New York City Football Club has only been in existence since 2013, but its roots in the community run very deep already.
The club – part of Abu Dhabi’s City Group which also includes Manchester City FC and Melbourne City FC – play their home games at home of one of American sport’s most iconic names, the New York Yankees, and the juxtaposition of association football and Yankee Stadium remains a novel, if increasingly popular sight.
Supporters from the Bronx area, led by the independent supporters group Third Rail group, have pledged allegiance to the club, which continues to reach out for more fans.
Whether in Abu Dhabi or NYC, few avenues connect communities like street football, a universal language across the globe.
Football comes to South Bronx
If you happened to be walking down Manhattan’s Times Square on Saturday, July 15, you would have come across a makeshift football pitch in the middle of one of the city’s busiest districts.
That ‘Street Soccer USA’, a campaign to empower children to take part in street football, can stop the traffic is a testament to how rapidly the game is growing in urban areas across the city, and indeed the rest of the US.
But it was not the only street football event that attracted the natives that day.
Across the East River, in the northern region of New York, you would have seen as similar sight, albeit drawing in a more local, less touristy crowd to a permanent pitch, on of 50 of its kind.
In an area where basketball has traditionally reigned supreme, football is now taking to the streets.
The South Bronx Street Soccer Festival is a collaboration between New York City Football Club (NYCFC), Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC), the Consulate General of the United Arab Emirates in New York, and is aimed at providing playing space in some of the city’s more underserved areas.
The event was organised through “City in the Community (CITC),” the charity supported by NYC FC, and helped bring street football to the kids of PS 49 at La Canchita, one of the club’s 50 mini-pitches across the five boroughs.
Over the years City Group has helped members of the football community come together and promoted the street soccer culture which has grown organically in the South Bronx. This year’s street soccer festival is just the latest initiative to involve school children from the city.
As far back as 2010, several years before NYC FC was even established, Manchester’s City built a football pitch on the roof of PS72 Elementary School, located on the corner of 104th Street and Lexington Avenue. It meant that the students no longer needed to make a 12-block trek to have a game of football.
Since then, the UAE has continued to support a nationwide community soccer field programme that partners with local organisations to provide quality playing fields in communities across the United States. Currently, there are ten fields, with two in New York City, and others in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, Atlantic City, Asbury Park, Cleveland and Washington, DC.
Vieira and Co Lend a Hand
The Times Square event may have attracted one of US football’s famous names from the past, the New York Cosmos, but in the South Bronx, it was very much the new kids on the block that were lending a hand to the local boys and girls.
Taking advantage of a weekend off in the busy MLS schedule, Patrick Vieira, coach of NYC FC, watched from the sideline as the school teams to part in the 5-a-side competition. The public certainly appreciated the presence of the former Arsenal legend and he happily mingled and posed for photographs with those who had attended the day’s block party.
Two of NYC FC’s stars, midfielder John Stertzer and defender Alexander Callens, were also in attendance as New York City’s Police Depratment (NYPD), Fire Department (FDNY), NYC Parks Department, the Mayor’s Office, the UAE Consulate, and the NYC FC front office all fielded teams in the competition that followed the kid’s matches.
Reaching Out, Beyond Football
The aim of the event, for the organisers, is to attract visitors from the wider area, and not just street football fans and players.
“Our Club is rooted in the five boroughs and we play home games at Yankee Stadium; the Bronx is home turf for us and we are committed to getting behind this community,” said Jon Patricof, President of New York City FC. “This festival continues our shared mission to expand access to free soccer in New York City and bring together the community through our sport.”
A community garden at PS 49 was also unveiled during the event, in collaboration with GrowNYC’s garden programme. There was also live music, Emirati henna artists, an NYC FC skills station, and city agency tables offering social services and educational materials to bring the public together.
“Today is an opportunity to celebrate the joy of playing street soccer in the South Bronx and tap into the growth of soccer in the borough,” said Paul Jeffries, Director of Community Development for NYC FC FC. “Giving back to the community is at the heart of everything we do, and it’s wonderful to see this community come together and put its own stamp on the game and embrace the mini-pitch at PS 49 so fully.”
For the Emirati residents present, it was an opportunity to get a taste of home as well as integrate themselves further in their new communities. Students from the UAE also volunteered at the event, helping to staff the Consulate and registration tables, take photos and share information with event attendees about UAE culture.
NYC FC, Back in Business
Whether in New York, Melbourne or Manchester, City Group has committed to supporting grass roots football, as well as its clubs. Abu Dhabi, through several organisations, is set to continue supporting from afar as well.
“Abu Dhabi Sports Council is dedicated to supporting sports-based youth development programs worldwide that benefit local communities, empower youth and promote healthy living,” said Ahmed Al Qubaisi, Marketing and Communication Director at ADSC. “We’re proud to support the South Bronx street soccer festival and engage youth through the power of sports.”
Following the festival Vieira returned to the serious business of MLS action, against the two teams in the country with superior records. On Wednesday, NYC FC drew 2-2 with Toronto FC, with David Villa and Maxi Morales getting on the score sheet. Three days later they went one better, heroically defeating Chicago Fire 2-1 after having Yangel Herrera sent off in the first half; Frederic Brillant and, once again, Villa, were the scorers.
The matches drew excellent attendances of over 22,000 and 26,000 respectively, a measure of just how much the residents of this corner of New York have taken the club to their hearts.
Expect those numbers to rise in the coming years.