THE LIONS IN HARLEM: A LOOK INTO FC HARLEM W/ CHARCOAL PITCH FC

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Harlem World is in the house, and this time it isn’t for how to fly and dapper someone from the neighborhood is, but instead, it’s because of its new renaissance that begins with the global sport of football. 

If you haven’t heard, there has been a movement in the neighborhood that is dedicated to using the game of soccer to provide positive impact and solutions for youth in the inner city. That movement is called F.C Harlem, led by Irv Smalls.

Irv serves as the Executive Director of the F.C Harlem L.I.O.N.S (Leaders In Our Neighborhoods), but his roots didn’t start with the sport and neither did his love for it. Irv grew up in Hershey, PA with his family where the cultural differences were undeniable. Irv grew up very active as he played various sports including soccer, baseball, and tennis, but those never really stuck out as much as the game of American football. 

“I played soccer for a little bit, it didn’t register for me, I picked it up as just something that you do instead of seeing it as something you do long term”

As he believed to have found his athletic niche, he stuck with American football throughout high school and that led him to play at the collegiate level for Penn State, a school well-known for its rich winning history and the players that the program produced that went pro.  

Smalls didn’t go on to the NFL though, instead he continued on with his education as a law student at Dickinson Law School. He then served as a victim court advocate in South Philly where a glimpse of what he would be advocating for today, was presented to him through an encounter with a student.

“And I remember I met this one brother who, you know, ran into a little altercation with some other kids at school, but like, he saw my Penn state ring and he wanted to play football. And so I just turned, we just had a  good conversation and just kind of saw the power of sports or just giving engagement today to these guys and try to inspire them to be better “

Smalls truly saw the power that sports can play so much so that he decided to start working on the business side of sports and understand what that business could do for a community. 

As he searched for jobs, he found an opening with at the time, a very young Major League Soccer (MLS) in New York. 

“I remember I saw there was a position in the legal department at Major League Soccer, and I mean it’s interesting because I still remember to this day my response, I was like, Oh my gosh, I don’t like soccer at all” 

He started working in the legal department by getting involved with contracts for players like Freddie Adu and other projects, which help him become a converted football fan. It was the 2002 World Cup that made it all make sense for him. It just happened to be a game where people that look like him were presented a platform and in that moment he realized how the sport he once didn’t care for much, could connect to his passion of working with inner city youth. 

“I was thinking about it through the lens of, you know, my passion obviously is working with inner-city kids, giving more opportunities to black and brown youth, empowering them. And I said you know what? Sports is such a powerful skill and I think this sport right here, it looks more like life than any other sport.”

The once Penn State American Football player knew that this was a goal he would have to take a shot at in order to bring forth change. As time went on Irv made contact with Ruston Harris who was running Harlem Youth Soccer, whose offices were right next door to MLS, where he started getting involved.

“I started volunteering, leveraging some of the relationships that I had at Major League Soccer, you know, for the community, for the program. And then there was a point where we were kind of thinking about, what’s the next step for it? “

Irv realized that there was a need for a promising program that would provide opportunities to the youth in Harlem for educational and professional development. After a little bit of time and a lot of research, he decided to dedicate all of his efforts to Harlem and its youth and leave MLS.

It was time for him to apply all that he had learned to his dream and connect the dots. The task was about bringing the global game to Harlem and gain both black and brown fans. The question wass how do you do that in a place where the rich culture is heavily rooted in other things?

Fast forward to the present day in the neighborhood that houses FC Harlem and that wouldn’t be the first question that comes to mind. The club has built a reputation for developing talent and providing opportunities to black and brown student-athletes. It doesn’t just stop there though, the FC Harlem Lions have formed a very strong partnership with Chelsea F.C which has also led to a featured collaboration for a white kit with Nike that is flawless. 

“And like these kids are important to me. So my approach always has been, I want the best. I don’t want hand me downs. I don’t want your shoes, I want brand new shoes. I want the nicest uniforms.I want the biggest clubs. And yeah, I’ve had a lot of people craning that can look at me like who do you think you are? Somebody that knows my value and knows my community’s value and know-how you will potentially benefit down the road. So you need to put more in. You know what I mean?”  

Exciting things are happening through FC Harlem and the stats also show how amazing the sport has been, so far 97% of all high school participants graduated, 80% of those graduates have gone to college, and since the year 2006 FC Harlem has served more than 7,000 youth across all programs, and to pay it forward to their community, all the players dedicate a minimum of 25 hours of volunteer service annually.

This is an organization truly instilling value back into the community and its people, so much so that investing in these youth isn’t a fairytale, if you don’t believe it, ask former FC Harlem Player Joseph Koroma.

Koroma now a sophomore at Manhattan College and is a Harlem native with direct roots from Sierra Leone. He has been part of FC Harlem since he was 8 years old and has developed and grown as a player and member of his community. Joseph who is now getting closer to his pro football dreams has truly shown a path of constant progression. The Harlem native was being recruited by top academies across the country, which led him to attend US Soccer Developmental Academy where he exceeded 30 goals in 40 matches and was invited into the NYCFC academy after just two seasons.

In the time spent at FC Harlem Joseph has learned about what it takes, especially when you don’t come from a background where a quick phone call to a coach lands you a spot on the roster without a trial. He has been a prime example of what dedication and also his time spent volunteering in his community can provide. He is part of something bigger than himself and that opportunity to represent his neighborhood and his people provides a huge source of motivation.

Harlem is a neighborhood full of culture, history, heritage, and known for the great people who have cultivated the great elements that have now been passed down to be nurtured.

