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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


Aside from going to Brazil this summer, New York City might well be the best place on earth to experience the passion and diversity of the sport during the World Cup. This includes, of course, the overflowing, beer-soaked soccer pubs that host many of the NYC-based European supporters clubs. But locations like Nevada Smiths, Legends, and Smithfield, while institutions in their own right, tell only a small part of the story of soccer fans in 2014’s New York City, where 37 percent of its residents are foreign-born. 
In the outer boroughs and uptown, it is the community centers, social clubs, bakeries, grocery stores, bars, cafes, and juice stands that represent NYC fan culture in its principal form. Particularly during the World Cup, these locations harness and re-articulate national identity for immigrant communities in the city.
In my time chasing global soccer around the city as a fan, journalist, player, and student, I’ve seen septuagenarian Spanish men spill glasses of rioja on their bemused wives as they jumped on tables at a member’s only social club in Astoria; Ivorian cooks emerge teary-eyed from behind Harlem kitchens after a Yaya Touré belter; Argentinean fans in Elmhurst dance en masse while twirling umbrellas and singing at the top of their lungs; and Algerian supporters block traffic on Steinway Street while blasting Khaled out of flag-adorned SUV’s — to the chagrin of their Egyptian neighbors.
A yellow-clad woman kissed me at a Brazilian nightclub seconds after Il Fenomeno Ronaldo’s 79th-minute winner during the 2002 World Cup final. Her rather intimidating-looking significant other, who I had been standing next to all match, shrugged as he victoriously fist-pumped at the heavens. This made perfect sense to all three of us at the time.
I’ve seen high-ranking UN diplomats blow off important Security Council meetings to watch their teams play against each other. I have seen atheists turn deeply religious and back again during three minute stoppage time periods. I once saw a Senegalese Imam high-five early morning beer-drinkers on East 116th Street after Papa Bouba Diop’s stunner against France. I have witnessed so many contrasting emotions and mood swings played out over multiple 90-minute periods watching international soccer in NYC that they could warrant their own section in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
I have also seen firsthand what historian Eric Hobsbawm meant when he said that “The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of 11 named people.” Watching their national teams play, immigrant communities in NYC not only feel an acute connection to home, but also a sense of pride that their existence is recognized, albeit for a fleeting moment, both on the international and local stages.

Check out our piece on watching the World Cup in NYC as part of Roads & Kingdoms and Sports Illustrated’s The Far Post series.   We have also updated our match itinerary with upcoming fixtures we plan to cover, so stay tuned for new Global Soccer, Global NYC content in the coming weeks.  

Aside from going to Brazil this summer, New York City might well be the best place on earth to experience the passion and diversity of the sport during the World Cup. This includes, of course, the overflowing, beer-soaked soccer pubs that host many of the NYC-based European supporters clubs. But locations like Nevada Smiths, Legends, and Smithfield, while institutions in their own right, tell only a small part of the story of soccer fans in 2014’s New York City, where 37 percent of its residents are foreign-born. 


In the outer boroughs and uptown, it is the community centers, social clubs, bakeries, grocery stores, bars, cafes, and juice stands that represent NYC fan culture in its principal form. Particularly during the World Cup, these locations harness and re-articulate national identity for immigrant communities in the city.


In my time chasing global soccer around the city as a fan, journalist, player, and student, I’ve seen septuagenarian Spanish men spill glasses of rioja on their bemused wives as they jumped on tables at a member’s only social club in Astoria; Ivorian cooks emerge teary-eyed from behind Harlem kitchens after a Yaya Touré belter; Argentinean fans in Elmhurst dance en masse while twirling umbrellas and singing at the top of their lungs; and Algerian supporters block traffic on Steinway Street while blasting Khaled out of flag-adorned SUV’s — to the chagrin of their Egyptian neighbors.


A yellow-clad woman kissed me at a Brazilian nightclub seconds after Il Fenomeno Ronaldo’s 79th-minute winner during the 2002 World Cup final. Her rather intimidating-looking significant other, who I had been standing next to all match, shrugged as he victoriously fist-pumped at the heavens. This made perfect sense to all three of us at the time.


I’ve seen high-ranking UN diplomats blow off important Security Council meetings to watch their teams play against each other. I have seen atheists turn deeply religious and back again during three minute stoppage time periods. I once saw a Senegalese Imam high-five early morning beer-drinkers on East 116th Street after Papa Bouba Diop’s stunner against France. I have witnessed so many contrasting emotions and mood swings played out over multiple 90-minute periods watching international soccer in NYC that they could warrant their own section in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.


I have also seen firsthand what historian Eric Hobsbawm meant when he said that “The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of 11 named people.” Watching their national teams play, immigrant communities in NYC not only feel an acute connection to home, but also a sense of pride that their existence is recognized, albeit for a fleeting moment, both on the international and local stages.


Check out our piece on watching the World Cup in NYC as part of Roads & Kingdoms and Sports Illustrated’s The Far Post series. 

We have also updated our match itinerary with upcoming fixtures we plan to cover, so stay tuned for new Global Soccer, Global NYC content in the coming weeks.  

