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Villa International
San Francisco Papi League Team (Over 35)

Back row, standing: Bogdan (Poland), Mehmet Binay (Turkey), George Gigiolio (Italia), Toby Rappolt (USA), Martin McMahon (England), Bruce Yonehiro (Japan)

Center row, standing: Juan Carlos Gastaneda (Peru), Claude Sidi (Belgium), Jim Fenstermaker (USA), Ramon Kong (Peru), Carlo Togni (Italia), Jean Marc Merlino (France), Po Bronson (USA), Carlos Romero (Peru)

Front row, kneeling: Oscar Lino-Montes (Peru) holding Luke Bronson, Oscar's father Armando, Rabih Alameddine (Jordan), Ashur Yoseph (Iraq) the goaltender, Kaz Ohno (Japan)

(and other tales of Villa International)

The San Francisco soccer leagues are the oldest in the nation, founded in 1900. They are renowned in the western states for displaying the best ball; referees come from nearby states to be trained in our leagues. I began playing, intermittently, in the early '80s. Back then, the leagues were dominated by teams from Greece, Nigeria, and Ireland. Betting between team owners was common; it's now outlawed, but it's still customary at the end of a season for teams to throw games for cash, in order to keep a team from being relegated to a lower division. Today, the San Francisco soccer leagues are governed by syndicates from Mexico, El Salvador, and Peru. The Mexican clubs are named after the city the players come from -- Jalisco, Guadalajara, Mexicali, et cetera, or occasionally the bar that sponsors them, such as El Farolito. Every few years, these team owners elect themselves as a block to the board that controls the leagues, and changes the rules in order to squeeze certain teams out. That was how, in 1998, Villa was squeezed out on a technicality and forced to play in the Daly City Liga de Latina for four years. Just recently, we fought our way back into the San Francisco Leagues, and are fighting to win the second division.

Villa has its roots in a pick-up game that has played, every Saturday and Sunday, continuously, since the early '70s. Its home was a scrap of grass at the east end of the Polo Fields until 1993; from then 'til 2001 it continued on at the West Sunset fields, and last year moved to Daly City. I showed up one day in 1988. Back then, nobody's name was used. You were identified by your country. They didn't know what to do with me. They weren't comfortable calling me USA or America, because I did not play like an American. The Peruvians claimed I had Peruvian blood; the Africans insisted I must have Cameroonian forebears, et cetera. For awhile, I just was known as "the man who speaks spanish with his feet." 

The recruiting for me to join an over-35 team began when I was about 27. I was assured they could doctor a driver's license and get me into their league. I didn't take this seriously until I was 33, and divorced, and had no life, and nothing to live for, and was willing to play for anyone who would keep me company. Saturday nights were a torment for me, and I sometimes would play in three 90-minute games, for three different teams, on a Saturday - just to get tired enough to pass out and make it through a Saturday night. The Papi leagues played on Saturdays.

Misha y Juan Carlos Pauli (Maradona)

I joined Misha's team, Beach Chalet. His great rival, Freddie, ran Villa. They used to be teammates, until Freddie decided Misha didn't want to win and only recruited lazy players who wanted to drink beer. Of course, as soon as Misha signed me, this pattern was broken, and great excitement and enthusiasm surrounded Beach Chalet. Their old spirits were reawoken. The team began to win -- without me. For Freddie had reminded me, "who kept you company all winter long when you were going crazy after your divorce?" It was true. I owed Freddie my allegiance. Freddie and Misha met for lunch. They had not spoken in 8 years. Misha agreed to release me to Freddie.

Freddie at West Sunset

No sooner did I start playing for Freddie than the league suspended me, ostensibly for being under-age. I was to appear at certain hearings, run by the El Salvadoran syndicate. The maximum (and likely) punishment was a five year banishment from all FIFA leagues. Who had turned me in? Everyone suspected Misha. He insisted not. Speculation ran through the pick-up game, whispering every Saturday and Sunday. Distrust threatened to break the pick up game apart. Finally, the league called its witness: and it was Pantera. Pantera was a Peruvian from the pick up games who was not considered good enough for either Misha or Freddie's team. This was his revenge. 


I vowed to break Pantera's legs, and someday will. But I am too lazy in the heart. I *was* underage -- and if I was not on that team, perhaps he might have won a spot. I have had many chances to break his legs, but in the moment can't find my anger.

I didn't understand a single word spoken at my hearing. Afterwards, I learned I was sentenced to only a one-year ban. I'm not sure why they were lenient. They ended up charging me on the technicality of having registered for two teams, which carried that sentence.

Villa travels to San Quentin state prison