Parks & Rec’s Clifton Jackson recently spoke with Coach of Team France Farahmand Kalayeh at Radnor Memorial Park.
Clifton Jackson: Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Farahmand Kalayeh: Yeah. I live here in Conshohocken. I actually practice here in this field every morning.
Clifton Jackson: What’s this field?
Farahmand Kalayeh: This is Radnor Memorial Park. And sometimes guys from France and our team members, mostly French speaking from Morocco, come to play. They love to come to this field. On the regular field our permit is at Haverford Reserves. But we go back and forth between this field and that field.
Clifton Jackson: Did you grow up playing soccer?
Farahmand Kalayeh: I played soccer, barefoot growing up. Barefoot. We didn’t have any soccer balls back then either. So we used to find stuff from the trash, old plastic balls and put them together to make them viable balls. The happiest moments of my memories, of my life, were those when we played on asphalt barefoot. Afterwards, everyone would get in trouble because by the time they got home everything had to be washed. But soccer was and still is irresistible. I mean, the beauty of soccer, that’s why they say fair game. It’s the beauty of technique. But it’s mostly about how easy it is for everybody to jump in and play. That’s what’s good about it.
Clifton Jackson: I love that. So going into my next question. How did you first hear about the Unity Cup?
Farahmand Kalayeh: Well, I started 15 years ago, with a tournament called Liberty Cup. I was a legendary goalkeeper. It was amazing. So a group trained at Upper Merion High School. We had this tournament. So through our team, the French international team, we, historically have put, I think, four years in a row, but we did very poorly because we didn’t realize the caliber of the competition. It was such a high-level, almost semi professional or professional. So we got beat 14-1. And when I took over, as the assistant coach, it became a little more, you know, reasonable. We would lose 4-1, 6-1. And then last year, we had a legitimate opportunity to move to the next phase. I think our team won the third player or preferred team award because one team didn’t show up on time and they should have been forfeited, but we decided to play.
Clifton Jackson: Yeah, I think I was just looking at the webpage. It was in the honors.
Farahmand Kalayeh: Yeah, Yeah. We were leading one nothing well into the first half. So what happened was our team was very young. They were fast. But they were overpowered by these bigger and older players. Now I think this year, we should get to the next phase of the tournament. We have a very good combination.
Clifton Jackson: And you guys typically practice here [Radnor Memorial Park], or do you?
Farahmand Kalayeh: Yeah. We’re trying to schedule practices at Ramp park But we practice tonight at Haverford reserve at six o’clock. This is a very committed team. They want to win. And they’re all young and hard-headed too. I loved coaching them to our first win at the Unity Cup.
Clifton Jackson: Is there a team you’re looking forward to playing this year?
Farahmand Kalayeh: The caliber I see here and have seen so far, I think we have no issue facing any team. I would say, I’m confident we’re going to pass the second round. So, it’ll be very interesting because we’re starting our training now. It’s so symbolic us meeting today for this, because tonight we have our first gathering of the whole group.
Clifton Jackson: How does it feel to be a coach, a representative of team France?
Farahmand Kalayeh: France is an adopted country, but we have people coming from the French International School who cheer us on. So it’s a very proud moment, there’s no question about it. That in itself speaks volumes about the organizers of this tournament. I mean this was one of the, I think key reasons that Philadelphia got picked to host The World Cup in 2026 is because they have such a grassroots approach to the city’s neighborhoods. And also I believe its due to creating this platform, that basically provides the conditions for safe, equality games and interactions. I mean through these conditions we made so many friends who come from all walks of life. Everybody. When we finished our games with team Jamaica, I think they brought us pizza. And we took pictures together, all sweating and such.
Clifton Jackson: True brotherly love.
Farahmand Kalayeh: Yeah, exactly. And that was remarkable. And people started to recognize that, yeah, this is soccer, but there is more to it.
Clifton Jackson: So you kind of said something that was interesting to me. You said that, like people come out in support? Does your family come out for the Unity Cup?
