Municipal de Fútbol, where Angelenos do not fear to tread

Interview with Doyle on Jan 29. (34:15) Download »

Municipal de Fútbol consists of two books of pictures from architectural and freelance photographer Michael Wells, accompanied by Doyle’s writing. Doyle’s essays have also been translated into Spanish. (The Municipal package includes lithographs, poster and adidas-branded European jersey. The apparel company financed the project as a prelude to the 2008 European Championship.) The lead title examines games across the city while a second volume, Lafayette Park, shows soccer as urban fixture in the Westlake district.

One hesitates to call Lafayette Park a greenspace; this is grassroots soccer in the figurative sense. Below topknotted palms, surfaces vary from paved to plastic to eroded. Six-a-side games of teams outfitted in familiar club and country strips take place inside 10-foot-high fencing. The park seems to be, as Doyle says, “its own universe.”

One of Wells’s pictures shows a referee—the arbiter’s striped acrylic stretching a wee more than desirable at waist and buttock—flashing a red card and pointing to the touchline, or possibly to Superior Court for adjudication. His hand and index finger are unyielding, like the Grim Reaper motioning toward the beyond. Spectators hang on the border fence, evidence that these games remain under scrutiny, night and day. “I get more nervous before playing in Lafayette Park than I do anywhere, doing anything,” says Doyle. “Stepping onto the pitch feels like launching my body into empty space. Even writing this, I can feel my heart rate go up.”

During matches Doyle hears Spanish, Mixtec, Tagalog, Korean, French, Russian and Armenian and alludes to the late Gloria Anzaldúa, the Mexican American poetess who envisioned “una cultura mestiza” (culture of mixed blood), as an inspiration:

Local fútbol culture is incomprehensible when viewed from on high, or by people thinking with a monolingual mind. Administrators shrug their shoulders. Universities look right past their back yards. Anglo newspapers have better things to write about. From behind their desks, men write memos to each other: Who can make sense of this place? (Municipal de Fútbol, 79)

To an outsider’s eye, the city league structure, grouped into 14 divisions by age and gender, looks like a stunning example of urban efficiency. Online tables are up to date. The parks and recreation department publishes lists of suspended players, recording the fees, dates of payment and receipt numbers. Several at this point in the winter/spring season have been assessed the maximum levy, $50. These players have also been tarred with the scarlet-letter designation “Out of League.”

Yet outside the municipal structure in which she competes—on Cougars of the women’s “B” division—Doyle refers to a chaotic and decentralized administration that has resulted in independent leagues monopolizing field permits and parceling them out to groups further down the pecking order (see Tony Barboza, “Santa Ana, Other Cities Clamp Down on Soccer Leagues Selling Access to Public Playing Fields,” Los Angeles Times, 31 Aug 08). The LA Times has also reported on figures such as Raul Macias, a Guadalajara native whose efforts to build a soccer league and advocacy for fields in northeast Los Angeles have turned him into something of a ward heeler. As an extension of this organizing work, he attracts crowds to political meetings by promising games and fútbol clinics. Locally produced Fútbol Mania estimates that southern California has 2,000 Latino leagues.

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