When thinking about the history of Harlem, a few words that you can attach to it are renaissance, innovation, and hustle. Many have been drawn by the creativity and energy of this neighborhood. It continues to birth ideas, ways of life, and now solutions through sport.

“If you commit when you work in our community, that’s how your brand grows. It doesn’t grow just because you said this is who you are. So part of it was constantly like, you know what? I’m a person who’s always believed in giving youth the best that you can give them.” 

So when Irv Smalls speaks about the vision of expanding the FC Harlem blueprint from coast to coast, understand that the purpose is unique, but not unfamiliar to many inner-city youth across the country who have been left behind due to a pay to play system that steers away the love for a global sport that could change multiple lives. 

The challenge isn’t getting in touch with football legends like David Beckham or Thierry Henry, to come and get involved and inspire the youth, it is instead breaking the barriers and myths around the beautiful game that has afforded many with the opportunities to learn, travel, and give back. However, FC Harlem provides opportunities and proof of being the solution to it all, because if a place like Harlem where history runs rampant from block to block can embrace the game of football, then the world should prepare to receive newborn legends from the Black Mecca to rule the pitch and be LI.O.N.s in there own neighborhoods.

CUSTOM SOCCER KITS W/ ICARUS FC

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We’ve all been there; The endless scrolling through those dull-as-brick kit templates for your Sunday League team. The same plain designs in about five colors with nothing adventurous about them. Ever wondered how you could fit your whole team with some custom threads instead? We did too. That’s how we wound up talking to Robby Smukler, the founder of Icarus Football, a custom kit design service based out of Philadelphia, USA.

Like many authentic artists, Robby gave up his 9-5 job  to pursue his passion, namely kit design. He was always interested in football, geography, and history, spending much of his youth doodling imaginary logos of cities that fascinated him. Even the origin of the company name came from Robby’s love for Greek Mythology.

Robby gives this explanation for the name:

“I thought that this crazy idea of creating custom kits would get me flying so high that eventually I would singe my wings and drown in the sea, much like the namesake Greek counterpart. And that it just sounds badass!”

Originally from Princeton, New Jersey, Robby pursued a career in politics and a job opportunity brought him to Philadelphia. When he initially arrived, he noticed most teams only had kit templates of teams that already existed. 

“There was no originality, no real identity with all these teams in a city that possesses such a vibrant football culture. It’s a tight-knit football community, and I saw and heard that there was a demand for better jerseys from other players, so I thought I’d do something about it.”

This league in question is CASA, which is the local amateur football league, is the biggest in the country featuring men’s, women’s, and co-ed teams with over 300 teams and over 10,000 players. 

Robby started with a few mock-ups for some teams in the league, found a supplier with quality materials and started to make more kits for more teams. Eventually, he invested more time into Icarus opening up the business to teams near the end of 2016. Like many artistic-endeavors-turned-businesses, he never thought to turn this passion into a legitimate career until realizing there was a real market for it. The demand was prevalent, and around January 2019, he started to receive numerous orders, to the point where he quit his day job to run Icarus full time.

“About half of my work is for clients that already have a design in mind, and my role is to make that vision come to reality. The other half is clients that have a rough idea of what they want and ask for some design input. That’s when I produce mock-ups, ranging from the conservative to absolutely wild. I prefer the latter.”

Like all startups, there were initial speed bumps that had to be smoothed out. 

“In the beginning, we sourced fabrics from different factories to see which would be best for playing. Most importantly for me, they needed to be comfortable. The first fabrics we used were comfortable but didn’t have enough ventilation, so players would sweat into the shirt and it would retain all the sweat. So I went back to the drawing board and ended on the fabric I have today, which is a 100% polyester that has micro ventilation holes for moisture release.”

Other features of the shirts include standard micro-ribbing at the sleeve cuffs and crewneck, V-Neck, Polo, and Henley collars as the standard collars for the shirts, with a drawstring or wide-spread Cuban collars coming at a premium cost. The only thing off-limits is possible trademark and copyright infringements, for example, a three-stripe design on a shirt, but everything else is fair game because he wants his clients to have exactly what they want on their kits.

“When designing for a team, I take into account the club’s colors, name, history and geography, and I aim to incorporate all of those aspects into the design of the kit. That way the kit tells the story of the club.”

The future is bright for Icarus Football, as they are the preferred uniform supplier for the aforementioned amateur league CASA, supplying kits to over twenty teams in the league. They’ve also set their sights on national dominance, aiming to make deals with teams countrywide, as well as breaking into women’s and youth teams.

The name Icarus may foreshadow an imminent doom with the melting of his wings, but at this rate it seems that Robby is destined to keep flying high as the sun allows him. Godspeed.

Photos By: @trey.madara

A FOREST STORY: A PITCH TURNED INTO NATURAL ART

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A tree grows in Austria. With the imagination of artist Max Peinter used as blueprint, a team led by organizer Klaus Littman brought the eerie pencil drawing, “The Unending Attraction of Nature”,  into physical form.  FOR FOREST serves as a warning wrought in the middle of a football pitch and will only run for a few more days.  

The striking visual of FOR FOREST includes 300 trees, each weighing around six tons standing, swaying at center pitch of the Wörthersee Stadium in Klagenfurt, Austria. This exhibition is Austria’s largest. As in the original drawing, it’s curious how the trees hold an eerie reign over the pitch, reminding the viewer of a time looming, as Littman puts it, “that one day the naturalness of nature could be admired in its specially assigned vessels, as is already the case today with animals in zoos.” 

When asked about the installation’s purpose or intended commentary Littman stated, 

“It is an invitation to reflect.”

There is indeed a reverence present amidst the trees—a quiet that pervades a space artificially bustling with life.

