Kick Starting

FC Kickers Pufendorfer 13 – 0 FSG 49 Lichtenrader Füchse – 22.09.17

Watching the ball ping around the pitch, rarely straying far from the foot of a player in a yellow jersey, it would be tough to guess that the dominating side was playing its first ever match as an officially registered club. The lopsided score line certainly didn’t reflect a team making the jump into a tougher league and first foray into organized amateur football, but when a club’s own expectations and roots are so unique it’s hard to imagine their results being run of the mill.

And so, it was with a 13 – 0 victory that FC Kickers Pufendorfer Berlin (FCKP) announced their arrival to the VFF (Berlin’s association of recreational football), a result sure to turn rivals’ heads throughout their 7-a-side Kreisliga division. Of course, even if this was their first match sealed with the gleaming, bureaucratic approval of Berlin’s countless offices for sport and recreation, FCKP has quite a bit of competitive history under its belt. The Kickers fielded two teams in the Bunte Liga from 2013 to 2017, and have probably participated in as many friendly matches and tournaments (both international and domestic) as Bayern Munich in the same period. Their official status and place in the Freizeitliga pyramid is new, but had plenty of time on the field in the past couple years. Last week’s victory was the latest step in FCKP’s evolution from a bunch of couch surfing buddies casually playing pick-up back in 2008. The football has clearly gotten more serious, but the couch surfing roots are still a visible part of the team’s play and a pillar of its philosophy.

A medley of languages and accents rises from the FCKP sideline as players critique officiating decisions, offer words of encouragement and tactical advice to one another, and laud the avalanche of goals notched in their favor. Spanish seems to be the working language on the pitch, but that is liable to change based on the makeup of the matchday squad, which pulls from a broad pool of players representing about as many countries as those in the EU. The Kickers’ diversity is at the heart of their project. Bringing people together and building community were the underlying goals when a small crew began organizing games as couch surfing events at a field on Pufendorfer Str. in Friederichshain nearly a decade ago. Even then, the core group had players from Germany, England, Morocco, Chile and Spain.

These pick-up games formed the basis for what would become an inclusive community of players throughout the city, as well as the more formal roots of FCKP, which created its logo and started playing organized matches in the Bunte Liga, as well as throughout Europe, in 2013. The team’s founders are still involved with couch surfing, and see the Kickers as a means of integrating some of Berlin’s steady stream of newcomers into the city. One of the Kickers, who arrived from France a couple years ago, said the team ‘saved his life’, offering a network of friends and plenty to do on and off the pitch when he was new in town. Although being in a bad mood is a bit of a challenge when your team wins 13-0, FCKP’s comradery was on display all evening, with players in good spirits, joking around and clearly enjoying their time together.

Building Bridges – Oberbaumbrücke on the club crest

FCKP isn’t just about welcoming people to Berlin: they’ve made bridge building an international mission. Traveling for matches and the type of intercultural exchange that is only possible after sharing copious amounts of alcohol has become an increasingly important part of the Pufendorfer crew’s mission. They travel for matches two or three times a year, participating in alternative amateur tournaments and organizing matches and tournaments with local teams. Since 2013, the FCKP tour bus has had pit stops in Denmark, Poland, Ireland, Romania, Latvia and throughout Germany. The team has organized the Baltic 4 Cup, initially taking place two years ago in Riga and occurring again this year in Tartu, Estonia, to link together teams throughout the Baltic region. The Kickers also host visiting teams in Berlin.  Travelling with a crew of some of your best friends is always going to be a great time, but it has also been a means of connecting teams and players from throughout Europe, promoting exchange, and helping expose some of the Pufendorfer players who may be new to Europe to unique travel opportunities in locations they might not think to visit on their own. Hospitality, offered either from various hosts dotting the continent or by FCKP to visiting teams from abroad coming through Berlin, seems just as important (if not more so) than the results on the pitch.

FC Kickers Pufendorfer has managed to grow significantly while keeping their roots and philosophy intact. This, of course, can be a bit of a strain, requiring a balancing act between their laid back, open and inclusive nature, and the demands of a new league with much tighter regulations than the Bunte Liga. Team members all chip in to make things work, contributing to the herculean task of filling out all the paperwork needed to register the club with the VFF in the offseason, designing logos and matchday posters, promoting the club, photographing games and producing match reports. Even tactical and substitution decisions seem to be a democratic initiative open to the players, which may need to be sorted out for the odd day FCKP isn’t up five goals by half time.

Based on their opening game, things on the field are looking pretty rosy. The home side controlled the match, frequently pressuring the Füchse into choking up the ball and moving it across the pitch with ease. While many of their goals were results of a clearly exhausted and quickly frustrated opponent and some nice team play, there were also quite a few flashy displays of talent that should help the Kickers stay towards the top of the division. How the team will face the challenging shift from fielding two teams in the Bunte Liga’s monthly tournaments to having one squad (rotated from a massive player pool) participate in a regular league with weekly matches is yet to be seen, but even if the incredible victory of their home opener becomes an exception and not the rule, there’s little doubt they’ll manage to find continued success in their greater mission of bringing people together, making Berlin a bit more welcoming, and travelling in the name of football.