“It’s demographics – we’re all getting older.”
In one fell swoop, long-time soccer official and competitor, Ray Purdon, succinctly summarized the success of the SRSA Men’s Over 40 Soccer League.
Established roughly four years ago, the loop has increased in size, this summer, by 50%, expanding from a previous base of four teams to six, as the niche for this particularly collection of pitch talent secures a more widespread appeal in Greater Sudbury.
“The old guys still like to come back and play, and play something that’s more recreational,” said Purdon, a member of the S.C. Italia entry for the past few years. “We all have to work the next day, we’re not here to kill each other. It gets us out for a little exercise.”
That said, old habits sometimes die hard. The overwhelming majority of these athletes have played competitive soccer at some point in time in their lives, many of them for stretches that would exceed a decade at a time. That type of mindset is not necessarily one that is easily shelved.
“It depends on the player,” said Purdon. “Some guys, obviously, have a harder time keeping it in check, and with others, it’s no problem. It can be challenging at times, but that’s part of the dynamic of this age group.”
As for the action on the field, it would be hard not to notice the similarities that exist in the style of play for those grouping who enjoy the beautiful game, year-round, in northern Ontario. “It’s very close to the indoor game,” explained Purdon of the summer variation that pits seven v seven on a cross-pitch venue.
“It kind of takes the indoor game and puts it outside. It’s a few more guys than futsal, but it’s pretty similar. Slide tackles are out, which changes the game a little bit.” One of the more welcomed addition to the league which gathers once a week (Sunday evenings) on the turf of the James Jerome Sports Complex has been the Afro Heritage Seniors team.
“We decided to try and get as many people as possible, from our community, to participate in soccer,” said team organizer Francois Nzotungwanimana. “There is no better connection for newcomers to Sudbury – a lot of them are of African heritage – than to get them out and get them to play.”
Originally from Berundi, Nzotungwanimana has been a familiar face in local adult soccer leagues for the past seven years or so, and he approached his new team with the vision of casting as wide a net as possible in attracting participants. “There are both English speaking and French speaking African Heritage groups in Sudbury,” he said.
“But it’s not just people from Africa. There are a lot of people from the Carribean, and people who just want to join our group.” Nzotungwanimana acknowledged that when it comes to the toned down turf version of soccer that is on display weekly across from Science North, some of his recruits definitely needed to relax their standards, just a touch, to fit in with this forty and over gathering of ball strikers.
“The turf is definitely something different for them, but the biggest thing for some of our players is that the “have to win”,” he noted. “That is their mentality, regardless of everything else. They have to win and nothing else. For a lot of the other people here, they come for the fun. There was a little bit of an adjustment.”
Sudbury native Paul Favero is fully aware that his best playing days are well behind him. On this particular Sunday evening, the 52 year-old is stepping in to cover the role of keeper for the Caruso Club entry for the first half of their game against RPG, their usual goaltender out with an injury.
In the case of the Caruso entry, there is a clear-cut familiarity for those who have spent years in the midst of Sudbury soccer circles. “There are various numbers of us that have played together, indoors, from time to time,” said Favero. “We’ve been playing together for about three years now in this league.”
At this point in his life, he has developed an appreciation for the beauty of the sport, even if it’s played in a different manner that the soccer that would have captivated him three decades or so ago. “It’s tailored to ball control, to have fun,” said Favero. “The older guys still know how to move the ball around, that’s what it’s geared for.”
“The toughest challenge for newcomers to the league is just how quickly the ball moves. On the turf, the ball moves a lot more quickly than on grass.” As for the formation that has provided the greatest success for the Caruso men, to date, Favero once again is driven back to the fact that there are certain realities of life that force an alteration to what might have worked well in their younger years.
“We like to play a 2-3-1 (2 defenders, 3 midfielders and a striker), but it quickly becomes a 3-2-1,” said Favero with a smile. “The guys on the wings have to run the full field, and these are not young puppies. There’s not too many of them that can run the full field, constantly, throughout the game.”