Nipun is an Assistant Professor of Biology at his alma mater, DePauw University. Nipun is a proud resident of Indianapolis where he has resided since 2009. His current research focus is to understand an important protein that plays a role in traumatic brain injuries. On an average weekend, you’ll find Nipun watching soccer at home, while eating a delicious Chicken Biryani from one of his favorite Indian restaurants nearby.
Soccer in Indy is a vehicle for community.
Soccer is reportedly the world’s most popular sport, estimated to be played and watched by hundreds of millions worldwide. There are many reasons for its popularity. Soccer transcends socioeconomic divides and can be played in multiple ways, in varying numbers, and on practically any surface. While sports like football, baseball, and basketball are often more popular in the Midwest, soccer contains arguably some of the most passionate, loyal, and diverse supporters.
Demographically, soccer supporters tend to skew younger and more racially and socioeconomically diverse. In the Indy region, soccer fans also tend to be community-focused, exhibiting a clear love of our home. In other words, our soccer community is inclusive to anyone who lives here, regardless of descriptors. But we also have an exclusive feel, sourced in unabashed civic pride in the city of Indianapolis!
While I’ll save my personal story for later, I believe that soccer—like a clathrin-coated vesicle—facilitates the integration of those who may feel like they’re on the outside. As former NYC resident Danielle Elizabeth says, “When I moved to Indy, I didn’t make any friends until I started playing pickup and league soccer. And that’s still the main way I meet people!”
After all, soccer is community. As Dani Rojas from breakout-hit TV show Ted Lasso would tell you, “Futbol is life.” Yes, Dani, you cherubic angel. Futbol is life here in Indianapolis, too.
Soccer resonates with Indy’s immigrant community.
Much like the fictional Rojas, Indianapolis resident Jorge Portillo moved to Indianapolis from Saltillo, Mexico. Saltillo is an industrial city that is about the same size as Indianapolis. While the cultural barrier initially made the move difficult for him, Portillo says that soccer helped him make new friends.
“Being away from my country caused a lot of homesickness in the beginning. Getting to meet people through soccer was kind of a safe haven for me,” Portillo told me. Similarly, Indianapolis-based entrepreneur and fellow Mexican expat Felix Medina said, “The sport has helped me find people who share a similar background and story. I have found international and domestic friends through playing soccer.”
Portillo and Medina are a part of a variety of Facebook groups that organize pickup soccer games every weekend. These games are played in a wide variety of locations, like Northview Middle School, Broad Ripple Park, and Founders Park. Sometimes they even play on the IUPUI greens or the greenspace in front of Military Park in downtown Indy.
Soccer is a way to see past our differences.
The leader of one of these popular Facebook groups is Arman Amirhamzeh. Amirhamzeh works as a chemist at one of Indy’s pharmaceutical companies. He tells me that he moved to Indianapolis in 2003 and quickly made “life-long friends” with his fellow soccer players.
During pickup games, Amirhamzeh is a no-nonsense defender. But you also get to see his gregarious personality! He’s a man who loves having a soccer ball at his meticulously maintained black leather cleats. “This truly is an international game that brings people together. On the pitch, as an Iranian, I got to make friends with Iraqis who I was supposed to hate. The love of the game brought us together and made us see past the political bull***t.”
At first glance, such statements of unity may seem debatable. This beautiful game certainly has not addressed political strife at a global scale. But Amirhamzeh’s point is that soccer’s cohesive nature brings people together at the local level. It’s tactile. That’s the throughline here. The soccer field provides a space to recognize similarities, while the real-world can exaggerate presumed differences.
In other words, a soccer ball serves as an icosahedral connection across cultures!
Indy Eleven is Indiana’s professional soccer team.
The Indy Eleven considers itself a community-based professional soccer club. The club was founded by Ersal Ozdemir, a Turkish immigrant who found success in real estate development in Indianapolis. Now, Indy Eleven has become synonymous with the city’s soccer scene. The club currently plays in the United Soccer League, a second division league of 31 teams from across the country.
Indy Eleven has even aligned itself with local soccer organizations. For example, they helped fund a brand-new futsal court at Arsenal Tech High School. The team also organizes themed events during their home matches to facilitate a reciprocal relationship with the Indianapolis community.
The team is scheduled to play 16 home games this season. And their Senior Director of Communications & Marketing, John Koluder, says that plans are underway for similar events this year. “Our 2021 Themes & Promotions calendar will indeed be released in April, which will include some old favorites and new nights that we hope will be favorites of current fans and potentially bring some new people to ‘The Mike’ to check out an Eleven game.”
“The Mike” refers to the Michael A. Carroll Stadium on IUPUI’s campus. After their two-year stint at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indy Eleven will now use this stadium as its home base. While players might be disappointed to lose out on Lucas Oil’s top-notch facilities, loyal fans are excited to be returning to their first home. And none more so than the team’s OG supporter group: the Brickyard Battalion.
Show your team spirit with the Brickyard Battalion.
