings Together Kenyans in KC,” Aug 13). Kenya FC brings together former Kenya Premier League players, but, again, serves a unifying function and as a bridge between ethnic camps.

“Since we formed this team, we always have reason to meet,” says Nassir Ali, president of the Organization of Kenyans in Kansas City.


In the Washington Post on 5 Nov 06, David Montgomery details how soccer flavors the memory of Oscar Antonio Argueta, a day laborer who died suddenly following a match sponsored by Maryland immigrant advocacy group CASA (“One Final Gift”).

He decorated the apartment with photos of his soccer teammates. He played in two leagues. He asked [fiancee Dilcia Areli] Banegas to wash his uniforms extra carefully, by hand. Sometimes he would come home with his feet so swollen that he said it was time to hang up his cleats. But by the next weekend, he’d be eager to play again.

“He used to say, ‘I’m going to die playing,’ ” Banegas says.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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  1. Brian says:

    Minor correction: Utica, New York, is a city. Its population is around 60,000. It may be a hole (though, in fairness, I haven’t been there in about eight or nine years), but it’s not exactly a hamlet.

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