The original piece is a thought experiment that brings questions of sustainability and spectacle to the forefront: What if forests weren’t accessible anymore? Once the rise of industry and pollution has removed nature from its natural state, where do the trees go? Where do we go to see them? For all the excruciating detail brought to life, Littman’s 2019 exhibition does not seek an answer. Instead, he is content in adding dimension to the original questions asked.

It should be noted that inside the exhibition grounds, football appears not as the focal point, but as coincidence—the matter of fact around the spectacle. It acts as a shield with its modern metal columns and stadium beams as a skeleton for nature on life support. Littman commented as much, “The architecture of the stadium offers the ideal conditions for this and emphasizes the dignity of the object. It strongly emphasizes the contrast between artificial and natural: on one side the man-made stadium with its steel, glass and concrete, and on the other the colourful and living forest.” 

For all the complaints about modern football, FOR FOREST paves ample runway for grievances even more severe. Here, football plays equal parts protector, captor and museum archiver with the joys of nature doled out in 90 min increments to the select few. There is some grand parallel about the joy of football being as vital as the joy of life itself, but we’d be better served contemplating how to stop burning the trees, lest the modernization of the football turn into the very least of our concerns.


The warning persists until the end of the month. FOR FOREST is open to the public through the end of October.

IT’S IN THE MUSIC: BEHIND THE SOUNDTRACK OF EA SPORTS FIFA

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“How do you find your music?”

When asked this simple, unassuming question, many of us find ourselves lost in the plethora of selection we have today: Streaming services, impromptu gigs, radio (yes that still exists). We here at KTTP have two sources to curate our musical libraries: FIFA soundtracks and everything else.

To appreciate just how far the FIFA soundtracks have come, we go back to the game’s first ever tracklist from FIFA: Road to World Cup 98: Composed of six songs, four of them by The Crytsal Method. Compare that to the most recently launch ensemble featuring 41 artists from 17 different countries, spanning from indie gems to certified stars.

The musical roots of the original soundtracks were based in electronic and punk rock in the forms of Fatboy Slim and Blur. Over time, the progression of new and alternative genres in mainstream music has led to the soundtrack to include hip-hop, rock, house music, and Latin tunes. But it’s not just that the FIFA soundtrack seems to catch music trends at the most opportunistic times, it seems like they find musicians right as they are about to elevate their careers, like featuring Madeon in FIFA 13 right as he was starting to be invited to play at Ultra Music Festival, Coachella, Lollapalooza and Electric Daisy Carnival.

The music’s importance to the game is unparalleled. It is public knowledge that any self-respecting FIFA player spends just as much time selecting a team, negotiating transfers, and tinkering formations as actually playing the game. The tunes that we hear while enjoying this clinical work are imperative to keep us sharp while chasing Champions League glory in Career Mode at 3AM in the morning. How many times have we woken up our roommates with cheers of delight when we complete the purchase of a U19 player with 90 rated potential?

Each song is carefully curated so that it puts you in an absolute mood when you’re sorting through menu interfaces and instructing wingers to cut inside in your lineups. Before long you’ll find yourself humming along to tunes you’ve never heard before and whip out your phone to Shazam the track.

So many artists both big and small have benefitted greatly from being included in this annual celebration of lyrical indulgence, and the legacy of the soundtrack will continue to grow. As long as FIFA players have menus to navigate and teams lineups to format, the soundtrack will enhance, nay, become the focal point, of the electronic football experience.

To celebrate the launch of FIFA 20, we have selected our top 20 tracks of all time from the game’s legendary melodies. May they ring loud and true during your Wednesday night FIFA tournaments:

  1. Andreya Triana – Beautiful People
  2. Billie Eilish – you should see me in a crown
  3. BØRNS – Faded Heart
  4. Lorde – Supercut
  5. Disclosure – Omen feat. Sam Smith
  6. Icona Pop – Emergency
  7. AVICII – The Nights
  8. Kygo – Raging feat. Kodaline
  9. Smallpools – Dreaming
  10. The 1975 – The City
  11. Fitz And The Tantrums – Spark
  12. Youngblood Hawke – We Come Running
  13. Chromeo – Don’t Turn The Lights On
  14. The Naked & Famous – Punching In A Dream
  15. Duffy – Mercy
  16. MGMT – Kids
  17. Peter Bjorn and John – Young Folks
  18. Jamiroquai – Feels Just Like it Should
  19. A-Trak – Push (Featuring Andrew Wyatt)
  20. Sante Les Amis – Brasil

FAMILY BUSINESS: NIKY’S SPORTS WITH LUIS ORELLANA

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Ask any soccer player in Los Angeles, and there is a good chance that they have had some sort of experience with the soccer retailer Niky’s Sports. Whether that is buying boots or products at one of their stores, attending one of the many events that they put on, or seeing their presence at countless soccer events around the city. Niky’s is an institution in the Los Angeles soccer scene and the people behind it are equally passionate about the beautiful game as they are their brand.

Thirty three years after Niky’s opened their first location, the company now counts eight locations throughout the greater Los Angeles area. The store locations are as diverse as the City of Angels itself and further prove that Niky’s understands not only its customers, but the city they call home.

We sat down with Luis Orellano to talk about all things Niky’s: where they have been and where they are going, what it’s like to grow up in and around soccer stores, and why a genuine love for the game is at the heart of what Niky’s does.

 

Q: Can you tell us a bit about Niky’s and how it started?

Luis: October 30th, 1986 is the day my dad opened the doors of our first store. The first store is about two blocks west of the store we are currently are sitting in. We’re a family owned business. The majority of the stores are owned jointly by my dad and my uncle. The other two stores are owned by other brothers. Everybody in our family works at one of the stores. The entire family in involved with the business.

