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Global Soccer, Global NYC

Soccer in NYC Reimagined Through the Rivalries, Identity, Migration, and Politics of the World's Game in the Preeminent Global City

Morocco fans in Astoria, Queens celebrate after Issam El Adoua’s header puts them up 1-0 over South Africa in their Africa Cup of Nations group match.

Africa Cup of Nations. Morocco 2 - South Africa 

27 January 2013, 12:00 pm. Casa Lounge, Astoria Queens

Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens is home to the largest Moroccan population in New York City and Casa Lounge, a Moroccan-owned hookah spot, has been the undisputed destination in the neighborhood to catch Morocco’s Africa Cup of Nations matches this year.

Needing a win to progress out of a surprisingly competitive Group A, the Atlas Lions came out strong against a South African side needing at least a draw. Morocco opened the scoring after Issam El Adoua’s header capitalized on some sloppy South African defending in the 10th minute.

As it bounced over the line, the early goal seemed to catch the awestruck Moroccan fans in Queens, at least 75 strong, a bit off guard. Their joy was palpable immediately however, with national team kit-bedecked fans unfurling large red Morocco flags, chanting “wal Maghrib, wal Maghrib” and kissing each other while pointing to the heavens in gratitude.

Unfortunately, a bit of the celebratory momentum was lost when Casa Lounge’s Arabic satellite TV feed went down half way through the first half. A frustrating “channel error connection failed” message hovered ominously over the proceedings as concerned Moroccan fans took to their cell phones in hopes of not missing any of the action in between sips of extortionist-priced $5 mint teas.

Thankfully, the satellite feed came back a few minutes into the second half shortly before May Mahlangu’s composed curling finish from the top of the box in the 71st minute leveled the proceedings in Durban and scaled-up the blood pressure of the Moroccan fans in Queens.

Fate’s cruel twists continued for the Moroccans as they first went back ahead 2-1 after substitute Abdelilah Hafid’s late 82nd minute strike sent the fans on Steinway Street into a rapturous celebration just as the feeble Arabic satellite feed went out once again.

Only four minutes later, however, with many fans nervously pushed into the back of Casa Lounge hoping to catch a glimpse of the reserve internet feed, only available on one of the TVs by this point, South Africa tied the match with Siyabonga Sangweni’s clutch 86th minute bending effort.

The goal effectively sent South Africa through and broke Moroccan hearts. One man at Casa Lounge spiked his mint tea in disgust, and profanity-lanced Arabic diatribes filled the air in Queens as teary knocked-out Moroccan players collapsed on the pitch in Durban.

Cross-posted to Africa is a Country

Moroccan fans on Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens go wild just as Abdelilah Hafid scores in the 82nd minute against South Africa during the Africa Cup of Nations. 

Moroccan fans on Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens go wild just as Abdelilah Hafid scores in the 82nd minute against South Africa during the Africa Cup of Nations. 

A Moroccan fan nervously watches the action against South Africa during an Africa Cup of Nations match in Astoria, Queens. 

A Moroccan fan nervously watches the action against South Africa during an Africa Cup of Nations match in Astoria, Queens. 

Derby of Eternal Enemies. Olympiacos FC 2 - Panathinaikos FC 2

9 December 2012, 12:30 pm. Olympiacos FC Supporters Club NY, Astoria Queens

The incredibly heated Greek match pitting Olympiacos FC against Panathinaikos FC is also known as both the “Derby of the Eternal Enemies” or “The Mother of All Battles.” These descriptions are rather apt, especially considering some recent matches, and capture the enduring rivalry and the emotions wrapped up in it. The derby between the Red-Whites and the Greens is a social, cultural, and regional rivalry. Both of these teams are the two major clubs in Greece. Panathinaikos FC (PAO) was founded in 1908 and is located in the center of Athens. PAO is one of only two supporter-owned football clubs in Greece. They are considered the classic representative of the old upper class society of Athens.

Olympiacos FC, founded in 1925 and located in the port city of Piraeus, just outside central Athens, represents the working class citizens of the city. Olympiacos is the most successful club in Greek football history winning 39 league titles. Both fan bases hate each other whenever they meet regardless of if it is in Athens or in Astoria.

The Olympiacos FC Supporters club has been in New York for 16 years. Located on 30th Avenue in Astoria, Queens conveniently above the Acropolis Meat Market, the members only fan club has been central to the large community of Greek immigrants living in Astoria. It was filled on a recent Sunday afternoon for the Derby with Greek men drinking coffee and cheering on their team. The atmosphere was amazing and became even better after Olympiacos scored two first half goals after being one down to take a 2-1 lead before the break. Panathinaikos leveled in the 67th, but the draw didn’t dampen the mood too much among the Olympiacos fans as they sit comfortably at the top of the league and a massive 16 points ahead of their arch rival.   