The Brickyard Battalion (BYB) is a non-profit fan group and the pre-eminent supporters for the Indy Eleven. The existence of the BYB even pre-dates the club itself! And you can easily notice them in their usual spot behind the West goal of the stadium. The BYB is an intentional assault on your senses. You can smell the sulfurous, serpentine smoke. You can taste their branded lager before and during games. And you can feel their boisterous cacophony reverberating under the steel stands, fueled by drums, chants, and cheers.
In the stands, you can see the Brickyard Battalion in all of their beautiful heterogeneity. They’re a jolly mix of booze-chuggers, avowed teetotalers, tattooed hipsters, mustachioed princes, proudly queer people, pro-NRA shirt-wearers, anti-NRA shirt-wearers, Taylor Swift fans, and everything in between. They all stand side by side and sing in support of their local Indianapolis professional soccer team. For two hours every home game, the BYB is the pluralistic society that I wish existed around us.
The Brickyard Battalion is a friendly, soccer-loving community.
The current leader of this group of loveable misfits is Katherine Reed. Reed herself comes from a multigenerational soccer-obsessed family. Her father, Frank Hall, is at each home game and is known for his toothy grin and infamous dad jokes. Her young son, shaggy-haired Elliott, is adored by everyone within the community. The BYB has watched Elliott grow up. And every year he gets better at performing his cherished nutmegs on unsuspecting BYB patrons.
Reed says that the BYB is particularly looking forward to this year’s return to The Mike. “We’re closer to the field, closer to the players. And better able to make our presence known to the poor souls that have to go up against the Boys in Blue.” They’re especially excited because they’ll be allowed to deploy smoke again—something they were prohibited from using at Lucas Oil.
The BYB is also known for their fun-filled and community-oriented tailgates. Reed says that the BYB’s focus on community remains unchanged this year. In her words: “From community clean-ups to pickup soccer games to tailgates and fundraising, we want to get back to days where we come together, do good stuff, and have fun.”
Photo courtesy of Katherine Reed
Enjoy soccer during the summer with Indy City Futbol.
Another one of Indy Eleven’s community partners is Indy City Futbol, an innovative summer league conceived by Indianapolis resident Jordan Updike. Updike is now the commissioner of the league and emphasizes that Indy Eleven has played an important role during the league’s half decade of existence. “Indy Eleven provides partnership, sponsorship, and community relations events. So, we can participate together to provide better soccer and build a better Indianapolis community!”
This season, all the games will be played at the historic Kuntz Stadium located near IUPUI. The league prioritizes our local community, awarding points for using public transportation and partnering with local bars and restaurants. The league consists of 24 co-ed teams organized by Indianapolis neighborhoods. And they pride themselves on supporting soccer players of varying abilities.
But soccer is about more than just the game.
Soccer is not just a community for soccer players. In fact, there is a vibrant—and often overlapping—soccer-watching community that you can find at soccer bars. These pubs include Union Jack Pub in Broad Ripple, Chatham Tap in Mass Ave, and Red Lion Grog House in Fountain Square. These soccer pubs model themselves after conceptually similar pubs across the pond. All day, you can see soccer games from across the world and patrons enjoying some delicious fish n’ chips alongside their hoppy lager of choice.
These pubs are also home to a variety of local chapters for English and German support groups. These range from a few people for the beloved Queens Park Rangers to the many members of the Arsenal group. Indy native Amir Zaid—unmistakable with his long, dark hair and Zorro-esque facial hair—is a Manchester United supporter. Zaid says, “Discovering you support the same club or starting to banter with someone that loves a rival club… It’s like a secret club where everyone speaks a common language.”
Soccer is part of my immigrant story, too.
I consider myself an honorary Hoosier. I moved to the United States in 2002 as a nervous eighteen-year-old with an uncertain future. As the first incoming class after 9/11, I really was unprepared for how unprepared America was for me. And I was equally guilty. I expected things to be easier. I expected to make friends rapidly and fit in. But I had too many sharp edges.
Language was never a barrier for me. But the spoken word is merely a means to the promised land of what communication truly is—a connection between two people. In order to connect with somebody else, one has to understand cultural references and idiosyncrasies. Many immigrants such as myself initially struggle with this.
Ultimately, ‘community’ is about finding like-minded people. For many Americans, soccer is the sport you think about once every four years when you see World Cup advertisements on everything from cereal boxes to Coca Cola. But for many immigrants, soccer is a vehicle for finding our community.
I connected with my new home through soccer.
At every point of my now eighteen-year stint as a Hoosier, soccer has helped center me. I joined a team in college. I’ve played in multiple leagues at SportsZone Indy, CCA Sports at Orchard School, and Off The Wall in Carmel. And I even started a faculty/staff pickup soccer game at my current place of work.
Soccer is my safe haven. Through podcasts, Indy Eleven games, friendships and relationships catalyzed by soccer, it has helped fill the cavities in my life. And I mean that literally; I also play soccer with my dentist! (Shout-out to the exceptional Michael Harris, DDS!) All of the people I have played and watched soccer with have become my community.
Whether you’re an immigrant, a misfit, a multimillionaire real estate investor, an apolitical sports fanatic, or a fun event junkie—it’s all good! There are only two descriptors that matter. One: live in Indy. Two: like the beautiful game of soccer in some form. If you meet those criteria, then Indianapolis’ soccer community is your community.