Q: So six stores are owned by your dad and brother, and the other two stores are owned by other family members. But the entire Niky’s organization is run under the same umbrella?

Luis: Correct.

Q: What is your role or title within Niky’s sports?

Luis: I guess you can label me the CEO. I don’t like labels, but I am the one that is in charge of putting the plan together for the businesses. Where we want to grow. How we want to go about it. Where our biggest opportunities are and what are the biggest threats to the business.

Q: You have eight stores. Has it been steady growth or has expansion been in more recent years?

Luis: We had two stores for I think eight or ten years. When I graduated from college and I really started diving into our business, I felt like we had a huge opportunity to expand. LA is huge and there are so many people that play soccer and I always felt there was room to grow. We couldn’t reach everybody at that point as we only had two stores.

In my opinion, to reach more people you have to have a physical footprint to really affect those communities. Online is a great tool that we utilize, but there is nothing like going into a store and trying on new boots. That is such a unique experience that you can’t have online. The things that we specialize in, we feel we have to have a brick and mortar experience for that.

Q: You went to school at Cal Poly Pomona, but what were the early years like for Luis? Did you play soccer? Spend lots of times at the stores? What was that like?

Luis: All I wanted to do was play soccer. I started playing when I was four. I played high school. I played a little bit of club soccer. But when I was younger my dad started this organization that was meant to give kids from El Salvador an opportunity to show their talent to not only professional teams from El Salvador but also to the federation. Unfortunately because of the civil war, a lot of people left El Salvador and came here to LA. So there is a massive Salvadorian community here and my dad saw that as an opportunity, so he and a couple friends created an organization where if you were a kid of El Salvadorian descent, you could play. And we became really, really good. We would play professional teams from El Salvador. Our first team was like a little academy. Unfortunately that doesn’t exist anymore, but it was a great opportunity for a lot of kids.

Q: What was it like growing up loving soccer and being able to go into a soccer store everyday and see all the latest products?

Luis: It was awesome, dude. I would see all the new boots before everybody else. I remember being on the phone at like 14 or 15 years old and calling people in places like Spain and Argentina. Trying to get Atletico Madrid jerseys. Trying to get Boca Juniors and River Plate jerseys. Products like that didn’t exist here. There wasn’t a licensed jersey business here. But we had people asking for them so we would try and get them.

Every aspect of my life revolved around the store. I would come here after high school. Every day after school I would come here. In the summers I was here everyday. When I would have a game on a Saturday, I would play my game and then come back to the store. And it never bothered me. I always wanted to do it. It was awesome.

Early on my dad bought one of those massive satellite dishes. Not the small ones they have now. But the giant ones that were around back in the day. That was the only way back then that we could get all the European games. We would watch them all at my dad’s store.

At that time Serie A was the league. My dad and I would get up super early to come and watch games at the store. There would already be like six or eight of his friends outside waiting to watch the games with us.

Q: Your dad sounds like a staple of the community. He had his stores. People would come in to the store to hang, watch games and be a part of what was going on there. He helped start an organization that helped young Salvadorian kids to play soccer. How important is that sort of community role been to the success of Niky’s over the years?

Luis: I think it’s been vital because our communities understand that we are invested in them. Sure we are here to service you when you need cleats and balls and shinguards. But we’re also trying to inspire some kids or give some kids a chance. The object of that program that my dad helped start was to give kids a chance.

We want the communities that we are involved in to understand that we are more than just a soccer shop. We do events and we try to give back to local schools and community organizations because we’re not just here to sell you products, but we’re also here to help grow the sport that we love.

Q: It seems like this is an example of the better that Niky’s does as a positive member of the community, the better the business does overall.

Luis: I also think you have to be authentic when doing it. This sport means so much to so many people and you have to try and do things the right way. The soccer community here in LA is so knowledgeable and so diverse and they have been around a long time. Futbol in LA isn’t new here. What is happening here with the local MLS teams is incredible but the sport has been a huge part of the community for a very long time here.

Q: In the years since you have worked at Niky’s full-time, the sport has grown quite a bit here in LA. What are some of the ways in which you have seen that are maybe more specific to LA?

Luis: There’s more attention to it now. There’s more national and global eyes on LA from a soccer perspective. But if you look at what futbol means to this city, it’s a super important part of this city, it’s been vital. It’s instrumental. Because of the large immigrant community. It’s a diverse community. The Central and South American influence is huge. That’s always been here. Now, there’s just a lot more eyeballs on the sport and a lot more investment as well. From the league perspective. The brands are making bigger investments  and making it a focus globally. That’s all helped grow the game to new heights. Thats the only difference. The passion and love for it hasn’t changed.

Q: As the game has grown here, have you seen an overall rise of awareness from people who maybe aren’t core soccer fans?

Luis: I think the biggest difference we have seen is from a more casual fan. A large part of that has to do with LAFC. There are a lot more fans that are casual fans. They might not know as much about the sport. They might not have really played the sport as a kid. But something about the experience is helping them gravitate to soccer. We started working with LAFC pretty much as soon as they were announced. That investment for us and working with them has really paid off for us.

Interesting though, we have also seen a rise in Galaxy jerseys as well. That’s awesome to see too. LAFC really galvanized the Galaxy fanbase and they have come out and supported their teams and made sure people know that they have been Galaxy fans for a long time.

Q: You spoke about the diversity of LA and the local immigrant community. LA is a very diverse place and soccer is sort of an extension of that notion. The way that you guys have grown kind of seems to follow that. You’re downtown, you’re in the inner cities, but you’re also on the westside and in the valley that may be more suburban. As a brand, you guys seem to be a representation of what soccer culture looks like in LA. Is that something you find to be true and is this something that you guys plan and strategize around?

