HarlemBlues: International Soccer Finds a Home in Harlem

Football Club (FC) Harlem is not foreign to attracting attention or doing things big. Since 2007, the small soccer and youth development organization has built two soccer fields in Harlem, attracting media and celebrities such as David Beckham, Pele, President Clinton, Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson, Fox Business, CNN, and the BBC.

FC HARLEM L.I.O.NS (Leaders In Our Neighborhoods) provide unique experiences and opportunities via soccer and community enrichment programs, intended to inspire Harlem youth ages 5 to19 to become valuable contributors in their neighborhoods and the global community.

Chelsea FC, nicknamed “The Blues,” is a professional English soccer club based in London. Chelsea plays in the Barclay’s English Premier ( EPL), the top flight league in England, and is considered the best soccer league in the world. The EPL currently airs on NBC and NBCSN every weekend through the end of May. According to Forbes 2013 rankings of the richest soccer clubs in the world, Chelsea FC came in at 7th, valued at roughly $1 billion. The club is owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Chelsea’s manager is Jose Mourinho. Chelsea is one of the most successful clubs in the world, winning the Premier League three times in the last nine years, and winning the UEFA Champions League crown in 2012 (the biggest soccer tournament in Europe).

In the summer of 2012, as part of their “Here to Play, Here to Stay Tour” in the U.S., Chelsea FC Foundation coaches held training sessions for 15 to 17-year-olds from FC Harlem, with the help of their global charity partner Right to Play. Chelsea FC Foundation and FC Harlem soon began discussing how the two could work together to positively impact youth in Harlem and throughout NYC. Since that initial meeting, FC HARLEM staff visited the London based club, taking in a match at their Stamford Bridge stadium, and checking out their training facilities in Cobham. In May 2013, Chelsea FC first team players, Demba Ba, David Luiz, Petr Cech, and Chelsea FC Foundation coaches returned to Harlem to host a soccer clinic for 25 boys and girls from the community. World Class Goal Keeper Petr Cech said, “We at Chelsea FC are all delighted to come and meet kids at a fantastic project like this. The club takes very serious our work in the community, and it is an important part of what we do when we travel to different parts of the world. FC Harlem helps bring the spirit of football into this community, which is great.”

This past summer Chelsea’s Academy Team of boys ages 17 to 20 came to Harlem, as FC Harlem and Chelsea FC Foundation made official their groundbreaking partnership. The Academy Team and the FC Harlem high school players trained together, received a private tour of the Apollo, checked out the shops on 125th street, and were treated to a light lunch with Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson at his Harlem restaurant Red Rooster.

“We are delighted to partner with FC Harlem, one of the leading community clubs in the United States,” said Chelsea Chief Executive Ron Gourlay. “The partnership highlights the importance of football in developing individuals and their communities, which is something we are passionately committed to. Both Chelsea and FC Harlem share a belief that we can use sports to make a real difference. Our Academy squad’s visit to New York created an ideal opportunity to announce our new partnership.”

The Chelsea FC Foundation is dedicated to building education and soccer training platforms for children around the world. The Young L.I.O.N.S initiative will develop exciting opportunities for young people – providing positive activities, and helping them develop social and leadership skills.

Chelsea FC is the first international club to make a serious commitment to soccer development in America’s inner cities. Traditionally, soccer resources and opportunities in the U.S. are reserved for suburban, white upper middle class communities that follows a model of “pay to play.” Socio-economic and geographical factors have long been barriers to engaging youth in our communities. Changes are happening in the U.S. – but an inner city program securing a partnership with a mega-club like Chelsea FC is unprecedented.

This partnership says that our communities and our youth are important and full of potential; deserving of the same level of commitment provided to other communities. I hope this partnership sets the standard going forward for how soccer in the U.S. needs to engage inner cities.