Over the past few years, there’s been a curious influx of hip creative types, not drinking illegally imported Absinthe or procuring rare vinyl recordings of Polynesian ukulele quintets, but actually getting physical, playing soccer.
One of the hubs of the bohemian futbol action can be found in Central Tampa, on the outskirts of Ybor, where the ubiquitous Brian Taylor coordinates the FC Heights Tampa Bay league.
Taylor, known for his Sleep of Reason Film Series, DJ stylings and visual art, founded the Heights FC of Tampa Bay league in 2010, which sports an all-star roster of movers and shakers — among them activist (and former City Council candidate) Kelly Benjamin; Tim Baker, USF Graphicstudio master printer; Jade Dellinger, artist and curator of the John Cage exhibition at the Tampa Museum of Art; 2008 Tampa Photo Laureate Jeremy Chandler; and Brit-born architect Richard Headland.
“I’ve made a lot of new friends doing this,” Taylor says. “It’s been a good opportunity for networking.”
Pickup games, with no set teams, are 6-8 p.m. on Mondays at Cuscaden Park. Taylor keeps players informed via updates to a Facebook group page, provides pinnies (soccer vests), and foots the bill for use of the field, lights and other incidentals. In return, he just requests a few bucks now and then.
The 42-year-old schoolteacher played competitive soccer during his formative years in Town ’n’ Country. Inspired by the last World Cup, he renewed his dedication to the sport and now plays, not in just one, but three leagues. But those intercity battles don’t keep Taylor from soldiering on with his local posse, for whom the post-game happy hour pints at New World Brewery are a big motivator.
“They’ve become our unofficial sponsor,” he says of the pub. Despite FC’s preponderance of uber-hip and aging scenesters, pretty much anyone any age can show up and play. The league typically breaks up into two teams, the reds, made up mostly of Central Americans, and greens, a mostly “gringo” mix, which even includes a Dutchman.
Sportsmanlike conduct prevails — and one gal, Laurie Ann Takacs of South Tampa, plays with her husband, Ken, and 14-year-old son, Kyle, a precocious Plant High student who shared that he’s both a Zoroastrian and “hu-MAN-ist.”
Local filmmaker Peter Knight, who filmed one of Bradley Cooper’s first flicks in Tampa, said he digs the diversity. “We’re looking for Estonian, Latvian or Estonian players to represent the ex-Soviet bloc,” he joked while petting Albany, his white German shepherd.
During a recent February night, the teams steamed up the chilly night air while running the expansive patch of grass north of V.M.’s old public pool complex on 15th Street. “Vamonos de acqui, yo!” could be heard as three reds rallied in a defensive triangle, volleying with precision, but the greens didn’t go too easy on them.
Eleven-year-old goalie Jose Dreyton Murillo, exuberant and animated, resembles a less-dandy doppelganger of Manny from ABC’s Modern Family, bounding to and fro in defense of his net. Sadly, the plucky protector couldn’t block kicks from Jeremy Chandler. The photographer scored his first two goals that night.
Brit-born Headland took breaks to nurse his fractured ankle, an injury incurred while playing with the over-40 league. But he, like the others, remained upbeat. The non-English speakers smiled and nodded to the reporter on the field.
“I’m thankful that Brian put this all together even though I kinda suck,” Kelly Benjamin later said via e-mail (he was out ill on game night).
“A lot of social events in Tampa revolve around standing around, drinking,” Benjamin continued. It’s nice to have one that revolves around running around, kicking a ball. Plus, it’s improving my Spanish.”