At the Olympiacos supports club, after we assured them we were not undercover FBI agents, we even had the opportunity to sit in the VIP section that included a small office and one flat screen TV after being invited by George (the club’s main caretaker/one of the head honchos) and Alex (an avid supporter). A special thanks goes out to both of them for their gracious hospitality during the Derby of Eternal Enemies. 

Clássico dos Milhões. Flamengo 1 - Vasco de Gama 1

27 November 2012, 5:00 pm. Villa Café Brazil Grill, Rio Market, Joe’s Pizzeria, and Copacabana Steakhouse, Astoria Queens

Astoria is home to the largest concentration of Brazilians in NYC and the Brazilian community is centered along 36th Avenue and 30th street, although it also dots a few other areas within Astoria and Long Island City.

Having seen other matches at Villa Café Brazil Grill in the past over tasty churrasco and Brahma beers, we didn’t foresee the possibility of the restaurant being filled to the brim not with Brazilians watching the Clássico dos Milhões, perhaps the most important derby match in Brazil, but instead dozens of middle-aged Brazilian women glued to a popular telenovela.

Skillful improvisation was needed and we proceeded to head west to Rio Market and Travel Agency in hopes of catching the match. Despite having a popular sit down cafe and offering a bevy of imported Brazilian products, including nearly every kind of soccer accessory for all the main teams in the country, a TV and the elusive match were nowhere to be found. Apparently, the TV had been removed years ago because fans would sit all day and watch soccer matches and not buy anything. It apparently worked because, surprisingly, there were no Flamengo or Vasco fans in sight anywhere in the area.       

A customer at the market informed us that since the Campeonato Brasileiro had already been won by Fluminense, the Clássico dos Milhões between Rio de Janeiro’s two biggest teams was just not as important this year.

"Poor scheduling," he said disappointingly. Demographics of Brazilian migration to NYC are also changing as more young men are now staying in Brazil as their economy continues to grow, employment options increase, and the allure of an expanding middle class becomes more attractive than working menial jobs in Queens

As we left Rio Market disappointed and about to admit defeat, we walked by a seemingly nondescript pizza place, Joe’s, with no one inside except for two employees and a TV showing the Clássico dos Milhões. 

The match was sparsely attended in Rio but still featured the creativity, skill, improvisation, flair, and comical absence of tactical defending that often characterizes the Brazilian game. Vasco went up 1-0, but Flamengo equalized through a somewhat fortuitous Marcos Gonzales shoulder in the box in the dying minutes.

After the match ended, we drowned the sorrows of our fruitless search for Clássico dos Milhões fans in Astoria in the most delicious way possible: by-the-pound churrasco buffet and açaí juice from Copacabana Grill.

Who would have thought it would be so hard to find Brazilian soccer fans watching one of Brazilian soccer’s biggest matches in the largest Brazilian community in NYC?

El Clásico. Barca 2 - Real Madrid 2

7 October 2012, 1:30 pm. Casa Galicia Social Club, Astoria Queens

Perhaps the most famous of all global soccer rivalries, the heated and at least twice-a-year matchup between F.C. Barcelona and Real Madrid, universally known as El Clásico, now attracts a live global TV audience of more than 400 million people

It divides fan bases the world over, but also continues to split Spain itself, as the match has been traditionally intertwined with the Catalan succesion movement and Real Madrid’s personification of central authority— both royal and dictatorial during the Franco years. This year, the match took upon an even greater meaning with the Spanish economy continuing to weaken and a renewed movement for Catalan independence gaining considerable strength. In the days prior to this fall’s El Clásico, the political overtones in many ways overshadowed the match itself with over 98,000 Barca fans hoisting up yellow and red Catalan flag-colored cards to make “the biggest ever version of the Catalan national flag” and "nearly 100,000 voices in a sold-out Camp Nou set to bellow "Independence! Independence!" at two carefully co-ordinated moments during the match." 

Over 200 predominately Spanish and Spanish-American fans gathered at Casa Galicia in Astoria to provide an incredible atmosphere and take in the action alongside bountiful and affordable tapas and Estrella beers. Founded in 1940 by Galician immigrants who arrived in Astoria after the Spanish civil war, the embassy-like Casa Galicia remains a members only social club that opens its doors solely to the in-the-know public for El Clásico twice a year and a small number of Spanish national team matches. Despite the evenly split bevy of Barca and Madrid kits on hand in Astoria on October 7th, there were no Catalan flags raised and most Barca supporters remained quiet during the two carefully-timed chants of “Independencia” taking place at the Camp Nou.

In the end, rather, it was the two biggest stars of the sport, Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, both non-Spaniards, that stole the show in Barcelona as well as in in Astoria. Each scoring two goals for their respective club, their captivating on-going duel to prove who is the greatest player in the world temporarily resonated larger than secessionist politics and renewed expressions of political nationalism.   

Barcelona and Real Madrid Fans at Casa Galicia Social Club. Astoria, Queens. 

Barcelona and Real Madrid Fans at Casa Galicia Social Club. Astoria, Queens.