Places that Matter
Place Matters Profile
By Adrienn Mendonca
I visited the Metropolitan Oval soccer field in July 2004. It was a long way from Manhattan by subway and bus and I got rained on three times en route. But I started having fun when I finally arrived around 5:30 in the afternoon and found the place packed and the crowds going crazy. Chuck Jacob and Jim Vogt were there -- two of the people who saved the field in the late 1990s -- and I convinced them to talk to me from the sidelines while they mowed the field and watched the end of a game with Met Oval’s Brooklyn Knights. I could see the Manhattan skyline from where we were standing.
Here’s what they told me:
“The size of our field is 4.2 acres. We’re the oldest continuously used soccer field in the country. German and Hungarian immigrants assembled the property in 1925 to be a soccer field for their own communities. They got together and sold shares and ran the operation. We still get visits from people who remember the field from the old days. There was a guy who came here two weeks ago. I think he was 92 years old and he walked with a cane. He couldn’t walk far, so he just stood and looked and looked. We asked if we could help, and he said, ‘I just wanted to see this before I die. I played here in the ‘30s for the Schwaben soccer club.’
The facility fell on very hard times over the years and in 1998, a few of us formed the Metropolitan Oval Foundation to save the place. The problem was that the field was created as a for-profit corporation, and the land was taxed at commercial real estate rates. There’s so much land it became too expensive over the years to keep up with the taxes. We created a nonprofit, and took out a Community Reinvestment Act mortgage with Maspeth Savings Bank to finance the back taxes. There’s a handful of us crazy people who had the vision to keep the place going. About a dozen people played a hands-on role. We tracked down all the former shareholders to convince them to let us convey the land to a nonprofit. We told them their grandfathers wanted this land to be a soccer field but it was now financially under water, so nothing was going to come of it for anyone, except a foreclosure, unless they allowed us to try and continue as a not for profit. Enough people agreed, so we were able to save it. The construction was quite a job. [The US Soccer Foundation, Nike, and the Gotham Cup contributed many tens of thousands of dollars to rebuild the Oval.] It's still not easy because we have to pay the mortgage and Con Edison. Our biggest expense is lighting. We try to compensate our coaches and do some other things, like offer scholarships. We get by.
We serve a low-income community, and it’s like a United Nations of soccer on any given weekend. What’s happened is that a piece of German American history has been recycled to become part of the melting pot of diversity that is New York City. We surveyed our players a while ago -- the boy players -- and 75% of our kids have at least one parent who was born outside of the United States. They came from 30 different countries.
At any given time we have between 2-300 kids in the soccer program. For the last two years, 100 % of the kids who graduated from this program went on to college.
We host all kinds of events of interest. Tomorrow, Manchester United is coming -- the famous English soccer club. They're doing a one-day clinic. We have the Bangladeshis here right now in a tournament. We're doing one soon with the Metro Stars. The soccer community knows to come here because there’s always something interesting going on. We also service a lot of the colleges, the CUNY university schools that have no fields to play on. They use the place and make donations, and that goes back to the kids.
Most people would have taken this property and sold it off to developers; that’s what happened with all the other fields. But if this place disappeared, you'd lose a piece of soccer history."
At this point in our conversation, the game ended, and these two friends of NYC soccer had to rush off and see to the players. The Brooklyn Knights lost, 1-nothing. Chuck and Jim said they would have liked to win, but the kids showed themselves pretty well, and with only one yellow card given, everybody had behaved themselves.
For more information about Metropolitan Oval, see these sources:
www.eteamz.com/metoval (lists game schedule and more)
Raymond Hernandez, “Newcomers Revive Old Soccer Haven: Diversity Fills Metropolitan Oval,” 5 May 1994, New York Times.
Rob MacKay, “Field of Queens,” January 2001, http://citylimits.org/content/articles/articleView.cfm?articlenumber=202
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