Luis: Thats exactly what we do. Soccer doesn’t discriminate. It is inclusive for all types of people and social status and class. If we want to service every soccer playing person of this huge community then we have to be in all these places. So we have a store in West LA where it might be a more affluent customer and it may be a different customer than a customer here in downtown. It doesn’t matter where you live or your social class, the soccer community needs to be serviced the right way. We’re very proud and very confident that we have the knowledge and the experience to service the soccer community in a very unique way.

Our biggest objective is that everyone that walks in our store walks out with the right items that they need to enjoy this game.

Q: I imagine that is based on a fundamental love that you all have for the game.

It’s about futbol. That’s all. If we don’t care about the game we’re not going to be successful in this thing. But everyone that works for us has a love for the game. It’s instrumental. If you want to do what we do you have to love this. If we’re not true to the game then we’re done. If we don’t display that every time someone comes in our stores, that this is about futbol/soccer, then we are done. That’s our biggest opportunity—show everyone that we are authentic to the game and the city and that we know what we are talking about. I think that’s really, really important.

Q: You mentioned earlier that you went from two stores to eight in a relatively short period of time. And its seems that you guys did that in a time when other retailers are closing doors. What makes Niky’s successful in a time when other retailers are struggling?

Luis: First of all, let me say that nobody here at our business takes any joy from seeing a competitor go out of business. That genuinely bothers me. I know how much blood, sweat and tears people put into something like this. It’s not easy, man. I feel for them. I really, really do.

I think we’re successful because we’re authentic and through our hard work and persistence in the market place, we’ve been able to get people’s vote of confidence. They know that when they come into our store they are going to get treated right and that they will find what they need. I think our service and knowledge sets us apart. It’s not easy. But I think our experience, knowledge and the shopping experience make a huge difference for us. We’re proud of the stores and how we have created a new shopping experience for kids. Why can’t kids in the inner-city have a great shopping experience? Every consumer deserves that and our goal is to provide that for everyone.

I remember being a kid and trying on new boots and what that felt like and what that experience was like. We want to create that for every customer that comes in the door.

Q: When I look at Niky’s it seems that you guys connect with the city and the cultural aspect beyond just the sport. Is that true and does that make you guys even more unique as a soccer retailer in Los Angeles?

Luis: You are 100% correct. Futbol in this city cuts deep and there are so many creatives in this city and that gives us an opportunity to work on special projects that might have nothing to do with a cleat or a jersey. I’ve been a big proponent of soccer culture for years. I’m all about taking risks with local brands and with local artists to create special items and deliver them to the community. I believe there is an appetite here for that kind of stuff.

We’ve worked with LAFC, we’ve done popups with local brand FC Dorsum. We’ve done collaborations with local artists like Nevermade, he’s a graffiti artist that did a great collection with us for LAFC. We’ve done stuff with Guillermo Andrade from 424. All these things have a huge cultural impact. Not only to the game but quite frankly to the city. These are real LA stories—and if we can tell these stories and reach some kids. That’s the best, man.

Q: Speaking of LA stories, you did a project with PUMA that explored LA neighborhoods through footwear. Tell us about that.

Luis: That project was 18 months ago now. About three years ago PUMA came to us and said they wanted to do a project with key specialty soccer partners around the globe. For the US part of this, they wanted to partner with Niky’s and they wanted us to do it around LA. I think there were only four accounts across the world that were a part of this project. I told them from the beginning that this has to be about LA and they were super supportive of that.

We worked with another local artist, Qudo. The idea of the pack was that our first store was in downtown LA. In downtown LA there are a lot of different districts. We chose three to focus on: the flower district, the jewelry district and the garment district. We made three shoes inspired by those districts. We were really proud of that collaboration. It was promoted globally by PUMA. Antoine Griezmann wore one of the cleats. He was supposed to wear them for one game but he ended up liking them so much he wore them for like four or five games. That was a great project and we’re actually working on the second version of that now.

Q: How did it feel when you saw Griezmann wear something that you guys created?

Luis: CRAZY!! I couldn’t believe it. It gave us a great sense of pride. All the work that we have put in as a family was recognized globally. That was really special.

Q: You seem to have a great vision of where you see Niky’s going in the future. Can you talk a little about that?

Luis: I think we have a huge potential as a company. We have ambitious plans leading up to the Olympics and World Cup coming here. We’re hoping that the Women’s World Cup will be here soon. We’re bullish on our brick and mortar presence. We understand that we need to invest in digital, but we want to invest in digital to help it grow our brick and mortar and for both to compliment one another. We want to open more physical stores in cities that have asked us for a store. Continue working on collaborations with the local teams. Bring energy and differentiation to the soccer experience. And continue to show our love for the sport and our love for LA.

MASHUP KITS FROM THE HEART: FLOOR WESSELING

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We admit that talking about a guy who mashes up kits is a bit on the nose for our brand, which, is all about the mashing up of culture and football. However, Floor Wesseling is somebody who truly embodies the ethos of KTTP. The Dutchman grew up listening to Hip-hop, wearing Raiders Stater Jackets, and collecting kits from all across Europe. Wesseling is a graphic designer who worked for Nike designer National Team kits and currently is the Art Director for the Dutch National Team or KVB.

Floor’s latest project “Blood In Blood Out” is named after the 1993 film depicting the lives of Paco, Cruz, and Miklo as they struggle with the issues of identity, race, family and gang violence in their East LA home(Vatos Locos Forever). The collection also deals with similar ideas using kits and their crests as symbols of identity that inspire loyalty or animosity. It is a nod to European heraldry, the evolution of the kit as garment, and a social experiment meant to troll some of the long held and sincere hatreds in world football. 

