Back in 2004, a group of middle-aged men sat in a downtown Pullman coffee shop to talk about forming a soccer team. They weren’t doing it for their kids. They were creating a team for themselves.
The Three Forks Football Club was born that day and 16 years later is still alive and kicking. Ours is a modest little club that few people know about, but it has provided incalculable joy for its members.
This is the story of a little soccer club that’s made a big difference in our lives.
Anybody in a college town can play soccer during the warm months of summer, but it takes some resourcefulness to organize a regular indoor game during the winter. It takes even more resourcefulness to filter out the aggressive young guys who will break your leg, then step over you when the final bell rings and it’s time to leave.
After that initial meeting, I approached the Pullman School District, asking to rent a gymnasium at the elementary school that my children – then unborn – later attended. A deal was struck, and 90 minutes of gym time was scheduled for two nights a week from late September through early May.
After that, one of our founders – Pullman native Paul Spencer – built a set of sturdy goals from PVC pipe. Capable and clever, Spencer hand-tied the nets.
Another founder, Barry Ramsey, owner of the now-defunct D8 manufacturing company near Potlatch, designed our club emblem of three crossed dinner forks. The design pays homage to Pullman’s original name of “Three Forks.” The club colors of dark blue and yellow were chosen by early member Nicolas Schwint, a tough hombre from Buenos Aires, Argentina, whose favorite team – Boca Juniors – also wears blue and yellow.
The final, most important step was recruiting the right kind of players. From the outset, the criteria were simple. The ideal player should be: 1) Over the age of 50; 2) A parent, a homeowner, and a well-employed professional in Pullman or Moscow; and 3) Foreign-born, if possible.
The idea was to provide an outlet for skilled, older players who, fearing injury, don’t play much anymore. College kids can always get a game, but it’s riskier for older players.
As it’s been every year, our original roster was eclectic. Among others, there was a Bolivian engineering professor, an Iraqi architecture prof, and a Zimbabwean electrical engineering prof. There have always been a few Americans in the club, but never very many.
Three Forks FC is the most educated team any of us have ever played on. With three physicians and a passel of college professors on the current roster, the average level of education is somewhere around a Ph.D.
Everybody pays annual dues of $35 to $50, which goes toward rent, new balls, and spare parts to repair the goals. Some years are lean, and some years are fat, but annual membership hovers around 13 to 14 players.
The way it works
Because some of us have young kids at home, we start playing at 8:45 pm. The first 15 minutes are spent warming up – stretching, jogging, or kicking a ball in small groups.
Thanks to injuries and out-of-town conferences, not everyone can play every night. Typical attendance is around 10 players.
Our cheerful Brazilian, Massaro Ueti, has a good eye for choosing balanced teams, so he takes stock of whoever shows up, then assigns half of us to wear a yellow shirt and the other half to wear blue.
The gym is small, so we play 4 vs. 4, with each team having a sub on the sidelines; when you’re tired, you trot to the sidelines and launch the sub into battle. There are no dedicated goalkeepers, but one player usually hangs back to defend. We use a special indoor ball that looks like a normal soccer ball, but it doesn’t have much bounce; because of this, it is very easy to control.
The emphasis is on offense, and it’s common to see 40 or 50 goals scored in a single evening. Because we’re old and fragile, we play a gentlemanly style of defense. Everybody has to go to work the next day, so aggressive defending is frowned upon.
Though several of our players moonlight with other teams, Three Forks FC has never played a competitive game against another team. We play solely among ourselves, so it always boils down to friends playing against friends.
Living in the moment
For an hour or so, we lose ourselves in the game. There is no “before” and there is no “after” – there is only “now.” The game ebbs and flows, and there are plenty of moments of breathtaking skill. There are also moments of comic clumsiness, but we’re pretty good value most of the time.
We talk a little trash, and we laugh a lot. We run, and run, and run, everybody scores goals, and nobody keeps track of the score.
Finally, when there’s about 15 minutes left, we boost the intensity with a little gambit called “First to Five.” As the name suggests, the first team to score five goals is the winner. At this point, the carefree spirit of the previous hour is tempered in the hot fire of rivalry.
Both sides want to win.
Some nights, it only takes five minutes. Other nights, it takes 35 minutes. Eventually, the fifth goal goes in, and we congratulate each other for another great game.
The portable goals get folded up and put away. We change back into our street shoes, then push open the doors and depart into the night.
A couple of days later, we get back together and do it all over again.
(Editor’s note: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Three Forks FC played its final game of the season on March 11.)
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.