What is your name and home field location?
Panha Sok. We play every Sunday at a soccer field in Cheltenham, right next to Café Soho.
Note: Panha is a former player and was last year’s co-captain. He will not be playing this year, but has decided to dedicate his time to support the team!
What is your connection to Cambodia?
We want to be heard and continue to promote Cambodia throughout Philadelphia. As of right now, we are in the process of making Cambodia Town official on the map in Philadelphia.
What made you interested in participating in the Unity Cup?
The Unity Cup is all about friendly matches with other communities and representing Cambodia. We want our country to be known throughout Philadelphia.
As a returning team, what was your favorite moment from last year’s tournament?
When my team members and I walked into the stadium representing Cambodia. We also enjoyed all three of the matches we played. It was not about winning, but more about creating a positive vibe between the two countries.
How did your team come together?
We all have known each other and played soccer together for quite some time. Our interest to represent Cambodia led us to create a team. We officially established a team two years ago.
Can you tell us a bit about the rest of your team?
This year, our captain is Sovannak Sam. Most of our players range from the ages of 19 to 25. All of them played when they were young, and many started playing in Cambodia.
What does soccer mean to your community?
Unity and brotherhood.
Why is soccer important to you personally?
Back in Cambodia, that is the most famous sport we all grew up playing and watching. Soccer was the sport we all knew.
How has soccer made your life better?
It was not too long ago that Cambodia was in an unstable environment. We turned to soccer to help us release stress and worries from the tension arising in our country.
Personally, it encouraged me to interact more within my community. Before soccer, most of our players barely spoke or knew each other. Once we learnt that we all shared the same common interest in soccer, it brought us together. That naturally led us to want to represent our country in the Unity Cup because we wanted to be heard and to connect with other communities.
Why do you think soccer is so popular around the world?
It goes back to what soccer means to our community – teamwork and brotherhood. Soccer is not about the skilled player. It’s about teamwork because with no teamwork, there are no goals. It also goes back to our team motto – “Be a flock of birds.” Like a flock of birds, we must move as a team rather than individually.
How do you think soccer in general (and the Unity Cup in particular) promotes inclusivity?
It brings more awareness of the countries represented throughout the city. A couple years ago, no one knew what or where Cambodia is. We would walk around the city, and the common perception was that we were Korean, Japanese, or Chinese. The Southeast Asian countries were underrepresented. Now, instead of assuming, we are asked where are from. That gives us the chance to say, “Cambodia,” and it makes us feel proud.
What places (such as restaurants or cultural centers) or groups in Philadelphia would you recommend to someone if they wanted to learn more about Cambodian culture?
I recommend visiting Cambodia Town on 7th Street between Wolf and Jackson. Cambodia Town is where you can learn about the culture from the activities and events held there, and the restaurants.
Try the “Chean Coun” (ginger fish) and “Prahok Ktiss” (fish paste and curry) at I Heart Cambodia. Then at Khmer Kitchen, I recommend the “Amok” (a national dish of Cambodia) and “Maju Krueng” (sour soup stew).
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about Cambodia?
Our nation has a rich history and culture. People have the tendency to immediately associate Cambodia with the Killing Fields and Khmer Rouge. Those are negative, heavy topics. I want people to know that Cambodia is more than the Khmer Rouge.