Africa Cup of Nations Final. Nigeria 1 – Burkina Faso 0

10 February 2013, 1:30 pm. The Shrine, Harlem

The Burkinabe and Nigerian expatriate communities were out in force for the Africa Cup of Nations final on Sunday afternoon in Harlem at the Burkinabe-owned music venue, The Shrine.

The Shrine was having a viewing party for the match, which couldn’t have been more appropriate for the West African dominated CAF final. The walls are festooned with Burkinabe traditional masks along with 1970s American Afro-centric LPs, which seemed to celebrate and exchange of not only music styles, but also American-African culture.

Despite preliminary worries about the viability of their Ghanaian satellite feed, The Shrine ended up drawing over a hundred fans that crowded around the packed, standing room-only bar to get a glimpse of the continent’s showpiece game on a large screen.

Nigeria came out very strong in the first half, going close on three occasions. Later, Burkina Faso found their rhythm through the omnipresent trickery and velcro-like first touch of player-of-the-tournament Jonathan Pitroipa.

In the 39th minute, a bit of magic from local boy Sunday Mba, who drilled home a golaso after flicking it up to himself on the run, broke the deadlock at Soccer City Stadium and ignited a chorus of cheers from the Super Eagles’ fans in Harlem. Two green-clad supporters even began taunting a dejected Burkina Faso fan by waving their scarves in his sad direction.

At halftime, a small stand near the front of the bar was doing brisk business hawking Burkina Faso football t-shirts as fans stocked up on beers for the final 45.

A Nigerian music promoter also took the opportunity to hop on stage and inform the crowd of an upcoming live performance by Naija artist 9ice at Buka Restaurant in Fort Greene.

After the break, Nigeria’s conservative lead-protectionist tactics gave Burkina Faso an opening as they pressed forward through some neat interplay between Pitroipa and Djakaridja Kone but Les Étalons’ final ball lacked the necessary quality.

Victor Moses’ strong hold-up play and runs for the Super Eagles were a constant threat on the counter, but Burkina Faso maintained their pressure— forcing a few fine saves from Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama.

Burkina Faso’s late forays into the Nigerian box continued to prove fruitless in the dying minutes as frustrated Burkinabe waiters and bartenders in Les Étalons kits cursed the screen under their breath in French while taking last-minute beer orders.

As the final whistle blew, the Nigerian fans began jumping up and down and waving green scarves, joyously yelling at the player celebrations on TV, and even hoisting small children up into the air. 

Though, a win by the underdog Burkina Faso would have been appropriate for their Cinderella-like ascension in the Cup, they have created a lasting name for themselves as strong competitors on the continent.

Instead, it was the Nigerians moment to bask in the glory. The Shrine even put on some carefully curated bass-heavy Naija hip-pop music over the very capable speakers and the crowd broke out into spontaneous dance to celebrate the Super Eagles’ third Afcon title and the long-awaited return of the trophy to West Africa for the first time in eleven years.

New York City certainly knows how to do the Africa Cup of Nations.

Cross-posted to Africa is a Country

(Source: globalsoccerglobalnyc)

Nigeria fans in Harlem celebrate the Super Eagles’ 2013 Africa Cup of Nations title after beating Burkina Faso in the final.  

A Burkina Faso fan walks down Adam Clayton Powell blvd in Harlem with a stuffed parrot after the African Cup of Nations final. 

A Burkina Faso fan walks down Adam Clayton Powell blvd in Harlem with a stuffed parrot after the African Cup of Nations final. 

Africa Cup of Nations. Ghana 2 - Cape Verde 0

2 February 2013, 10:00 am. Meytex Cafe, Flatbush Brooklyn

While the Ghanaian migrant community in New York City is centered in the Bronx, there is a smaller, yet equally as Afcon-enthusiastic population of Ghanaians in the Flatbush/Crown Heights neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Meytex Cafe on Flatbush Avenue is part social club, part Ghanaian restaurant, and part bar/party space that provides a social center for the Ghanaian community in Brooklyn and has been one of the premier locations to watch the Black Stars in New York City. 

Early on Saturday morning, fans crowded around the bar at Meytex next to framed photographs of noted Ghanaian and Pan-African luminaries such as Kwame Nkrumah, Haile Selassie, Kofi Annan, Bob Marley, Stephen Appiah, and William Jefferson Clinton to cheer on the Black Stars as they took on Cinderella-story Cape Verde while throwing back bottles of Guinness Foreign Extra.

Ghana’s defense looked shaky from the start but maintained its composure in the face of increasingly dangerous Cape Verdean attacks. After a rather uneventful first half, a controversial penalty kick was awarded when Asamoah Gyan went down in the box in the 51th minute and substitute Mubarak Wakaso coolly slotted it home.

The Ghanaians at Meytex cheered for Wakaso’s goal, but their enthusiasm was somewhat muted by their confidence, with at least forty vocal Brooklyn-based “assistant managers” jokingly offering tactical suggestions to the players and already talking up their chances for success in the final in a seamless blend of English and Twi.

The relaxed and jovial vibe of the crowd, perhaps facilitated by the early morning beers, was a fascinating counterpoint to the life-and-death seriousness of the Moroccans in Astoria and the Ivorians in Harlem from our Afcon-in-the-city travels last week.