 

A central theme of “Blood In Blood Out” is the power of symbols and the way they hide in plain sight on a football kit. When commissioned with an art show in Ireland, Floor plastered promo posters across the city with a half Irish half English kit. The community took matters into their own hands. “I Instantly realized I have something here because people are ripping the posters off…They hated seeing that combination.” Floor has even received death threats as a result of his mashed-up rival kits in certain communities where the tensions between clubs is especially high. But as he asked one complaintant, “Who would Ajax be without Feyenoord?”

Trafficking in team colors and club crests as “wearable flags”—he interested in how those symbols appeal to our personal, prickly senses of tribalism. Time and time again, Floor has seen that it’s all fun and games until it is your club that has been given the split shirt treatment.

“They love the projects throughout the years. I always got compliments, until it’s about you. If your rival is shown combined with your shirt, your identity, you get mental at me.”

Is it basic sadism to concoct kits capable of shaking the ardent footy fan? Floor would argue a more positive, purer intention. Through the catalog of controversial custom-mades, he makes no attempt to mask his distaste for his rival Feyenoord. The combination of these well-known public symbols is cathartic. “Unification in the face of obvious rivalry.” He takes a football shirt and uses it to talk about everything but football.

“Not talking about football, just using it as a canvas. Telling the story about Europe through heraldry.”

The most iconic of Floor’s cut and sew pieces include England/Argentina, House of Tudors, and Old Firm United. They quickly eclipse tired homecoming homages and leave you in a state of justified mystification at what two disparate symbols can conjure together. Wesseling is moving past the incediary rival kits and has began to make kits that represent a specific individual’s identtiy. He has made kits representing the entire careers, like the one he did for Ruud van Nistelroy, whose eyes lit up when he looked at the visual journey that the one shirt encapsulated. Floor also details a time when he was approached by a man in such wonder who asked for a Greece/Portugal shirt to represent the culture of his parents, his culture, and his blood.

As a designer, Floor Wesseling is an old pro in the football beautification business. He may be doing it in a manner in which we have never seen, but “Blood In Blood Out” is a footballing mirror. It reinforces what we value when the things we devalue are placed just inches away.

MESUT OZIL AND THE “BRUISED BANANA” ADIDAS ARSENAL KIT

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This year Arsenal came to Los Angeles for the first leg of their North American Pre-season Tour. Here in LA adidas and Arsenal unveiled the highly anticipated 2019/20 away kit inspired by the kit worn in the 92-93 season, affectionately dubbed the “Bruised Banana.” We caught up with Arsenal superstar Mesut Özil to get his thoughts on the kit and also pick his brain about 90s culture and fashion.

 

BROTHERHOOD OF THE FEET: SANDY BODECKER

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There is perhaps no one man greater at understanding the passion and intricacies of both soccer and skateboarding culture and their impact on the masses than Sandy Bodecker. When we started this feature, Bodecker was alive. You can imagine our shock when we learned–in the middle of writing this piece–that the legend passed away on October 2nd, 2018 from a battle against throat cancer. Not only does this affect the tone of the piece, inevitably turning it into a homage to his legacy, but more importantly it affects the world of both soccer and skateboarding as a whole.

For those unfamiliar with the Nike veteran, Bodecker was the architect responsible for instigating both the Nike Football and Nike Skateboarding divisions. Through his own passion and deep-rooted understanding of just how important these two sports are within their respective worlds, Bodecker put it best, “if Nike was going to truly be a global sports brand then we had to be great at soccer…It was sort of a cultural imperative.” Knowing his impact on both these worlds, because let’s be honest, Nike dominates when it comes to sports–yes even skateboarding ripe with vital-to-the-culture DIY brands–it becomes our duty to share our interview with the man conducted only weeks prior to his passing.

Going through his answers, it becomes blatantly apparent that Bodecker was the perfect vessel for channeling the importance of spreading both soccer and skateboarding culture to an audience the size of Nike’s. While it is safe to say that both sports ran strong the world over prior to Nike’s involvement, it is equally as notable just how much the brand has influenced and educated the general public since. And while this intro now seems to sound a little like its sponsored by Nike, I’m only emphasizing the scale of Nike’s influence on the two sports to help emphasize just how important Sandy Bodecker was as the man behind the scenes.

But before we delve into what made Bodecker so integral to soccer and skateboarding, it’s worth looking at how he got there. Bodecker’s last position at Nike was its VP of Special Projects, his first was footwear test coordinator when he joined the then running orientated brand back in 1982. Since then, Bodecker has held titles such as VP of Sports Culture, VP of Design, VP of Action Sports and more. Having moved internally throughout the company, Bodecker was able to fully understand, perhaps more than most, what Nike’s ethos stood for. While it’s easier to bring that ethos to the masses, the challenge is bringing what the masses has to say back to the brand. Bodecker was an expert at this. “Sandy aimed to visit a series of local skateshops to listen, learn and hopefully get a chance to inspire the skate industry with a newly reinvented Nike SB Dunk,” Nike states in an article on Nike News last year.

This is what made Bodecker so important to not just Nike, but to the people who followed and appreciated what Nike offered. You’ll be hard pressed to find a true SB Dunk head who doesn’t at least recognize his name. “With its focus on artistic individuality, creative collaboration, and epic limited edition product drops, Nike SB ruled and defined the sneaker game for close to a decade. None of it would have been possible without Sandy’s genuine passion and appreciation for both skateboarding and what would later become known as sneaker culture,” writes Woody from Sneaker Freaker mag in his own homage article.

