E-mail banter is great assist to the beautiful game

BY MICHELE HERMAN  |  Two years ago in these pages I published a story about my long-standing fandom/eavesdropping/spying on the entertaining e-mails of a group of guys who have been playing pickup soccer in East River Park for so long that when the group started there was no e-mail.

My appreciation has little to do with soccer; I’m embarrassed to admit, I barely know the rules. But I have a soccer-loving husband who shares my home e-mail address, which has been on their routing list for more than a decade through a soccer-playing, former, next-door neighbor of ours.

I never let on that I was writing about them — New York being a small world and The Villager being a widely read paper, I figured they would get wind of it on their own. Also, I was a little nervous about the fact that I was using their first names and quoting liberally from their e-mails. How would Blagoy, for instance, take it when he saw my citations from the game report of Oct. 30, 2011, the day of the freak slush storm: “Blagoy, in a moment of hypothermic madness, took off his shirt and had to be counseled by the remaining sane ones to put on something”?

Two years went by, and they never found out.

Then, recently, my husband asked if I would send them an invitation to a nutty soccer-related performance piece he was involved in at work, and I decided it was time to come clean. I sent the invitation followed by a link to my piece, with this note: “In case you’re wondering who the heck I am… .” Then I waited nervously.

I needn’t have worried. The guys were delighted to have a moment in the sun, even if the moment was two years old. Eddie, the de facto leader and scribe, sent this around: “Omg! A woman in our midst!! What do we do?!?!?! Kenny — no more inappropriate posts and poses please!” And then this: “Just wanted to let you know that your coming out to us was definitely the event of the year (ok so we don’t get out much aside from soccer…).” Then Maurice ribbed Eddie and said he wished that I had supported the guys’ various charity athletic events over the years: “if you would have, I am sure the whole team would have come out full Monty if required.” Esteban added: “I am sure this was in the NSA leaks. I knew we should have read it all.” And so on.

Once the teasing died down, I received a steady stream of moving thank you’s:

“Thanks so much for outing yourself and for keeping silent for so long!” wrote one player. “I’ve been part of the game on and off for over 10 years and you’ve beautifully captured the essence of the friendships and matches that occur within the group.”

“I feel very lucky to be able to play with this guys pretty much every saturday,” wrote another. “Its one of my favorite things of the week.”

Said another one of the weekend warriors, “Over the years I’ve come to enjoy the friendly email-banter almost as much as the beautiful game itself, it’s fun to read how you feel the same way without even playing… .”

Yet another wrote, “Most of you don’t know me as I was a regular with the group till 2001 when I left the city and now only play once or twice a year when I am back visiting. Just like Michele, I too, twelve years later still open every single e-mail as if something important will be missed if I don’t. I guess it is ‘being part of the group’ that will be missed. Keep it up guys!”

In solidarity with my own sex, here is my favorite, from the wife of one of the guys: “I felt that I just had to respond, since he dragged me over to the computer to read your article. I’ve known a number of the guys for years and what you wrote made me laugh OUT LOUD!!”

One of the guys is going to interview me for his soccer blog. Meanwhile, they invited my husband and me to brunch. We met seven of them after the game at Grape and Grain, a warm, welcoming little place in Alphabet City where they are semi-regulars. We shook hands and introduced ourselves by our first names. (My brain automatically filled in the long-familiar last names.) These guys, as I already knew, are not your run-of-the-mill jocks. I learned about Guillermo’s cutting-edge brain research, and the efforts of Stephen from Ireland to introduce a Japanese liquor called shochu (distilled from sweet potatoes, rice, barley and soba) to the U.S., and Blagoy’s triumph as a child actor in the Bulgarian theater.

Soccer — what a great game.

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