When communist soccer team the Left Wing Football Club and its anarchist rival Kronstadt Football Club announced a three-game tournament, some of the more intellectual spectators were curious: Why would the anarchists name themselves after a battle they lost to the Bolsheviks in 1921?
"Is Peregonovka too long to fit on a jersey?" asked one commentator on SF.Indymedia.org, where the matchup was first announced. "I'm guessing," offered another kindred spirit, "it's named after a battle we lost because we have this annoying habit of NEVER WINNING."
On the field, though, Kronstadt's "Harriet Tubman," a punkish, scrawny blonde player, responded to the question with suitable game-day bravado: "We're getting our revenge," she explained.
That remains to be seen. The first match was played last month at a high school in the upscale community of Piedmont -- a location, the organizers promised, guaranteed to make "your anticapitalist blood boil." It was a 2-2 draw, but everybody won bragging rights after the cops arrived to break up the game. That, at least, is how some of the players might tell it. The truth is a bit less dramatic: An uptight homeowner in a yellow polo shirt with upturned collar arrived with his fluffy dog to complain, and later called the Piedmont police to report this motley crew, which wasn't even from Piedmont, and was shouting disturbing slogans such as "Agitate! Agitate! Score a goal and smash the state!"
Kronstadt came closer to tasting vengeance this past Sunday at Berkeley's Harrison Field. In the hard-fought second of three matches between the anarchos and the commies, KFC beat the Left Wing 4-2. The commies, naturally, won the fashion-propaganda contest: They wore real red soccer jerseys featuring a clenched fist to Kronstadt's cheap sweatshop T-shirts, which did, however, bear a classic logo that incorporated the anarchist "A" and a soccer ball. But Kronstadt's players, perhaps having smoked less cigarettes the previous week, came out ahead where it counted.
By now, even some of the less-intellectual spectators may be curious: What the hell is all this? Well, it appears even anti-imperialists need to have fun, and god -- or some suitable alternative -- knows they could use the exercise. After months of planning protests against the war in Iraq, some of the local anarchist leaders started organizing soccer pick-up matches to blow off steam. The radical lefties were doing much the same thing, and when the two groups became aware of each other, "a challenge was made," according to player Andy Terranova, and the Anarcho-Commie Soccer Series was born.
During last Sunday's early-evening game in industrial West Berkeley the fog slammed in, the temperature dropped, the floodlights snapped on, and lonesome whistles blew as freight trains thundered past nearby. The Brass Liberation Orchestra was on hand, too, playing "Watermelon Man" among other numbers. By all accounts, it was a far more appropriate venue than Piedmont for this particular tournament.
Contrary to expectations, however, this was no game of bunch ball, where a clot of inexperienced players swarms the ball up and down the pitch. The level of play "is far more competent than I expected," noted spectator Kate Hoffman, who used to play in a San Francisco women's league. "For starters, they're passing the ball to each other. The girls are pretty cute, too."
Referee Adam Cohen was also impressed: "The anarchists are so well-behaved. They're playing respectably!" he exclaimed. "I didn't expect them to play by the rules. And Left Wing, they are a nice group with good players.
"This," he added, "isn't your typical soccer game; the crowd is not like this at other games."
He ain't kiddin'. It looked more like the audience at a punk show; the one hundred or so fans, some waving huge black-and-red flags, comprised a rainbow of hair colors, genders, sexual orientations, races, sizes, and shapes. This being East Bay political futbol, the tactics and substitution policies were also unusual: Both teams were making sure everyone who wanted to play got a chance, and that women, queers, people of color, etc., were sufficiently represented onfield -- the subs rolled on and off every two minutes, or so it seemed. "I grew up in Argentina, where the best player does a little dance with the ball and then only passes it to the next best player," explained Left Wing player Marie Poblet. "If we want to change the world, we have to change the way we play!"