Vancouver Courier: Street soccer president named community MVP

The Whitecaps and Vancouver Street Soccer League are waging a relentless around-the-clock online campaign to secure $10,000 for the grassroots sports program and recognition for its outgoing president Alan Bates.

The professional soccer club nominated Bates for the league-wide 2012 W.O.R.K.S. Community MVP, a Major League Soccer charitable initiative now in its fifth year that addresses social inequality and promotes health through sport.

“He’s really deserving of this community award,” said Whitecaps ambassador and former national team player Carl Valentine. “We want it so much for him because he deserves it and obviously, the money that comes in will enable him to do a lot more for homeless soccer. We’ll be doing everything in our power to make sure that happens.”

Ever the team player, Bates recognized it might be his name on the ballot but said the honour is shared.

“It’s unfortunate that they had to put one person’s name down because we’re all about being a team of volunteers and a team of street soccer players who work together and that’s the way that we’re approaching this contest,” he said. “We’ve got a huge team of people voting over and over and over and over. It’s fun that way—it’s another team activity that we’re working on together.”

Teams from around the league name a candidate who makes a difference in their town. Online voting began last week. The winner claims the cash prize, a chance to see the MLS all-star game in Philadelphia.

Since supporters can vote more than once, street soccer players, volunteers and supporters are furiously voting as often as they can sit down at a computer.

Valentine has voted, and the street soccer league hosted a voting party Monday afternoon at the W2 Media Lab in Woodward’s after a handful of Whitecaps players joined them for a scrimmage at Oppenheimer Park.

On a Facebook page created to drum up support and motivate voters, players joke about launching midnight and morning “attacks” and coordinating their efforts to pick off competitors. “No. 1 and No. 2 are right in front of us,” said one voter. “I can smell them.”

The ploys are playful but not in jest since $10,000 is at stake.

Out of 19 nominations, Bates jumped from 12th to seventh and, over the weekend, crept into fifth and then fourth. On Tuesday morning, he sat third behind nominees from the Philadelphia Union and FC Dallas.

Voting closes at 2 p.m. Friday, July 13 and can be done HERE.

Like the calm at the centre of a storm, Bates is one of the street soccer league’s primary administrators, its technical director, and coach of the Portland FC men’s team. He is also the league’s president, although he is leaving the volunteer position and the league will hire a part-time executive director. Professionally, he is a psychiatrist.

He is appreciative of the Whitecaps and its charitable foundation, both which have contributed time, money, equipment and game tickets to the league.

“Sometimes, what I’ve heard some street soccer players say is that it’s nice to feel like you’re someone important,” said Bates. “Just with some of the problems street soccer players run into with poverty, mental illness and addictions, sometimes there are feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness that set in and if you’ve got the Whitecaps to come visit you, you’re not nobody.”

His dedication to the city’s marginalized and disenfranchised has created opportunities where none existed before, said Debbie Krull, a goalkeeper who tended net for Team Canada at the Homeless World Cup in Paris last summer.

“He is calm and quiet and has endured numerous instances of extreme violence and character assassinations. And he’s completely calm. Because of that perseverance, the league has grown,” she said, noting the rise of a women’s program and a team called Phoenix.

“Not only does he create space for the league, he creates space for each player to share their personal challenges. The fact that men are openly disclosing and making themselves open to him to share, that’s really quite amazing and rare, especially in sport. He’s creating that space where men feel safe and can overcome their challenges. Not just men, women, too. The fact that I have this opportunity to talk to you and express this—even this is one of the outcomes of Alan’s perseverance.”

Along with self-control and a wellspring of self-esteem, Virgil Goosehead discovered his latent ball-handling talent after he joined Portland FC.

In an email to the Courier, Goosehead wrote, “Coach Alan has given me a new understanding of soccer, how it’s played, rules, and most of all PRIDE!! He has taught me that a ball can change the world, and how to deal with my anger on and off the field. I admire his kindness and passion to help street people.”

Through the street soccer league, Goosehead secured housing and now plays for a team he helped found, the Station Street Express. Along with Krull, he represented Canada at last year’s Homeless World Cup. (Full disclosure: I also volunteer with the league.)

“I’m voting for Alan because if it wasn’t for him, a lot of us street soccer players would have never experienced the things we’ve done. Without Street Soccer I wouldn’t have a clue what I’d be doing.”

The Whitecaps partnership with the Street Soccer League started about four years ago when the club’s alumni team played the Vancouver Dream Catchers, the inaugural team and the impetus for the league that followed.

Valentine played in that early game. He said the changes he’s seen from individuals has been remarkable.

“You get to hear some of the stories and the journeys they’ve had and where they are now. You go back again and you see the transition. Some of the players that have come from that world where they’re just down and out—there’s just nothing for them—and you give them a lift, give them a healthy outlook on life and it just really is incredible.”

The Whitecaps ambassador pointed to the source of the league’s growth and its individual and international accomplishments: “I think he’s got everything to do with it—Alan’s passion and his desire to give people another chance at life.

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