After Ghana’s first goal, Cape Verde’s attack further grew in confidence as they threw numbers forward in hopes of an equalizer. Ghana’s defense again could barely keep up with the Blue Shark’s speedy wingers and were time and time again bailed out by man-of-the-match Ghanaian goalkeeper Dauda.

Then, with Cape Verde even sending their keeper forward on a corner in the dying minutes, Mubarak Wakaso found himself on a breakaway with an empty net and calmly put the match away to the victorious chanting of the Black Stars’ fans in Flatbush.

With the match settled, the live Ghanaian satellite feed immediately put on Obaa Yaa & Nana Perbi’s “Official Black Star Fire Song” (sponsored by the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation) as the waitress selected Hiplife mix CDs to keep the afternoon celebrations going. We settled our spicy peanut soup and fufu tab, thanked the owners, and told them we might be back for their upcoming Ghana Independence Day party.

Cross-posted to Africa is a Country

Ghana fans celebrate the Black Stars’ second goal in their Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinal victory over Cape Verde at Meytex Cafe in Flatbush, Brooklyn. 

Ghana fans celebrate the Black Stars’ second goal in their Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinal victory over Cape Verde at Meytex Cafe in Flatbush, Brooklyn. 

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. 

Ivorian fans in Harlem celebrate Gervinho’s opener against Tunisia in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Ivorian fans watch the Africa Cup of Nations at New Ivoire Restaurant in Harlem. 

Ivorian fans watch the Africa Cup of Nations at New Ivoire Restaurant in Harlem. 

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?

International “Friendly.” Colombia 1 - Brazil 1

14 November 2012, 8 pm. MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford NJ

While not a domestic club rivalry, the recent ‘friendly’ match between the national teams of Colombia and Brazil took place at a fascinating juncture for both teams. Brazil, being Brazil, were tasked with both exercising the demons of the last time they played in the NYC area— a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to arch rivals Argentina in June— as well as building a squad of potential World Cup winners to satisfy the legendarily critical domestic audience on the road to hosting the 2014 World Cup. Colombia, on the other hand, was playing their first friendly match in NYC for years and was eager to demonstrate its soccer resurgence to the heavily Colombian crowd.

Perhaps as a result of public transportation issues still affecting the region following hurricane Sandy in addition to the freezing November temperatures, MetLife Stadium’s attendance for the night only hit 39,000. Still, the Colombian supporters section rocked with every touch, pass, and shot for 90 minutes and dwarfed the noise of the outnumbered Brazilian fans at the match. Aided with smuggled into-the-stadium vuvuzelas, drums, and guacharacas, the multi-generational Colombian fans, many of whom made the pilgrimage to the stadium from Queens, relished the opportunity to cheer on their idols Falcao, James, Yepes, Guarín, and the others that comprise South America’s hottest and the world’s currently 8th ranked team.

"Following la seleccion was one of the earliest ways I began to learn about and celebrate my Colombian identity," said journalist and Colombia fan Monika Fabian. "So attending local friendlies are—and always have been—an extension of that pride. Take my mother, for instance, she’d never say "let’s go see la seleccion." She’d say "let’s go receive la seleccion." Just like you’d receive, or host, relatives. Because that’s kind of what they are as a symbol from home. And to root for Colombia at the stadium is to push the country forward chant by chant." 

On the pitch, Fiorentina midfielder Juan Guillermo Cuadrado struck first for Colombia right before the break. This was followed by an outstanding individual effort by Neymar to tie it up for Brazil in the 64th minute. With ten minutes left, Neymar had the seemingly-assured opportunity to complete his brace and win it for a Brazilian squad playing in their landmark 1,000th match. Instead, the talented forward hit one of the very worst penalty kicks ever and sent the ball far into the upper decks much to the relief and enjoyment of the Colombian fans. In the last ten minutes Colombia pressed forward, with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos even tweeting encouragement to Los Cafeteros, to no avail. 

The glaring Neymar miss and ensuing 1-1 result left the Colombian fans energized and enjoying the party atmosphere in the parking lot following the match. Most viewed the 1-1 draw over mighty Brazil as a de facto victory. For the dejected Brazil supporters, the opposite seemed true. 

Just a week after the match, Brazilian coach Mano Menezes was sacked by the Brazilian Football Federation as they try to do everything they can to ensure a Cup win on home soil in an attempt to vanquish the longstanding ghosts of the 1950 Maracanazo. Anything less than triumphantly hoisting the World Cup at the Maracanã in 2014 would not only be a failure, but a pronounced crisis of national identity. 

"The transnational cultural ties connecting migrants and their places of origin are as varied in form, content and reach as the class and ethnoracial composition of the migration population itself. …Soccer and music, are perhaps the most important ‘national’ symbols, which seem to cross class and regional lines. As one of our informants put it, ‘one of the few things that unite Colombians within and outside the country is soccer.’ Soccer in Colombia generates more followers and interest than almost any other expression of Colombian life."
- Luis Eduardo Guarnizo and Luz Marina Díaz, Transnational migration: a view from Colombia