Late Knights On The Soccer Field

As Westport debates Big Issues — senior housing, state mandates for affordable housing, the tiny minority population here — one word pops up often: “diversity.”

No one claims this is an economically or racially diverse town. But it is diverse in some ways. Westport is filled with people from around the globe. A couple of years ago, for example, of the 66 boys in the Staples High School soccer program, 33 — exactly half — had at least 1 parent born overseas. That list was extensive: Vietnam, Egypt, Norway, Mexico, you name it.

And speaking of soccer, alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor sends along these thoughts:

On the 50th anniversary of jUNe Day next month, Westport will continue its wonderful tradition of hosting staff from the United Nations, and their families.

But a mini-UN can also be found 52 weeks a year at Long Lots and Wakeman, in a pickup game among soccer old-timers. I had the great pleasure of playing with the group —  called the Westport Late Knights  — on weekends (before health issues forced me to the sidelines in 2008).

At one point, I counted almost 20 different nationalities in the game. Over half the players live in Westport. Others are friends who live nearby, and/or used to live here. I used to play soccer in Central Park, and the international mix was no greater than in the Westport games.

One benefit of the Westport pickup games is great camaraderie, accompanied by cultural exchanges and lessons: in international dishes, foreign beers, and learning how to express one’s displeasure to the referee in a variety of languages.

The Westport Late Knights on a trip to England, in 1999. Fred Cantor is in the front row, 2nd from left, between the two players whose hands are on their knees.

The Westport Late Knights on a trip to England, in 1999. Fred Cantor is in the front row, 2nd from left, between the two players whose hands are on their knees.

Politics is sometimes discussed. It was interesting for me to hear first-hand the views of those who have come here from overseas, and to hear what their friends and families back in their native countries were thinking.

Another benefit is that this month the Westport Late Knights took their 10th international trip, to Slovakia. They played matches (known as “friendlies”) against other old-timers. Past trips have been to England (twice), Italy (twice), Ireland, Spain, Bulgaria, Costa Rica and Antigua.

The trips were almost all organized by Late Knight players with ties to those countries. The trips enabled us to meet and socialize with local residents in a way we wouldn’t normally be able to, as tourists.

The Late Knights on their trip this month to Slovakia.

The Late Knights on their trip this month to Slovakia.

Naturally, it hasn’t always been pure fun and games. The Late Knights organized one fundraising tournament in memory of a player’s relative who died in the South Tower on 9/11. They organized another tournament as a fundraiser in memory of a team member’s daughter who died of leukemia. And they came together to raise money for a memorial bench and fund in remembrance of teammate Kuti Zeevi, who was murdered in his Westport jewelry store during a robbery.

The Late Knight members are indeed a mini-UN — with soccer cleats.

6 responses to “Late Knights On The Soccer Field

  1. Matt Silver

    This is a great post. I’m currently studying abroad in a small city in Spain, and meeting people from all over the world in everyday experiences is one of the best ways to learn about other cultures. Soccer’s an especially great way to meet and socialize with others as it’s a language more universal than English. Having UN meetings and all helps with diversity, but I think if more people thought like this, breaking the ice and meeting others in simpler ways, we’d get there a lot quicker and have a lot more fun!

  2. Isaac Levi

    Great article about the WLK, I have been playing with the WLK for over 25 years, great group of guys, I hope we can do it forever.
    Thank You Fred, we will always miss you at the field.
    Isaac

  3. Freddie (every soccer player seems to get a vowel added to their name) sums up the Late Knights experience very well. I started with them when our son was five (Hankie, an Austrian on our street, got me involved) and played Wednesdays and Sundays until the legs would no longer carry me.

    This was a wonderful experience, one that more fully developed my appreciation for the world and its peoples, and offered me insight into the beautiful game. It also kept me out of my wife’s hair for a bit of time and offered me an opportunity to play with and against my son.

    Like Freddie, if I could still go I would still go. By the way, note the fellow in the second row second from the left in the Slovakia picture. Johnny is well past AARP age. He’s like the Energizer Bunny.

    I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity.

    Jimmie

  4. Thank you Fred for capturing the essence of the WLK in a few words. I still can’t believe it’s been 30 some odd years since the old boys created this thing that we have. It is my hope, and I think I can speak for the other founders, that it continues for as long as possible. What a great treat it is to have the sons of our members join us on our goodwill trips. Thanks also to Drogan, Quigs, Keneally, Karl, Kuhls, Jahn, Job, Kuti, and all no longer playing or no longer with us.

  5. Terrific story, Fred. Sounds like a great organization, worlds away from FIFA!

  6. Thanks for everyone’s kind words.