And then there’s Nike Football, a now world-leading sponsor for the sport with many of its top players under its roster, and a major part of what soccer is within America, with Nike being the sponsor for half of the MLS in its inception. Soccer has been a part of Bodeckers life since even before his formative years, having “played soccer since I was old enough to walk,” he tells us. Bodecker saw just how important soccer was to the world, and if Nike wanted to be the biggest sports brand in the world, it had to get involved with soccer. Bodecker made that happen, and we thank him everyday for it. But not only is he passionate about soccer and skateboarding and having the rare ability to professionally connect the dots within their culture, he’s also a comedable human being. When asked what he would like to see more of in soccer culture, his answer couldn’t have been more dignified, “it would be to become a loud voice of positive social change, whether that’s to fight racism, poverty, classism, environmental challenges.”

With the below interview being perhaps one of his last, we urge you to read through what Sandy Bodecker has to say about the current state of soccer and skateboarding, his thoughts on where both worlds are heading towards, how his time at Nike really looked like, and much more. In addition to our exclusive interview, we also had the privilege of documenting Sandy’s own archive of footwear which you can enjoy below. Sandy, here’s to you, and may you Rest in Power.


Having been with Nike for so many years, you must have seen a lot of development within the brand outside of just running. Talking specifically about soccer, how would you word Nike’s approach towards the beautiful game? What is its ethos behind soccer?
I think the first word I would choose is “committed”… in the same way that we have been committed to running and the entire running community, we do the same with soccer. It starts with being connected to and fully understanding the game at all levels, and continually exploring innovative ways to enable players and teams as the game continues to evolve. Having personally experienced the game on every continent with the exception of Antarctica, you see and feel the passion the world has for the game and we use that passion to help fuel our innovation.

You’ve been integral in pushing soccer culture within Nike. Why was/is this important to you?
I’ve played soccer since I was old enough to walk. My father was Danish and I had as much a European upbringing as American, and being from the east coast (NYC/New England) I played from middle school on in both organized as well as pick-up games. Being aware of the importance of this as the biggest global team sport, if Nike was going to truly be a global sports brand then we had to be great at soccer… It was sort of a cultural imperative.

What do you look to for inspiration when it comes to soccer at Nike?
The inspiration comes from the athletes, the teams, the coaches and of course the fans. They all provide many nuanced layers of inspiration for Nike and me personally. We value their insights to the game and how we can help them perform at the highest level and to meet or exceed their individual or collective potential.

Can you highlight some of the main challenges you’ve found within soccer culture from a global standpoint?
I don’t really view the cultural differences as challenges but more as opportunities to deepen and broaden our understanding and connection to the game. The rich and diverse cultural views and approaches are what make it the “Beautiful Game.”

Being a soccer-orientated media platform, we see a lot of marriage between soccer and other forms of creativity, be it art, music, other sports, etc. What’s been the most obvious marriage for you and why?
I think social media has provided a platform and given a shared voice to athletes and fans. Due to the global nature of the game and the size of the global fan base soccer stars have a bigger social media base than any other sport. This combined with much higher level of outside interests by many of the biggest players and the money they’re making, make it a natural melting pot of the different cultures of art, music, design, entertainment…it’s analogous to basketball in the US but on a global scale. If I had to pick one for soccer, I would pick music as that is the true universal language that has no boarders.

Seeing as we’re enjoying the World Cup right now, is there a country that you’re rooting for? (while we’re passed this period now, we decided to leave this in to keep the interview in its original form)
Well, with the US out, I’m “doubling up.” One side of me is barracking for Denmark (obvious reason) and the other side is for Australia, my adopted home. Not much chance here but I value loyalty.

While the future is hard to predict, where do you see the sport of soccer going in the far future in terms of product innovation?
Soccer like any sport has a unique set of demands and in general players want to do more with less, you couple that with how the game itself continues to evolve and future environmental factors, there are lots of areas to explore from an innovation standpoint. As technology and material science improve, these will also provide new paths to explore and apply.

What would you like to see more of within soccer culture?
If I had one thing I would personally love soccer culture do more of, it would be to become a loud voice of positive social change, whether that’s to fight racism, poverty, classism, environmental challenges…basically to rally globally and collectively to enable positive change.

What’s your personal favorite soccer shoe?
Ahhh this will show my age but I’m partial to the original Ronaldo Mercurial

Given your involvement and influence on Nike SB, what were your thoughts on the Skateboarding division before you got involved, and where did you want to take it to – and why?
There were certainly some parallels that I considered when I accepted the Nike SB challenge. The main ones were, in both cases we were outsiders looking in and neither the skate or the soccer community were asking or looking for us to join in. It was really the opposite to that. The second, what we needed to do to gain a foothold was not going to happen overnight and we needed to be willing to commit 100% over an extended period of time before we could judge if we were going to be successful or not. With SB we wanted to be considered over time as a real and committed part of the core skate community but do it in a way the was unapologetically Nike. Essentially we wanted and needed to earn the respect, not buy it, as many expected us to do.

There are a lot of connection between soccer and skateboarding in terms of their cultures, such as borrowing designs when it comes to fashion and shoes. Being involved in both, how would you describe the connection in your own words?
There are definitely parallels from a cultural perspective and you see that where ever you travel to. I think the connection to the art community is a little stronger in skate due to board and T-shirt graphics playing such an important role and probably is pretty equal when it comes to music. But it does depend on where you are in the world. As an example, if you go to Brasil the top 2 sports for boys are skate and soccer and the girls are catching up… the creative community in general is deeply immersed with both so there it’s pretty equal. While is the US, skate is definitively ahead on the creative connectivity due how the sports have developed. From a footwear perspective both sports have their sort “ah ha” moments that sort of launched them into the collab mode. For soccer it was the 98 World Cup and the original Ronaldo Mercurial in silver/blue/yellow. Prior to that it’s was primarily black/White and that opened the flood gates to where we’ve evolved to today. For skate it was the SB Dunk collab’s we did with our original skaters Gino, Reece, Richie and Danny, along with early work on the AF1 that helped launch what is now the sneaker collector culture. Today you see those connections evolve with collab’s like the Neymar/Jordan collab on and off pitch.

