Sometimes rivalries between soccer clubs can go horribly wrong.
But a local nonprofit is harnessing the passion of international football fans for the good of the city’s underprivileged communities.
Soccer in the Streets on July 30 will host its second annual Nations Cup, a seven-on-seven tournament of “national” teams made up of local players that seeks to raise $50,000 for a range of programs teaching life skills through soccer.
As part of its mission, the organization also seeks to increase access to a sport that despite being known as an everyman’s game around the world faces inequities in the U.S.
Phil Hill, the executive director and a U.K. native, says immigrants coming to the U.S. face a shock to see how the segmented along socioeconomic lines soccer is here.
“It’s sort of this sport in this sealed container, and if you can’t pay to play you don’t get to play,” Mr. Hill said.
That’s what Nation Cup teams are fighting against, whether they’re die-hard fundraisers or just out for some (somewhat) friendly competition. Eight teams — the United States, Great Britain, Iceland, The Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, India and Denmark— will vie for the championship this year at Grady Stadium, where the Germans prevailed in the inaugural tournament last year.
Mr. Hill said he’s betting that the good-natured international banter that comes with proud expatriates representing their home countries and locals backing their adopted global homes will help reach that goal.
That’s certainly helped with the ATL Champions League, another fundraising tournament where teams mirror their favorite international club teams, bringing out sometimes bitter regional and international rivalries — for the good of the children, of course.
Each player in the Nations Cup has a fundraising goal that goes toward the team’s total, and a website keeps tallies of both individual and team donations, creating a sort of pre-competition that spills over into the tournament. Teams that raise more than $10,000 start off with two bonus points. Over $8,000 — one point.
“We always hope that there’s banter between the teams as they raise money, and that’s something we try to egg on. National pride is a great source of ribbing,” Mr. Hill said.
The organization is clear, however, that their zealotry is really a way to help their neighbors.
“We want people who get involved in our events to know the time and passion they’re putting into it really translates back into helping specific communities as opposed to going into a general pot,” Mr. Hill said.
Soccer in the Streets has no shortage of impactful activities, all locally focused.
One of its flagships is a 10-week after-school soccer program in the spring and fall with Atlanta Public Schools. Soccer in the Streets trains players and coaches, organizes matches between the schools and infuses it all with its signature life-skills training.
More recently, the nonprofit has won global acclaim for Station Soccer, the first-ever soccer pitch installed inside an urban public transit station worldwide. Located at the Five Points MARTA Station downtown, the goal is to improve access to the sport for kids on Atlanta’s west side and help connect the cities’ communities. It was also the site of the city’s first homeless soccer tournament.
Station Soccer this spring won the 2017 Urban Soccer Symposium Award from the U.S. Soccer Foundation. That was followed by a separate $24,000 grant.
Locally, the charitable arm of Atlanta United, the Major League Soccer expansion team, has also backed the program, which is in the early stages of a broader plan to bring nine more stations into a transit-based league over three years . It has also provided inspiration for other global nonprofits using the sport to spur social impact.
As for the Nations Cup participants, some of them chose teams based on their own nationalities; others took what they could get.
Travis Montgomery, who is soon to graduate from Kennesaw State University and interns for Soccer in the Streets, said he and a group of friends picked Iceland simply because one of them had traveled there and really liked it.
“A lot of the countries that people wanted to play as were already taken,” he said.
Mr. Montgomery was inspired to recruit his friends to play (and generate donations) not just because he works at Soccer in the Streets, but because he has seen its mission in action during a program with the refugee community of Clarkston, Ga. In his hometown, access to soccer was a given, but it’s not the case everywhere.
“Seeing it firsthand it was very eye-opening. I got to see how grateful and happy they were to get that experience,” he said.
As the fundraising for the Nations Cup has gotten more intense, Mr. Montgomery said his team has embraced the role of the scrappy Icelandic underdog. He now finds himself drinking Icelandic spring water occasionally, and someone is rounding up an Icelandic flag to bring to the tourney.
That might be particularly galling for Mr. Hill, since the north Atlantic island nation of 220,000 people knocked England out of the Euro 2016 tournament last June.
The executive director said there’s still time to play in the Nations Cup, or just attend and get a feel for the organization while enjoying competitive soccer. Consulates, binational chambers of commerce are welcome, as Soccer in the Streets seeks to deepen ties with these natural affinity groups.
Other fundraising events throughout the year include the Black Tie Soccer Game, an established event where players take the pitch in formal wear.
This year, Soccer in the Streets is also breaking into the business world with the Corporate Cup later in September. More information on that event can be found here.
Learn more about the Nations Cup at http://nc.soccerstreets.org.
Watch a video below: