SOCCER OVER EVERYTHING : Chandrima Chatterjee
Written By: isps|
Feb 18, 2016
As you may have seen over the last few weeks or so, we’ve started a series here on The Original Winger called SOCCER OVER EVERYTHING that focuses on telling the great stories of people who are living and working in the soccer world, that in one way or another, came to it in not so traditional ways.
I told my story, Brian told his story and then we reached out to a couple of people that we know doing great things in the soccer world, to tell theirs. You’ve seen Shawn Francis as well. You’ve seen Kim Tate and Malena Barajas. You’ve seen Will Leggett and Michael Harshbarger. For this SOE, we reached out to Chandrima Chatterjee to tell her story. It is really interesting.
Chandrima, is another person in the soccer world that we met through social media. When I got involved with TOW heavy and helping out Ben and Brian, one of the things I wanted to do was start reading people in the game that were really moving the culture forward. Women’s United came along a few years ago, and I knew in that instance that they were going to be a mover in the culture.
At the time of launch, Chandrima was one of the story tellers and content curators of WUFC so I did what we all do – follow her on social media – and from that, I saw how much more involved in the game she was that with just WUFC.
As you read her story below, you will see all of the ways that she is in touch with the game and get to know her wonderful story.
Back a couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to catch Chandrima at an event that Bumpy Pitch did with Mando Fresko, a street soccer pickup event in Downtown Los Angeles and we’ve stayed in contact ever since. A few weeks ago she was back in Los Angeles and came by the BP_TOW Worldwide HQ and we got a chance to sit down with her for a long form interview that we’ll be dropping later, but she also shared with us her Soccer Over Everything story with us and we’re glad to share that with you now.
This is Chandrima’s story.
This is a love story. I would call it kind of non-traditional but then again, I don’t believe in traditional or normal. Soccer is my love. Just about everyone who’s reading this can understand that love is an up and down phenomenon, but we’d never want a life without it. So goes my love affair with soccer.
Flashback to when I was 10. My parents would drive me every Saturday morning to soccer games with the boy’s team. I would be so anxious I would throw up before each game. There was only one youth league in my town and I was one of two girls in it. I grew up in a suburban hideaway town in NJ after a brief early life in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There’s so much soccer in NJ that it sounds absurd my little town had no girls’ soccer, but I doubt it exists now either. I loved soccer, but not playing a defender, and that’s where I ended up, so my early life soccer memories were a nightmare. There were episodes of racial name-calling and girl bullying too. I’m no victim though. I remember punching a boy when I was 5 for a minor infringement. We became friends.
I stuck with soccer until there was no team to play on. Then, like most tomboy girls, I tried softball. Nope, not for me. Fun enough in the outfield but I wasn’t ever hitting a home run. Then I found out there was track in high school. I’d been running with my father since I was 5, so that was a natural fit. My soccer days were behind me. For about 4 years.
College at the University of Pennsylvania brought me two people who spiced my life up with a dose of soccer obsession. Jodi (who I still stay in touch with) and Matt who is the kind of guy every girl gets a crush on, smart, the captain of the soccer team, a little older, and on his way to the pros. I still talk soccer with Jodi. I tutored Matt in poli-sci and after he graduated heard that he ended up somewhere in a Pennsylvania league, then retired early. It didn’t matter. I was in love with soccer again. But as a fan this time.
Fast-forward a bit and I’m working as a research scientist in a few different biology labs across campus, transferring to Emory University, working part-time too as a community organizer and political data specialist. I had worked with large batches of numbers for most of my science career off the bench from viral sequencing to breast cancer microarrays and epigenetics. So, where did soccer fit in? It didn’t for a couple years. But I quickly discovered Atlanta had a plethora of playing options. I couldn’t hide my passion long. I played in a co-ed league and attempted to be a defender once again (why?!). I then joined a women’s league and the captain saw from the moment I hit the field running, I was in the wrong position. I was a creative midfielder and voila, it was like the clouds had parted I was free. I didn’t care that I wasn’t the one scoring. I was finally helping create beauty on the pitch. At least that’s how I define beauty.
My best friend drew me into the world of international soccer. He saw the twinkle in my eye maybe? Someday I’ll ask him why he bothered. But he had grown up in Italy and his knowledge of the game came mostly from there, along with a splattering of MLS, EPL, Bundesliga, La Liga. He was my tutor. I mean daily. I credit him with opening up my mind to a world of possibilities and the reason I joined Women United FC a few years later as a writer and photographer. When he moved away, ESPN and Fox Soccer became my best friends. I remember falling asleep with a laptop in my bed and the TV on running repeats of matches all night long. Atlanta has a lot of soccer, both on the screen and on their many options for fields. I yearned for more.
One of those late-night TV moments was a screening of Kicking It by ESPNFilms, documenting the soccer for social change tournament, The Homeless World Cup, narrated by Colin Farrell, who is now an ambassador of the program. I had to know more. I craved more stories of how sports enabled people with less opportunity than me to lead healthier and more successful lives. It was 2009, and serendipitously the Homeless World Cup had just created a 1-week international volunteer program that month for a tournament in mid-summer. My application was readily received, I flew to Milan, worked with the Finnish team there, and in my eagerness to make a good impression, I became one of their first superstar volunteers a year later, creating my own line of fundraiser t-shirts with the amazing team at One Love FC. I may have caused too much of a stir, hearing that the shirts rivaled the official Nike tournament gear. I nearly got sued. Lesson one: tone it down.
