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Naked Soccer

The thing that I love most about soccer is that you can play it anywhere so long as you have a ball.  You don’t need a bat or a racket to hit it with.  You don’t need a hoop to shoot it through.  Anything can stand in for a goal; a couple rocks, a backpack and a jacket, even the shoes that you just had on.  Goals themselves aren’t even necessary.  Just like with football or baseball its a pleasure to pass the ball with a friend.  You don’t need a person to pass to.  Just learning to juggle the ball with your feet is a challenge and is rewarding as hell when finally get the knack.

Countless people around the world play pickup soccer everyday in pretty much every country in the world. Several years ago, a pair of stand out college soccer players not good enough to go pro and a budding filmmaker set out to document how the game is played on streets, back alleys, parking lots, and unmanicured fields by people who simply love the game.   Their movie is called Pelada.  Its taken from the Brazilian slang for pick-up soccer, which translated literally means ‘naked’.

Over the course of their journey, Gwendolyn Oxenham (Duke) and Luke Boughen (Notre Dame), play on the streets of Brazil, on sidewalks in China, in slums in Africa, on a rooftop field in downtown Tokyo, and on rented fields in Iran.  At one point, the players bribe their way into the notorious San Pedro prison in La Paz, Bolivia for what they hear are some of the best pick-up games in the country.  They even play pick-up in a barrio in Buenos Aires, not too far from where Nate and his teammates play pick-up in La Plata.  Watching a sports movie hasn’t made me this happy since watching Rudy get his first playing time or Ollie sinking his free throws to win the state championship.

The emotional heart of the movie is hearing the stories of the players that they meet and why they play the game.  Some play to escape the stress of poverty.  Others play to escape the stress of a sixty-hour work week.  A group of women in Iran play with their heads covered in long sleeves and pants in violation of a government prohibition.  Senior citizens in Brazil play to stay young.  Through out it all, Gwen and Luke wrestle with the reality of having to find something to do with their lives aside from playing the game that they love once the filming stops.

If you live in the Indianapolis area you’ve got a chance to watch Pelada this weekend.  It was selected by the Heartland Film Festival and the final screening is this Saturday at 3:30 PM at the AMC Showplace 17 on South Meridian Street.

I know, I know, the real football season is in full swing.  You’ve got plenty to watch already and the Horse cannot be denied.  But this is the bye week after all, so if you’ve got two hours on Saturda and want to experience the joy of the other type of football, I promise you won’t be disappointed.  You’ll also be supporting Heartland, one of the coolest things going on in Indianapolis.  You just might find the joy of the game that I love.  If you do and want to experience it first hand, come find me.  Most Sunday mornings I play pickup with a motley crew in Ellenberger Park, near Irvington.

Soccer blogs have been writing about this film for quite a while.  There’s a great piece on the making of the movie at TIAS and Grant Wahl has a good write up here.  Make sure to check out the TIAS piece.  Its got a video of soccer commentator Ray Hudson reacting to the movie that’s phenomenal.