What is your name and home field location?
Matt Varughese. We usually practice in Northeast Philadelphia at Eden Hall / Fluehr Park.
What is your connection to India?
I was actually born there, but I came here when I was really young. Born there, but brought up over here.
What made you interested in participating in the Unity Cup?
The tournament, all the events, and everything that goes on with it is a really great opportunity for all the communities to come together and mingle, to make friends and make relationships. I think that’s the key here. Getting to know other people, getting everyone from across the world to speak together, I think it’s a great thing. That’s probably the best reason why we’re in the tournament: making friends, and trying to adapt to their ways and their culture and understand it. Plus, soccer makes it fun. It’s an international sport.
What was your favorite moment from last year’s tournament?
Probably the one win that we got, that was pretty nice! We had a lot of injuries, and even this year we have a lot of injuries, so it’s going to be tough. We play in tournaments and different games, so at any given moment somebody can get injured from playing.
How did your team come together?
We have an Indian team on this side of Philadelphia that’s been around since 1987. I actually grew up playing in the junior team for that club, and I’m still playing for that club. People come over from India and different parts of the world and they come find us, friends and friends of friends. That’s how we know each other, through soccer.
Can you tell us a bit about the rest of your team?
A lot of us are not high-level players; we’re not professionals. Most of the guys we have haven’t played in high school or college, but we do have some guys that have played at that level. Most of the guys that we have, they’re amateurs. They just come and do it for the fun and have a good time and go home, pretty much.
What does soccer mean to your community?
I think it’s a sport that brings us all together as a community. I think that’s the best way to put it. A lot of guys and their families get the entire community involved to come to our tournaments, especially. We have kids’ camps going on, so we do give back to the community. Soccer is the common sport that brings the community together. Not just ours, but other communities to join ours.
Why is soccer important to you personally?
I love playing soccer. I’ve been playing soccer since I was eight, nine years old and I loved the sport ever since I had a soccer ball in my hands! I’ve played in different clubs, at school, college, here and there. Soccer is pretty much, other than my family, what keeps me going.
How has soccer made your life better?
From a physical standpoint, it’s probably the best thing that I’ve done for myself. I think it gave me a lot of leadership skills, too. It taught me how to interact with different people. Over the years, I think it has made me a better person, just playing the sport, meeting other people, and understanding all different types of people.
Why do you think soccer is so popular around the world?
It’s “the beautiful game.” I think the art of the game is what makes it so beautiful and well-known around the world. For example, if you look at martial arts and the way the hands and feet move, that’s the kind of movement you can compare with soccer, when you have a ball. It’s almost like a dance with the ball. I think if you can play soccer you can play any sport, because the most important thing in any sport is moving your feet.
How do you think soccer in general (and the Unity Cup in particular) promotes inclusivity?
Considering last year’s Unity Cup, I would say 100% of the folks that we met or came across were amazing. Growing up in the northern part of Jersey, and later growing up in Philadelphia, I kind of experienced racism, but when you come to the Unity Cup games, it’s amazing. You just feel the difference in how open people are, how welcoming they are, especially the Mayor and his Office, it’s amazing the way they’re handling things and treating people. It’s very welcoming and it feels good.
What places (such as restaurants or cultural centers) or groups in Philadelphia would you recommend to someone if they wanted to learn more about Indian culture?
I think most of the Indian community is in the Northeast area of Philadelphia, so that’s probably the best. There are some folks outside of Philadelphia — Upper Darby, that area — but Northeast Philadelphia is probably the majority.
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about India?
There are multiple religions. I think folks here have a misconception of how they see people from India, and from my experience most of the time people look at people from India as Hindu, but there are different religions, different languages, which is something I don’t think a lot of people realize.