Farahmand Kalayeh: Of course, of course! Family, friends. I see some of the parents of the younger kids come and they’re so adamant they come stand next to me and give me guidance. Wanted or not wanted. They tell me who to pick and how to play next. Haha
Clifton Jackson: That’s really funny. So what ties does this sport have to your culture?
Farahmand Kalayeh: I think right before the World War I, soccer was a way for Europeans to get together. I think it’s much better to fight over a ball than over a bomb. So I think it has to be said, soccer, music and art are equivalent in making life a little more equitable for everybody. Because when you’re playing music or playing sports with somebody, everybody’s equal, yeah. Nobody listens better. Nobody plays better. So it’s just a mix. And it makes it very equitable, because you don’t see classical differences you don’t see any difference. You see a man or a woman playing or listening to music or painting. So these are the common denominators. Europeans do this very well. Of course you can’t ignore the fact that there are always undercurrents of racism, class differences and all that. That exists. But the beauty of playing games makes it all better for a few minutes.
Clifton Jackson: That’s a great way of looking at it. Taking that phrase you just mentioned , ‘rather jump on a ball than a bomb’ what hardships has your country faced. I’m sorry, let me rephrase it, what current hardships are they facing?
Farahmand Kalayeh: France is, again, facing these class differences and socio-economic disparities that persist all over the world. France is no exception to this by employing different policies. You know, that just right now they’re struggling over the retirement age moving from 65 or 68 to 62. And besides that, I think there is a bigger problem. Europe is very good and France in particular, is very good at accepting refugees and people who are seeking some sort of political or religious refuge. But they’re not that great in integrating and providing ample opportunities for these people to grow through the social classes. So, here it is amazing. That’s why you see so many French, young lovers here. And that’s because it provides them the environment, to invest, to diversify, to be an interpreter. Whether to become an executive or work or to be an investor or entrepreneur. This place still holds the number one card, in my opinion, to free enterprise as a key for people who have problems in the streets today. In Paris, they’re deprived of that. And that needs to be addressed. That’s the cancer that we cannot solve without an aspirin. It has to be profound, genuine policies that, you know, address people’s problems.
Clifton Jackson: That’s a great assessment. With that thought process, Do you feel like your team has that genuine bond?
Farahmand Kalayeh: We’re trying to address my team. I wrote them this first message in the chat. I said, ‘Let’s become a team because winning alone and wanting to win alone is not enough.’ First, you need to become a team. Here in our GroupMe we have the Team France logo. Look, I mean isn’t that cool?
Clifton Jackson: That’s really cool.
Farahmand Kalayeh: Yeah, we’re really into this. So we have 30 people signed up. You can’t go and get a certificate and become a team. You become a team every time you practice, every time you show up, every time you stop complaining and actually do something to solve the problem. Becoming a team is a dynamic state of mind that is not static, it’s not a binary zero-sum game. So that’s the coach’s job to remind the players that, you know, you just don’t become a team member. Unless you pay the price in terms of living up to your potential and your team living up to its true potential as a team. So, you know, you know, the constant struggle to reach that optimum level.
Clifton Jackson: World cup-wise. Have you heard about it coming?
Farahmand Kalayeh: Yeah. They shared something on WhatsApp group about the World Cup and that’s it’s in 16 cities and three countries. The three countries that are hosting are Mexico, Canada, and the US. 16 cities. This is going to be by far the most impactful World Cup there is.
Clifton Jackson: One last question. What is one thing you’d want to tell an immigrant who’s coming to America for the first time?
Farahmand Kalayeh: Listen, I was an immigrant. And so to me there are like, a few types of immigrants. Opportunity immigrants, that is mostly economical purposes. And there is somebody who’s running for their lives, whether it’s political persecution or religious persecution. In all instances, I think America’s arms stay open. We’re going through rough patches politically, and to find our true identity as a country again, to become the beacon of hope. But nevertheless, I’ve lived in Europe, I’ve lived in Asia. I just came back from China. There is no place like here. If you intend to work hard, and work smart. This is the place for you to make it happen.