The Chinatown Soccer Club is one of the most inspirational soccer clubs around. It was founded in 2002, when adidas invited crews from New York’s creative industry to take part in the Fanatic Tournament, where the “CSC” played alongside teams formed by the likes of Alife and Supreme. When the tournament was over, the guys decided to keep on playing. And after 15 years in the game, it’s safe to say that it’s much more than a soccer club. It’s a collective of artists, photographers, designers, and skateboarders who approach the sport from a completely different angle. While having fun together and encouraging one another is still at the club’s core, the creative drive among its members has led to various collaborations with brands like adidas, Stone Island, and Incase. We met coach Gerhard Stochl, one of the founding members of the club, to find out more.
(Note: This is a shortened excerpt – read the the full interview in Sneakers Magazine #36!)
Gerhard, please introduce yourself. What brought you to New York, and how did you get in touch with the group of people that formed the Chinatown Soccer Club in 2002?
I was born and raised in Vienna, Austria and lived in Germany for a few years during high school. In 1993, I moved to Los Angeles for skateboarding and school although, to be honest, I probably did more skateboarding than school. I started shooting photos for skateboard magazines in Europe, moved up to San Francisco for a few years, and then relocated to New York in 1999/2000. I had already been here a few times en route to Europe and I always loved it. Just the energy of the city and the diversity of the people living here. I had also wanted to branch out a bit from working primarily in skateboarding, so it seemed like the right place to be. Then, during the summer of 2002, Adidas hosted the first Fanatic Tournament on the West Side of Manhattan. A bunch of downtown crews and stores had teams. Supreme had a team. Opening Ceremony had a team. Alife had a team. It was like, “Wait, you’re into soccer too?” The vibe was super rad and friendly. It was an epic time.
You mentioned that CSC grew out of the Fanatic Tournament in 2002 – and after the tournament, you guys just kept on playing. How did you end up being the coach, and how hard is it to organize a team of creative people with their own agenda?
Fanatic was fun, but it was only a one-day thing and some of us were inspired to keep playing. We all lived downtown or in nearby Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg and most of us worked in the creative industries. Artists and creatives have more flexible schedules, so we decided to meet a few times a week in the morning at this field in the heart of Chinatown. And that’s part of the reason why this works. It would be hard for a person with a proper corporate job to play at the times we do. As for becoming the coach, well, that was definitely tongue-in-cheek because there’s no coaching involved. That being said, every group needs a dude who makes sure that people show up on time, there’s a ball, and things stay organized. And I became that dude.
Do you always have the same group of people? How much does it fluctuate?
We’ve been playing for 15 years now, so there has been a sort of natural fluctuation. People move away or get too busy or whatever. But we have a strong core group of folks who have been part of this for more than a decade, and then anybody who joins is always a friend of a friend. Ultimately, we’re a club, and without being elitist, we’re selective about who gets to play. It’s really the only way to keep things as fun as they are. A lot of us come from skateboarding, surfing, and sports that are traditionally non-competitive, so the most important factor is making sure everyone on the field remains friends and has a good laugh. That’s rare when you’re playing a jock sport like soccer.
Supreme had a team. Opening Ceremony had a team. Alife had a team. It was like, “Wait, you’re into soccer too?”
Why football and not basketball, tennis, or some other activity? What’s your personal story and where does your love for football come from?
Personally, I grew up with it, like any good little Euro boy. My dad played, so I did as well. I was ok, so I ended up playing a bunch of times a week, but it all got to be too much for me. Mainly due to the level of competitiveness and stress. So when I discovered skateboarding, I didn’t look back. Luckily, my parents were cool with it and always let me do what I wanted. I really didn’t pay much attention to it for the next decade-and-a-half or so. But that being said, there’s no other sport that’s ingrained into global culture the same way that football is. You can literally go walk into any bar around the world and have a conversation with a perfect stranger about it. Even people who might not be actively supporting a team stay informed with the World Cup and other big games or tournaments. It’s inescapable, but in a good way. I mean, I remember watching the second half of the 1990 World Cup final at the Tropica Skatepark in Germany, or the 1998 World Cup final with a bunch of Brazilians after the biannual contest in Lausanne, Switzerland. It was mental. So yeah, I think aside from the United States, most of the world grows up with football and, at its best, it connects people across countries, cultures, and even languages.
CSC is made up of several great creative people and includes some more well-known names. Can you tell us who some of these players are (and were)?
We have a lot of photographers that play, and Peter Sutherland might be the most well-known of these. Peter Bici, a former pro skater for Zoo York and Supreme and now a New York City firefighter, is part of the club, and Mark Gonzales has played with us a couple of times too. Ryan McGinness is a pretty established artist and one of the founding members. So is Dan Funderburgh, an artist as well, and Alex Klein, formerly a pro skater and now a director and writer. In all honesty, it doesn’t make a difference within the club who anybody is. We’re all friends, and realistically, because we’re all creative, there’s usually stuff to talk about or collaborate on away from the pitch as well.
I know you have a long history in skateboarding, and I guess everybody on the team has his own DIY angle. In many subcultures, football is viewed as part of the jock world – and you’re at the opposite end. Is that a contrast you have to deal with? How do you make sure that CSC doesn’t get too serious?
