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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES » VERMONT » Purist Soccer
A Soccer Match in Burlington
Purist Soccer

Burlington, Vermont

By Kip de Moll | May 05, 2011

Kip de Moll discovers how a Sunday afternoon soccer game is bringing communities together in Burlington, Vermont.

Sunday Afternoon Soccer

Every Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evening at Oakledge Park, Burlington, Vermont, it begins with just a player or two wandering over beside the tennis courts, donning cleats and quietly stretching.   Quickly others arrive, someone (hopefully) with a ball, and the game begins.

For at least 15 years from the last thaw in April to the first real snow in December, the game has gone on.   There is no timekeeper, no scoreboard.   The goals are sometimes orange cones, but usually just shirts or a pair of shoes thrown down and constantly readjusted according to the number of players.

To score, in theory, the shot should be no higher than a knee and from no farther out than 10 yards, but no one really keeps score anyway, and a near miss or a good effort is rewarded with just as many whoops of satisfaction.

Looking for a Shot

The surface is sloped and bumpy, nothing like the smooth pitch of the World Cup or even a high school field.   The out of bounds line is just as far as two players care to chase it and free kicks simply waste time getting the ball back in play.   Given the age range can be from 6 to 60’s, caution is taken not to collide, but the skill level is sharp enough to disguise all that informality, making this one of the best games in town.

Though it was serious enough to begin with, the increase of the refugee population in Burlington in the last 10 years has made this an international game with languages spoken from all continents.   The captain of the Congolese National team and a Bosnian youth all-star, have squared off passes against South American rivals and English gentlemen.   Iraqis and Koreans have teamed up, but still had trouble getting past a couple of old Mexican and Americans on defense.

Mixing It Up

There is no break in the action. Players drop in and out depending on their stamina, dinner time, and the heat of the day.   Experienced players come with light and dark shirts and switch sides if the sides are unbalanced.   After many years, playing week-in, week-out, many names are still unknown, and the same is true about each other’s lives off the pitch.   Surprised smiles of vague out-of-context recognition pass in chance meetings around town.

This game is a place to forget about the rest of your life, to kick a ball and run hard, connect a few sweet passes from one to another, or triumphantly steal the dazzle from some fancy dribbler with a single well-placed foot that comes clear with the prize so elusive in our everyday world.   No matter how out of shape or aged and cramped, for a few quick seconds, it all returns and anything seems possible.   Sweat and laughter bind the wounds and the common blood of joy in sport creates a championship celebration every evening as the sun dwindles, lingering in a golden light before passing into darkness.

Everyone wins.

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