Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Soccer Life - Gwendolyn Oxenham

When I decided that I wanted to start writing about soccer, I ran through several ideas for a name of this blog. Some bad...okay, most bad. Some good, but already taken. Then it suddenly occurred to me that the reason I wanted to write about soccer was the same reason that I've always been drawn to soccer and was immortalized in my brain by a quote from Luke Boughen in the book Finding the Game by Gwendolyn Oxenham.

"When the ball is kicked towards me, I consider the game beckoning me. The game wants me."

The Game Beckons was born.

There's a companion movie called Pelada that was actually the precursor to the book and it includes another quote that rang true for me and, more immediately, the impetus for this post and gets reiterated later.

“Soccer will give you much more than you can ever give it.”

It was with that in mind that I decided I would try and contact Gwendolyn to ask if she would take take part in this periodic survey series that I do on this blog. Since soccer continues to give me much more than I have ever given it, she said yes.

Before I give way to Gwendolyn to let you read her answers to my standard questions, here's a little background on the book/movie and where you can buy them (book - here, here; movie - here).

Away from professional stadiums, bright lights, and manicured fields, there’s another side of soccer.  Tucked away on alleys, side streets, and concrete courts, people play in improvised games.  Every country has a different word for it.  In the United States, we call it “pick-up soccer.”  In Trinidad, it's "taking a sweat."  In England, it's "having a kick-about."  In Brazil, the word is “pelada,” which literally means "naked"—the game stripped down to its core.  It’s the version of the game played by anyone, anywhere—and it’s a window into lives all around the world.   

Pelada is a documentary following Luke and Gwendolyn, two former college soccer stars who didn’t quite make it to the pros.  Not ready for it to be over, they take off, chasing the game.  From prisoners in Bolivia to moonshine brewers in Kenya, from freestylers in China to women who play in hijab in Iran, Pelada is the story of the people who play.

Thank you Gwendolyn for taking part!

1. Name:
Gwendolyn Oxenham

2. Role (Player, Parent, Coach, Referee, General Spectator, All of the Above, None of the Above, Other):
- Player

3. Soccer-specific Nickname (and any story behind it):
- In college, they called me Baby G, because I was sixteen when I started playing for Duke. And because Gwendolyn is way too much of a mouthful.

4. Age started playing:
- 8 – I was taking ballet; I was so bad that the teacher had me in the class with the 3 and 4 year olds. As soon as I saw my brother playing soccer, I switched sports.

5. First recollection of the game:
- I was playing for the Candy Cane and I knocked into a player and really sent her flying. While I don’t really remember that part, I do remember her father charging the field, coming at me. And then my dad of course went at that guy. Youth sports at their finest. :-)
Editor's note: I have a very similar story about a teammate's dad bad-mouthing me and my dad coming to my defense. I don't recall any body charging the field in my case, but there were some bad opinions of each other for a long time afterwards.

6. Highest level of play achieved:
- I spent one summer playing professionally in Brazil – for Santos FC

7. Last competitive match – Date (if known) & Level of Play
- In 2003, during my senior year at Duke, in the second round of the NCAA tourney, against Texas A&M, I missed an easy volley right in front of the goal. We lost and my collegiate career ended.

But while I was traveling around the world, playing in pickup games and making Pelada, the most competitive game we played in was a tournament in a slum in Nairobi, Kenya – everyone put in 30 shillings, which is not much at all but which made it so that you were playing for something instead of nothing. And, for the moonshine brewers, they were giving up a day’s wages in order to play, and if they won, the could make back their wages. The field was a former trash dump, trash still rising out of the dirt, and the whole slum gathered around the sidelines. I’ve never, ever witnessed a more intense environment, the sideline absolutely erupting whenever someone scored. Unforgettable.

8. Position:
- Outside midfield

9. Jersey number:
- 14

10. Most memorable moment(s):
- Playing in a men’s prison in Bolivia, playing with eight-year-olds in Brazil, playing with the moonshine brewers in Kenya, playing with women in hijab in Iran. Playing a game in Jerusalem where the Arabs and Jews refused to play on the same team. Playing with speedo-clad riverboat guides on an island in Brazil, getting hailed on, drinking post-game caiprinhas made with the hail. And so many others. I kind of fail at this question.

11. Least memorable moment(s):
- If by that you mean the moment I wish I could forget, I think I’d have to go with my entire sophomore year of college. I’d lost my freshman year youthful cockiness. And I was coming off an injury so I was slow, insecure, and generally bad.

Traveling around the world, I also had a tendency to get megged. We probably could have made a montage of all the different locales where I managed to get nutmegged.

12. Favorite team:
- Santos (I played for them and loved getting to watch Robinho play for the men.)

13. Favorite player:
- Historical: Zidane

- Current: Obviously, Messi. But since that answer seems nearly assumed, my backup favorites are Luka Modric, Robinho, and Neymar. And Pirlo.

14. Indoor vs Outdoor:
- Growing up in Florida, I never played indoor. My first time was during graduate school at Notre Dame. I thought indoor was the most fun thing in the world and felt truly robbed that I didn’t ever get to experience it earlier.

15. Grass vs Turf:
- Grass

16. Coaching experience:
- I coached 8-year-olds when I was living in South Bend. It was fun for me and fun for them but I never really acquired that whole authority thing. Knowing how to play does not mean you automatically know how to coach :-)

17. Refereeing experience:
- I’ve always managed to avoid it but I’ll never forget watching Luke, my husband, referee a village championship in rural Ghana. It was by far the most physical game I’d ever seen and I think he gave out like 9 yellows and a red. It was colossal chaos.

18. Favorite World Cup moment(s):
- We went to Germany for the World Cup and during the Germany game, every restaurant and bar was so crowded that we ended up watching from a fish market – thanks to the smell, it was the only place with room. But it ended up being highly memorable.

To be honest, I don’t remember lots of great moments – only the horrifying ones – like when Suarez handballed it on the line and poor Ghana lost. Or in this women’s World Cup, England’s own goal in the last second of play.

19. Honors/Awards:
- Youngest DI athlete in history of NCAA. Most Inspirational Player at Duke (pretty much the award they give to the player not quite good enough for one of the other awards :-) )
Editor's Note: It looks like Gwendolyn scored twice in her first game as a freshman so it wasn't like she was on the team but didn't play. She was also the captain of the team in her Senior season.

20. Other sports played (and to what level):
- I played high school volleyball. I got benched after I headed the ball twice in a row while playing backline. I should have just let the ball go out but my soccer player instincts took over and before I knew it, I was leaping to head it.  I also ran track in high school – the 400 and the 800.

21. Other Comments:
- On our trip, Cristiano Cavina, an Italian writer, told us, “Soccer will give you much more than you can ever give it.” I think that is entirely true.
Editor's note: I told you it was a good quote.

1 comment:

Don said...

Very nice of Gwendolyn to do this. I really enjoyed the other sports played story.