As a writer for the Homeless World Cup in 2010 and 2011, I was afforded the luxury of hearing lots of stories of redemption. Players from 40-60 nations (it fluctuates annually) convene in a new city every year for a weeklong tournament celebrating the power of the soccer ball to unite the world and to lift people from a cycle of poverty and illness to a path of opportunity and hope. The co-founder and president of the Homeless World Cup wanted to meet me in person while we were working in Rio de Janiero, and he led me on a new path, to storytelling for Street Soccer USA.
I joined Street Soccer USA in the autumn of 2010, first as a newsletter editor, then as social media support. At the time, there were few documented case studies or stories (visual or text) of the hundreds of players coming through the multi-city program. Street Soccer USA is essentially a year-round set of programs that use soccer to teach homeless and at-risk youth and young adults the skills they need to connect with housing, employment, family and education. Street Soccer USA programs have helped people overcome addiction and the cycle that they find led them into poverty, abuse, sometimes jail, sometimes and homelessness.
It’s helping solve the crisis in America by simply creating a ‘family’ across the nation, of coaches, volunteers, supporters, fans and players. Social media has been used not only to tell the amazing stories they all have, but also to show how we are all the same in the end. We are all fighting to find a place, a home, and a sense of belonging, while working to better ourselves. A ball can change the world. It changed my life.
I co-founded the Philadelphia chapter of Street Soccer USA four years ago, and hopefully you’ll someday hear the stories my players have to tell. They are the reason I am still alive. Honestly, they have pushed me to believe that the power of the human heart and the courage of the human spirit is enough to get us through the worst of times. I applaud and love every single player and coach at Street Soccer Philadelphia. As the time comes for me to step down and for the program to grow into the youth outreach sector, I am reminded of how humble our beginnings were and how it all hinged on the heart of the first series of players and volunteer coaches.
Philadelphia will be the host city program of the National tournament this year. My humble home will be converted to a world of soccer for social change. I cannot think of anything better.
Years later, after simultaneously working as communications manager and social media manager at Street Soccer USA, traveling to collaborate with the corresponding programs in India, Finland, Mexico, Portugal, all the while directing the Philadelphia chapter of Street Soccer USA, I’m embarking on a new chapter. Last year, at the cusp of the Women’s World Cup, I was asked to lead Women United FC into a new era. I’m honored by the trust the founders of WUFC have shown in me. You’ve seen us on social media, you’ve probably heard we’re cheerleaders. We are so much more. We are the women who love the beautiful game so much we dedicate our time to helping other women find their voice to not only cheer on the game we all love, but to talk about it in a way that is unique. I’m often asked what’s so unique about the women’s voice. Recently, while talking to Ben and Steve at TOW, it hit us all.
Women see a picture that embraces not only the game on the pitch, and the life of the players outside the pitch, but the community, the world at large, the evolution of the game, from politics, to financial impact to how the next set of children growing up in the world will see the game. Will the beautiful game we love transform the world for the better? I certainly believe so. In spite of the FIFA scandals grabbing most of the attention of the soccer media world, there are stories of redemption, hope, growth, equality and simple beauty to tell. These stories happen every day before our eyes. There’s a common thread that runs through all soccer players, regardless of sex, race, nationality, age. Women United FC enables more women to participate in that dialogue. I love soccer. We love soccer.
People ask me what I do, and I can’t think of a title not because I do a lot, but because I have so much more to learn. I am a storyteller but more of an enabler and curator of the storyteller that I know is within all of us. Women United FC is a space for fun, banter, learning, cheering, sharing knowledge and expanding our horizons. We will continue to grow and blossom, and I will continue to be a part of that process, but I guess we’ll see what the future holds!
I do want to thank a few of the special people who have believed in me over the recent years as a writer and who still continue to push me towards my goals. Josh Guesman, who gave me the first opportunity to write for Corner of the Galaxy, Wendy Thomas, a powerful new force in women’s soccer writing, Temryss Lane, for her constant support and faith, Michael Duarte sports editor of the Latin Times and NBC-LA writer for inspiring me to work smarter and harder, Matthew Tomaszewicz from the Shin Guardian who was the first in soccer media to embrace the power of storytelling in soccer for social change, and my dear friend Jonathan Tannenwald, who you really need to follow on Twitter for everything sports-related in Philadephia and the entire soccer world. And to all the world of soccer for social change that know the value of a ball transcends everything everywhere.
There’s a series of projects Women United FC is working on now I think you’ll love. More on that later…
Because this love story has no ending.
Follow her on twitter : @chandrimatweets
* By the way, if you have a SOCCER OVER EVERYTHING story (we know you all do) and you would like somewhere to tell it, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org and write SOCCER OVER EVERYTHING in the subject line.
We are happy to share a great story with our readers… also, when you get a moment, hop on over to www.bumpypitch.com for the shirt as well, its kind of a must have!