The beautiful game

Photo courtesy of William BrockMembers of Three Forks FC pose after a game in 2013. Front, from left, are: Massaro and Peter Ueti (Brazil), William Brock (USA), Helmut Kirchoff (Germany), Juan Parra (Colombia) and Andy Dephtereos (USA). Back, from left, are: Manuel Acevedo (Colombia), Ayad Rahmani (Iraq), Carlos Suarez (Argentina), and Owen Vassell (Jamaica).

In 2004, a group of middle-aged men sat in a downtown Pullman coffee shop to talk about forming a soccer team. They weren’t doing it for their kids. They were creating a team for themselves.

The Three Forks Football Club was born that day and, 16 years later, it’s still alive and kicking. It is a modest team few people know about, but it has provided incalculable joy for its members.

This is the story of a soccer club that’s made a big difference for many people.

Humble beginnings

Anybody in a college town can play soccer during the warm summer months, but it takes some resourcefulness to organize a regular indoor game during the winter. It takes more resourcefulness to filter out the aggressive young guys who will break your leg, then step over you when the final bell rings and it’s time to leave.

After that initial meeting, I approached the Pullman School District, asking to rent a gymnasium at the elementary school that my children — then unborn — later attended. A deal was struck, and 90 minutes of gym time was scheduled for two nights per week, from late September through early May.

After that, one of our founders — Pullman native Paul Spencer — built a set of sturdy goals from PVC pipe. Capable and clever, Spencer hand-tied the nets.

Another founder, Barry Ramsey, owner of the now-defunct D8 manufacturing company near Potlatch, designed our club emblem of three crossed dinner forks. The design pays homage to Pullman’s original name of “Three Forks.” The club colors of dark blue and yellow were chosen by early member Nicolas Schwint, a tough hombre from Buenos Aires, whose favorite team — Boca Juniors — also wears blue and yellow.

The final, most important step was recruiting the right kind of players. From the outset, the criteria were pretty simple. The ideal player should be: 1) Over the age of 50; 2) a parent, a homeowner and a well-employed professional in Pullman or Moscow; and 3) foreign-born, if possible.

The idea was to provide an outlet for skilled, older players who, fearing injury, don’t play much anymore. College kids always can get a game, but it’s riskier for older players.

As it’s been every year, our original roster was pretty eclectic. Among others, there was a Bolivian engineering professor, an Iraqi architecture professor, and a Zimbabwean electrical engineering prof. There always have been a few Americans in the club, but never many.

Three Forks FC is the most educated team any of us have played on. With three physicians and a passel of college professors on the current roster, the average level of education is somewhere around a Ph.D.

Everybody pays annual dues between $35 to $50, which goes toward rent, new balls, and spare parts to repair the goals. Some years are lean, and some years are fat, but annual membership hovers around 13 to 14 players.

The way it works

Because some of us have young kids at home, we start playing at 8:45 p.m. The first 15 minutes are spent warming up — stretching, jogging or kicking a ball in small groups.

Thanks to injuries and out-of-town conferences, not everyone can play every night. Typical attendance is around 10 players.

Our cheerful Brazilian, Massaro Ueti, has a good eye for choosing balanced teams, so he takes stock of whoever shows up, then assigns half of us to wear a yellow shirt and the other half to wear blue.

The gym is small, so we play 4-on-4 with each team having a sub on the sideline; when you’re tired, you trot to the sideline and launch the sub into battle. There are no dedicated goalkeepers, but one player usually hangs back to defend. We use a special indoor ball that looks like a normal soccer ball, but it doesn’t have much bounce; because of this, it is easy to control.

The emphasis is on offense, and it’s common to see 40 or 50 goals scored in a single evening. Because we’re old and fragile, we play a gentlemanly style of defense. Everybody has to go to work the next day, so aggressive defending is frowned upon.

Although several of our players moonlight with other teams, Three Forks FC never has played a competitive game against another team. We play solely among ourselves, so it always boils down to friends playing against friends.

Living in the moment

For an hour or so, we lose ourselves in the game. There is no “before” and no “after” — there is only “now.” The game ebbs and flows, and there are plenty of moments of breathtaking skill. There also are moments of comic clumsiness, but we’re pretty good value most of the time.

We talk a little trash, and we laugh a lot. We run, and run, and run. Everybody scores goals, and nobody keeps track of the score.

Finally, when there’s about 15 minutes left, we boost the intensity with a little gambit called “First to Five.” As the name suggests, the first team to score five goals is the winner. At this point, the carefree spirit of the previous hour is tempered in the hot fire of rivalry.

Both sides want to win.

Some nights, it only takes five minutes. Other nights, it takes 35 minutes. Eventually, the fifth goal goes in and we congratulate each other for another great game.

The portable goals get folded up and put away. We change back into our street clothes, then push open the doors and depart into the night.

A couple of days later, we get back together and do it all over again.

Editor’s note: Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Three Forks FC played its final game of the season March 11.

In their own words

Editor’s note: The following is a series of quotes from members of the Three Forks FC soccer club, based in Pullman. The players, many of them from around the world, are well-educated professionals from the community:

Javier Illan: “When I moved from Spain, I knew nobody in this country. Our games helped hugely to change that. To be honest, it’s one of the things I am missing most during the confinement.”

Nigel Campbell, from Pullman: “As we age, team sports gradually leave us behind. This club has meant that we can play soccer right up to (or past) retirement age. Our game wouldn’t beat a group of 20-year-olds, but it does have its own elegance with beautiful goals, great drama, and feats of athletic brilliance. We get to bask in that glow all night as we ice our knees.”

Massaro Ueti, from Brazil: “Soccer — jogo bonito — is not just a sport. It is life for most Brazilians. Three Forks FC is a wonderful club because it helps everyone to relax and have fun after a long day at work. I love to play with a bunch of old guys.”

Carson Seeber, from Canada: “I often imagine the cares that are checked at the door to the gym, left there for 90 minutes, and then picked up again when the last goal is scored. For 90 minutes, we are just footballers. There are no surgeons, veterinarians, journalists, CEOs, professors, or engineers.”

Helmut Kirchoff, from Germany: “It’s the perfect mixture between being competitive and relaxed. The atmosphere is welcoming and fair, with an international mix of different soccer styles. It is the perfect motivation for healthy exercise.”

Mark Lange, from Germany: “It’s a great opportunity to play the beautiful game with good people without getting hurt.”

Andy Dephtereos, from upstate New York: “Playing is such a release. I usually don’t know what the score is, or if I scored or missed the last time I took a shot. It is my best example of living in the moment.”

Martin Suarez, from Argentina: “I’ve played soccer since I was a child. All I’ve gotten from it are good friends.”

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