Seyram Darbi is schmoozing with a group of soccer fans at International House in New York City, over 5,000 miles away from his home in Ghana. It’s a cold Sunday morning and his favorite team, Manchester United, is playing against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
“I love the energy in the room,” Darbi tells me as the cheers and claps fill the dimly-lit I-House TV Lounge. “This reminds me of my childhood days when we used to play football in the busy streets of Accra. Back home by the time you turn one year old, you are kicking everything: small coconuts, oranges, you name it.”
Darbi, who is enrolled in the LL.M program at Columbia Law School, frequents the lounge on weekends to cool off after a busy week at school. For today’s screening, however, the new I-House Futbol Club (IHFC) has invited residents from different geographical, cultural and social backgrounds to enjoy the game.
Amir Baghestani is leaning on a pool table next to Darbi, donning a red Manchester United jacket. He tells me he stopped playing soccer last year after he suffered a nose injury.
“I had a nose surgery and the doctor said I should take a break so I enjoy watching the game,” says Baghestani, a PhD student from Iran studying civil engineering at City College. “Residents being together like this is nice; we can chat together, talk about our interests and it would be great to have gatherings like this every two weeks.”
When growing up, Sepideh Behzadpour used to be a midfielder and a defender for a youth recreational league in Seattle, Washington. She is not a soccer aficionado but she likes to check from time to time to see which teams are playing, the scores, and follow up on some of the bigger tournaments like the World Cup.
“For the most part I don’t really follow because there is so much to follow already I can’t keep up with the sport,” said Behzadpour, who recently graduated from New York University. “However, watching soccer together creates a nice fellowship atmosphere and we get to enjoy the event together. It’s a fun and relaxing atmosphere to socialize, get to know one another and enjoy the game.”
Unlike Behzadpour, Chintan Doshy finds the socializing a little distracting. The 23-year-old financial engineering student at Columbia University says he finds it hard to concentrate on the game when the noise is loud and off the topic.
When he’s home in India, he prefers to watch at home because he likes to analyze the game. For major derbies, he joins his buddies in specific sports bars with “serious” soccer fans.
“Everybody would be in the game, nobody flirting during the match,” says Doshy. “It is really smart that I House thought of doing something like this. I didn’t expect any food so I came with my own food but the set-up is really good and lots of people can watch the game because there are two TVs.”
Doshy is not expecting Chelsea to win the season. He thinks Man City stands a better chance of winning and he’s worried that Chelsea coach Antonio Conte may be shown the door.
Hassan Bhatti from Pakistan is a Manchester City fanatic. He’s hoping Chelsea will win the game to widen the gap between his team, which is currently Leading the Premier League, and Man United. Last year he travelled from London to Manchester to watch the Red Devils play against Chelsea at Old Trafford.
“I find football a very good ice breaker, especially in the UK,” says Bhatti, who works at a tech startup in Manhattan. “The first 15 minutes of my previous job interview at KPMG in London was a chat about football with my interviewer, who turned out to be a is a huge Arsenal fan. I got the job!”
Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata scored with a header in the second half, denying England’s most decorated club a crucial win in the league.