What are some of your favorite soccer silhouette’s that you’ve pulled inspiration from specifically for Nike SB?
The two that stand out are the early Tiempo indoor and the first Mercurial Flyknit Hi both were leveraged into skate shoes that core skaters would use every day. The Tiempo SB has had 3 different iterations over the years.

Where do you see the connection between soccer and skateboarding going in the future?
I think as the popularity of soccer grows in the US and skateboarding grows outside the US, you’ll see more and more connectivity both sports rely on and are built around what you can do with your feet, are very democratic in nature and physical size doesn’t become an inhibitor to achievement at the highest level. Also in many parts of the world where access and cost become factors, there is a broader level of access for more kids so again back to the democratic nature of both sports. With skateboarding becoming an Olympic sport and the continued excitement around big tournaments like the World Cup or Champions League the future is bright and exciting for both.

SANDY BODECKER’S FOOTWEAR ARCHIVE


 

 

 

 

CAN THESE OG BRANDS REEMERGE AFTER JORDAN?

So the hype around the PSG x Jordan Brand collab was more than real. What we fail to realize though, or at least what I did initially, was that this is not the first time a brand totally foreign to the world of soccer has come in to stake its own claim. While numerous brands have come and gone before the Jumpman, the overwhelming success of this PSG x Jordan Brand collab has proven that there is obviously more than enough room for other brands besides adidas and Nike. There is clearly and more importantly real opportunity for brands out there right now, especially those with a streetwear heritage, to reinsert themselves back into the spotlight.

What follows is a list of brands I consider prime for a comeback or that I’d simply love to see back in soccer.


FILA

I start off with what is perhaps the biggest longshot, and that is FILA. Here in the United States, FILA has not been hot since the Grant Hill sneaker line. The same can be said about its stint in soccer as its heyday came at about the same time in the late ’90s and early 2000’s. Though the brand is not totally out of soccer as it sponsored some lower league teams in recent years, you start to wonder what sort of splash FILA could make in this new context we now find ourselves in, as well as with a much higher profile club to back it.


REEBOK

Reebok, as we all know, is a Crossfit brand nowadays, but who could forget the fire kits they put out in the not so distant past. This away number worn by Javier Zanetti in the late ’90s is one of the best put out by the brand. I know I can’t be the only one who wouldn’t mind wearing something similar to this with a fresh pair of Reebok DMX’s.


STARTER

Starter is another brand with a streetwear past to make a foray into soccer. Only a few years ago, the brand kitted out Oxford United, a team from the lower tiers of English football. While its design for the club’s home kit is not something that immediately grabs my attention, Starter still has an unshakeable nostalgia tied to it. There is definitely much for the brand to capitalize on, which is why I’d love to see some soccer club partner with Starter on some sort of apparel line at the very least.


CHAMPION

Rounding out the list is Champion, the brand I consider to have the most potential of all. Unlike all of the brands profiled just now, Champion is the only brand to still have considerable cultural relevance in the present day. Most of us might remember Champion in its time outfitting Parma. As those kits are still very sought after, I can’t help but wonder why the brand has yet to stage a comeback in soccer.


I hold out hope that some, if not all, of these brands will make their triumphant return. The timing just seems right as soccer now has the type of consumer that appreciates the allure of a brand with both a sport and streetwear past. Make sure to let me know your own thoughts on this topic in the comments below.

THE INSPIRATION BEHIND BEKCHAM’S FLASHY NEW CLUB

Neon lights, banging beats, party people and little sleep; some of the many things that typify the legendary city of Miami. Despite the often care-free, show-up late attitude of this South Florida community (the 2013 NBA Finals… yeah we’re still laughing), Miami is also a major sports city. From the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins and legendary quarterback Dan Marino to showcasing LeBron James in his back-to-back reign of terrorizing the league, Miami has given the nation timeless moments in the ether of sports history.

Enter David Beckham, a sportsman and cultural icon in himself. Having long sought his stamp on the managerial side of soccer, Becks has finally been granted Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami, the newest expansion team to the MLS. Inter Miami C.F. for short, already has the internet trolling, but aside from the name, which yes, could be slightly more creative, the design and inspiration is on point.

Going back and forth over what truly embodies Miami, Beckham aimed to represent the great Southern American influence that has come to embody the city. Though minimal in its presentation, each element in the crest reflects a different but unifying aspect; for example, the herons who are both inhabitants of the city and animals that migrate from Alaska as far as the coasts of Brazil, represent the many migrant communities that have made Miami their own. The eclipse in the middle showcases the day-and-night attitude that is ever-present throughout the city along with the ring around the crest that brings together the city’s inclusive nature. To cap it off, the pink and black color palette reflects the pristine views of Miami’s iconic sunrises.

Designed by DoubleDay and Cartwright’s Kimou Meyer (aka Grotesk), the club badge
beautifully blends Miami’s cultural pastiche in a clean graphic direction that serves as a great step forward for the rest of the MLS to follow. No stranger to the world of sports, Grotesk operates the vastly popular Victory Journal and states that the design process for Inter Miami took a long three years to bring into fruition.