Photographer Gerhard Stochl is one of the founding members and self-proclaimed coach of the Chinatown Soccer Club, a collective of artists, pro-skaters, designers, and photographers who gather for weekly friendlies in the neighborhood where many of them live and work. “In reality, there’s absolutely no coaching involved,” explains Stochl. “My title’s tongue-in-cheek, but every group needs a dude who makes sure people show up on time, that there’s a ball, and things stay organized. And I became that dude.”
Since organizing in 2002, the club—founded by some of the animators behind the design agency Psyop and well-known artists like Ryan McGuiness and Peter Sutherland—has grown to include a rotating cast of the city’s influential creative community. And though it doesn’t matter how iconic some of these members are on the pitch, off the pitch the fact that most members excel at international levels in their fields has resulted in a number of creative collaborations—a twist that separates the side from the rest of the clubs around the city.
Players from FC Barcelona, AC Milan and Manchester City have dropped by the pitch, and a number of collaborations with outside brands have resulted in a shoe with Adidas, a bag for Incase, and a number of films and photo books that have documented the club’s rise. “We’ve done a lot of collaborations with brands, but some members have used their talents to help the club on their own. We all work in the industry and this is the one thing we do where we have all the creative control. It’s a great outlet for us and a good way to outwardly project our positive view of soccer.”
Marc Santo: What brought you to New York?
Gerhard Stochl: I was born in Vienna, Austria and lived in Germany for a while. In 1993 I moved to LA for skateboarding and school, although I probably did more skateboarding than school. Over the summers I’d come to New York to skateboard, and in 2000 I moved here to go to grad school. I had illusions of being a pro-skater, but I got more into skate photography. Now I do art and creative direction, and work for Vice.
MS: Most people on the team are artists, skateboarders and creatives. Is that intentional?
GS: We started in 2002 when Adidas sponsored the Fanatic tournament to celebrate the World Cup in Korea. They wanted to do something with the downtown creative community, so they got stores and companies like Supreme and Psyop to form teams. Most of the people lived downtown and worked in the creative industry, and and a lot of us kept playing together after that. Artists and creatives have flexible schedules, and that’s part of the reason why this works. It would be hard for a person with a corporate job to play at the times we do.
MS: How does Chinatown Soccer differ from other leagues around the city?
GS: When we started, most of the leagues were expat leagues made up of Europeans, Mexicans, Africans, or South Americans, but now a lot more Americans are showing up. But it’s not a league. We’re a club, and without being elitist, we’re selective about who gets to play. It’s really the only way to keep things as positive as they are. A lot of us come from skateboarding, surfing and sports that are traditionally non-competitive, so the most important factor is making sure everyone on the field remains friends and has a laugh. That’s rare when you’re playing a typical jock sport like soccer.
MS: A number of the players are culturally recognized in their fields. Who are some of the guys, and is there creative collaboration off the pitch?
GS: We have a lot of photographers that play, and Peter Sutherland might be the most well-known. The guys behind Psyop play. Peter Bici, a pro skater, is part of the club, and Mark Gonzalez has played with us, too. Ryan McGinnis is a well-known artist and one of the founding members, but he rarely comes out anymore. In all honesty it doesn’t make a difference within the club who anybody is. We’re all friends and realistically, because we’re all creative, we’ve collaborated when we want to get something done. We’ve published books, made bags, and designed our own gear because we didn’t want to be running around in gear from some random company we have nothing to do with. There’s really no money involved in these projects. It’s more of just a creative outlet for us. We have done collaborations with companies, but it wasn’t to make tons of cash. It was more to represent the way we view soccer.
MS: You collaborated with Adidas to make a shoe. How did that happen?
GS: We know Adidas through the Fanatic tournament, but we’re friends with people from Adidas in our social lives as well. We talked about collaborating on a shoe and they asked us to make a crazy cleat. We don’t play in cleats because we play on turf, but we didn’t want to make a turf shoe either. We wanted to make something we could wear off the field, so we ended up making an indoor soccer shoe that we could skateboard in if we wanted to. The main thing with Adidas is that they weren’t just random people. We liked them, and they’re part of the club’s history. We’re very selective about who we work with. We like working with people we know personally, and not just a brand that sends us a random email.
MS: That Fanatic tournament is somewhat storied. I remember hearing about a team that showed up in leather biker vests and played with fake switchblades and beers.
GS: Yeah, there are a lot of characters in that tournament; Vice has a team, Supreme has a team, plus some of the design agencies like Psyop and Syrup. There used to be a team called the Krauts, which were all the German-speaking members of Chinatown Soccer. These kinds of things keep it grounded and really fun. Over the last couple years it’s become a lot more competitive, and it seems like whichever teams brings in the most MLS ringers wins. We don’t do that so we don’t have a chance, but that’s fine by us.