Municipal de Fútbol, where Angelenos do not fear to tread

Holy Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox Church at 4900 Cleland Avenue blends fútbol and faith in five-a-side format. (Photograph © 2008 Michael Wells from Municipal de Fútbol, © 2008 Christoph Keller Editions, Textfield. Used by permission.)

Doyle’s eye takes in fútbol‘s intrinsically political aspects. She lives near Bellevue Park in the Rampart district, space designated in 1996 for $2 million in improvements that took 10 years to achieve. An online report glosses over background to the decision by a citizens’ committee to make Bellevue more pastoral in character, with baseball fields as centerpiece. Closed for nearly two years, the park reopened in 2006 with strategically placed boulders to help prevent pickup soccer games and with signs to make the point clear: “No Soccer/No Fútbol.” Area residents had connected “rough and tumble” pickup games that used to feature at the park to drug trafficking and guns, demonstrating how soccer, Latinos and crime quickly become linked in public imagination. “You can’t talk about fútbol and parks in Los Angeles without stirring up passion and making people nervous,” Doyle writes, adding later:

[T]he resistance to fútbol is a form of border patrol, an attempt to regulate the culture of public space in a city whose identity has, since at least the 1950s, been bound up in the dream of bourgeois privacy—home ownership and tossing a baseball around with your kid in your own back yard. (Municipal de Fútbol, 79).

Los Angeles suffers from an open-space shortage; according to the LA Times, only 33 percent of city residents live within a quarter-mile of a park. Last summer, the first new downtown park since 1895 opened to help address what advocates call a “nature deficit disorder” and latent discrimination in denying recreation to poorer sections of the city.

Further evidence of how fútbol revises the suburban stereotypes of American soccer are the presence of mixed-ethnicity women’s teams in the municipal leagues. Doyle writes that women players have pushed outside their comfort zones such that soccer becomes a stronger bond than identification as Latina, Filipina, Anglo and so on. The Times last year profiled a side of Guatemalan women who have been playing as an adjunct to an independent youth league in MacArthur Park—setting for early scenes in the schlocky FIFA-backed serial Goal: The Dream Begins. Curiously, being able to play a sport denied them in Guatemala has made them feel more like Americans with, according to one player, “the freedom to play for yourself” (see 30 Jun 07 on the documentary Estrellas de la Línea, produced in Guatemala City).

Soccer also has transformed Doyle’s relationship to the city by breaking down entrenched socioeconomic patterns. Perhaps the latest big-budget AEG transfer, Marta Vieira da Silva of Los Angeles Sol, will find more success connecting to the grassroots than Becks could manage. Doyle issues an invitation from the center of the pitch at Lafayette: “I am here, and I am ready to play.”

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