Oh yeah, football can definitely be the worst. Jocks and hooligans. No thanks. I think the reason it works for us is because we approach it from such a different angle. It’s more like a skate session. You try to have fun together and encourage each other. It helps that we also don’t allow slide tackles, aggro shouting, or any other jock-type behavior. That being said, people are definitely trying and there’s a fair amount of shit talking as well! It is New York, after all. Gotta be able to take a joke! Ultimately, it all stands or falls with the group of people who are playing together. That’s why it’s so important that we all know each other and that any newcomers are friends of friends. Everybody gets the vibe and is there to have a good time.
You run CSC like a classic garage skate brand. You’re a collective of people bound by friendship, you have your own logo and shirts, you do collaborations… When and how did this cultural aspect come about?
I think that’s hitting the nail on the head. A good number of us have a background in skateboarding or DIY culture. Plus, many of us are creatives from different fields (like graphic design, photography, filmmaking, etc.) so we’ve collaborated when we wanted to get something done. After first making some basic merch for the club early on, we published books, made bags, and generally designed our own gear because we didn’t want to be running around in stuff from some random company we have nothing to do with. It’s key to remember that there’s really no money involved in these projects. It’s more of a creative outlet for us. We’ve done collaborations with companies, but it wasn’t to set ourselves up for retirement. It’s a creative side project we all care about, and because it isn’t paying the rent, we can decide what makes and, perhaps more importantly, doesn’t make sense. Basically, whatever our members get excited about and whatever moves the club forward is something we’ll embrace.
Are you supported by brands with shirts, shoes, or anything else?
We have a longstanding relationship with adidas that goes all the way back to the first Fanatic Tournament in 2002. We’re also friends with a lot of people there and they have always been really cool and supportive when it comes to jerseys or bibs or balls. We have also worked with, and more importantly, become friends with the folks at Stone Island, Incase, and a few other brands. We try to be transparent and honest with whomever we work with. Ultimately, the Chinatown Soccer Club is an independent football club represented by its members. That’s how we like it.
Speaking of collaborations, you did the shoe with adidas, an Incase bag, an issue of Arkitip magazine, and a whole lot more. Your 15th anniversary was celebrated at the Football and Arts festival in Mexico City, and you released a capsule collection together with Ringleaders from Montreal. Are you guys turning CSC into a brand or will it continue as a just-for-fun project?
We have asked ourselves that question before. Turning the CSC into a “real” brand would just mean a lot of work. Trade shows and things like that. Plus it would probably take some of the fun out of it. I had some of those experiences working in the skateboard industry and many of our members – at least the ones that are actively involved in pushing the club forward – have as well. So while it’s tempting to sometimes make our merchandise more readily available or capitalize on what building a proper brand could mean, we’ve all lived through some cautionary tales ourselves. So maybe the answer is, well, maybe?
Could you please share with us three favorite personal moments from 15 years of Chinatown Soccer Club?
There are so many! Where to start? Tournaments don’t really matter, of course, but it was cool to make it to the finals of the Fanatic Tournament back in 2003 and then again in 2005. We lost both times, of course, but we had a good run. Traveling to my hometown of Vienna, Austria and building up a temporary clubhouse to celebrate the release of our collaboration with Adidas was some once-in-a-lifetime shit. And, most recently, Mexico City was an epic experience. Such friendly, open-minded people, and that’s not even starting to talk about all the amazing food. Plus trips to London and multiple road trips to Montreal, followed by four editions of the Chinatown Invitational, where we invited friendly crews to travel to New York for a weekend of football and general mayhem. Anyways, like I said, too many to mention!
15 years of CSC is a long time. As you guys grow older, are you bringing in new, younger players or will the club grow old with you?
A little bit of both? Bringing in new and younger players is key, of course, just to keep things fresh and exciting. Plus playing against somebody who is a decade or more younger keeps you on your toes. At the same time, it’s great to see many of our members evolve with the club. Some of us have known each other and played together for 15 years. That’s kind of insane to think about.
After 15 years, do you have any goals with Chinatown Soccer Club? What would be an ideal scenario for the next 15 years?
The goal is, and always will be, to keep playing. I try not to think too far ahead. It’s fine to make plans for this season and maybe the one after; life will take care of the rest. In many ways, the best things that have come out of this club are obviously the friendships that have formed as part of it. We’ve been to each others’ weddings, watched our kids grow up together, made fun of yet another grey hair or loss of pace. Seriously though, fifteen years is a long, long time – longer than most jobs or even relationships last – and in a city like New York that can sometimes feel very transient, it’s been a consistent source of fun and inspiration.
What’s next on your agenda?
We’re working with our Korean fullback Pep Kim and his brand Chrystie NYC on a capsule collection to celebrate our fifteenth anniversary. It’s awesome because Pep started playing with us a few years ago; he was a friend of Peter Sutherland’s now wife and he fit right in. Over the years, he has gotten more and more involved, shooting photos and generally contributing to the club creatively. Plus our field is located on Chrystie Street in Chinatown, so it’s come full circle, as they say.