By Paul Gardner
They had a little bash out at Franklin Square on Friday. Franklin Square, that's just outside New York City, the beginnings of Nassau County. An area I
don't visit too often.
Whatever, I went out to this affair. Because, despite the Nassau County location, I considered this very definitely a New York City affair. It marked the 75th
anniversary of the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League. Think about that. An American youth soccer league ... 75 years old! Founded in 1933, before most Americans had any idea what the sport was all
about, way before the term soccer mom was ever heard.
Founded by mostly German immigrants in Queens. And it's survived all those years. It now has tradition, it has history, it even has
its own share of dignity. And it has inspired tremendous loyalty over the years.
No, this wasn't a "little bash" -- I was joking. There must have been some 300 people in the place,
oldsters, middle-agesters and youngsters and -- well, all sorts, every sort. With that one thing in common. Soccer people, all of them. And that other thing -- they're all New Yorkers, whether they
know it or not. Indeed, whether they like it or not.
And, I'd guess, most of them are volunteers who give their time freely to the sport. Before the deafening music started, when I was
still able to think about things, I recalled that last year there was another soccer event in New York City -- one of those $1,000-a-plate affairs, with David Beckham in attendance. I didn't go to
that, I wasn't asked anyway. But I know
that glitzy affair wasn't the real thing, the thing with soccer at its heart.
This was. Because the CJSL has never had any other aim or
interest than what is now modishly called "youth development." Actually, there's a hint of older times, different times, in the league's very title. Back in 1933 they didn't know about youth soccer.
They called it junior soccer.
If the CJSL were being founded today, I suppose it would have to get the word academy in there somewhere. Even though CJSL people don't use fancy terms like
that, the CJSL has always been an academy, I suppose, without knowing it. It has always attracted the real soccer people, it has always paid attention to the kids -- and along the way it has produced
top teams and some pretty good players, too.
One of the ceremonies the other night was to induct the new members into the CJSL Hall of Fame. They included two players who had played on
CJSL teams -- Claudio Reyna and John Wolyniec. Like I said, some pretty good players. Claudio was there and received his honor with grace and simplicity. John was not there -- he's in Argentina with
the Red Bulls -- but his mother stood in for him. I first met her years ago when she was a baffled soccer mom -- she confessed to me that she didn't think much of her son's wish to become a pro soccer
player. A wonderful lady, still wondering when John is going to get a real job.
Damn! I've mentioned some names, and I didn't mean to do that, because there are simply too many worthy
people who have been, and continue to be, involved in running the CJSL, or who are associated with the clubs that it includes.
People who know about being out on fields in the heat and in
the snow, people who know about booking fields, about finding fields, about arranging schedules, about arranging transport, about pleading soccer's case with whoever gets in the way ... and all this
for the kids. And they've been at it, quietly and tirelessly, for 75 years.
Nostalgia sets in. The world is changing. A gathering like that of Friday night -- will it be possible in, say,
20 years time? I hope so, but I suspect not. Change is at work. Junior soccer has become youth soccer, clubs are now academies, volunteers are replaced by paid coaches. There will be soccer gatherings
in 20 years time, but not quite like this.
I'll break my vow one more time and mention a couple more names. No one's going to mind me citing George Donnelly because we all loved him,
and he's dead now. George Donnelly, who did so much for his club Gjoa, and for the kids, and -- I think -- for the CJSL. Maybe I'm wrong there, because he was a cantankerous guy who could be a right
pain in the ass.
Emil Cohill, as the CJSL's longtime secretary, had plenty of experience in dealing with George. For years the CJSL insisted on using goal-average as a tiebreaker, when
the entire rest of the soccer world had switched to goal-difference. I asked Emil why they didn't make the change. "George won't hear of it," he replied. I brought it up with George and ran into a
stone wall. Until one day I noticed that the change had been made. "How did you get that past George?" I asked Emil. "We snuck it through while George was in the toilet," he answered.
Emil, quite rightly was the first guy ever elected to the CJSL Hall of Fame. He is still the CJSL secretary, still the volunteer guy who does everything. The salt of the soccer earth, as far as I'm
concerned. If we ever do arrive at the day when there are no more volunteer secretaries, no more Emil Cohills, I can only comment that the world -- not just the soccer part of it -- will be a much
less agreeable place to live in.