Tim O’Sullivan: Language of soccer universal
Concord junior defender Augustine Fornor feels the pressure from Hanover's Xavier Tchana as Hanover beats Concord High School 1â0 in Division I boys' soccer semifinals at Stellos Stadium in Nashua on Thursday, November 7, 2013.
(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)
Concord freshman defender Emmanuel Smith chases down the ball as Hanover beats Concord High School 1â0 in Division I boys' soccer semifinals at Stellos Stadium in Nashua on Thursday, November 7, 2013.
(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)
The world is coming together in Brazil. No translators are really needed for the World Cup party because there’s a common language – soccer. The same unifying force has been connecting people in Concord for years.
“Soccer is really its own kind of language,” said Kyler Thayer, who was the captain of the Concord High soccer team last fall. “So when kids get together from all over the world they can talk to each other on the field through their play, so it was easy for us to communicate without the verbal part of it.”
The Crimson Tide had five foreign-born players on the team in 2013, four from Africa and one from South American, and all were in the starting lineup. Augustine Fornor and Emmanuel Smith from Liberia, Mohamed Mohamed from Somalia, Danny Nkhalamba from Malawi and Gaston Arocena from Uruguay.
The international Tide was a powerhouse in the state and finished with a 14-3-2 record. Concord reached the Division I semifinals before losing to eventual state champion Hanover, which went 19-0-1. The only blemish on that record was a 0-0 tie against the Tide.
The soccer team acting as a melting pot is nothing new at Concord. Foreign students have been finding common ground on the pitch at Memorial Field for the last decade.
“That’s been a trend for the past 10 years or so where we have players from different countries contribute,” said Scott Dunlop, who has been the Tide’s head coach for 18 years. “The Concord High community has really embraced kids from other cultures, not just on the soccer field but throughout their education.”
But the integration that happens on the field helps foster the same process in school.
“I think soccer has helped me a lot in school,” said Fornor, who came to New Hampshire from Africa 11 years ago. “People at school accept me for who I am, I don’t have to do anything to make people like me.”
The camaraderie of the Tide’s diverse roster also stretches beyond the field.
“All the teams have had that family atmosphere,” Dunlop said. “We’ve had good leaders on the team that have taken some kids under their wings to help cultivate that culture that we’re all one team no matter where we’re from.”
“Everyone gets along outside of school and off the field. We think like a family,” Fornor said. “Whenever we do something, we include everybody so everyone can have a say. We never left someone apart from anything.”
That includes watching the World Cup. Matt Chartier, a junior captain last fall, hosted a viewing party for the team for the United States and Ghana match. Most were happy with the 2-1 U.S. win, but not all.
“I was supporting Ghana,” Fornor said. “I stayed at my house to watch that one. It was pretty upsetting.”
Chartier and Nkhalamba had their World Cup viewing partially interrupted as the two took a trip to California last week. But the rest of the team is neck deep in the tournament. Thayer was in the middle of watching a match when he was reached for an interview. Dunlop had just finished watching one. And Fornor, who misidentified the incoming number, answered his phone, “The Ivory Coast lost, I know.”
As the Tide players watch the World Cup, they can see some of the styles of play they witnessed on their own team. The language of soccer may be universal, but it does have regional accents.
By “playing with kids from other countries, you learn how to play at a little faster pace and how to play more physical, and you learn about heart,” said Thayer, who will play at St. Anselm College this fall. “U.S. Soccer is kind of slower and less physical. And in so many other countries, football is life for a lot of these kids, so that’s how you learn about heart.”
Blending the varying styles has been a key component for Dunlop. The coach said everyone needs to adjust to find the best fit for the team, but he also tries to utilize the diverse talents his players offer.
“We try to find that balance every year so we put everyone in the best position,” Dunlop said.
In order to get his players in those ideal positions, Dunlop sometimes needs a little assistance with the language barrier. He recalled one season where he had a player who spoke only Swahili, and the coach needed two people to help him communicate – one to translate Swahili to French and the other to translate the French to English. And this season junior Dominique Girard had to translate for Smith, who is a recent immigrant and speaks only French.
But once the coach’s instructions are delivered, the language of soccer does the rest.
“Coach taught us that you don’t need to talk to someone to know where they are on the field or what they’re going to do,” Fornor said. “You just need to look up and know that they’re on the same page as you. That’s one of the reasons our team was so good. We knew where everyone on the field was and what they were going to do without calling out names or anything like that.”
The same thing is happening in Brazil, where all the world is speaking the same language.
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)