More Hollywood United: Is MLS in its future?
SANTA MONICA, Calif. – It doesn't matter if David Beckham is playing or not. The Los Angeles Galaxy are still not the most star-studded team in L.A.
That honor belongs to a club that plays most of its matches in front of no more than a handful of spectators, calls a worn and rented artificial turf pitch at a west L.A. private school "home" and has an official player payroll of zero.
Hollywood United's surroundings may be short on glitz and glamour, but that sits just fine with the collection of luminaries from the entertainment world that populate the club's teams.
Actors such as Anthony LaPaglia, Jimmy-Jean Louis, Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham, director Danny Cannon and musicians like Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Vivian Campbell from Def Leppard relish the opportunity to get away from the world of red carpets and hangers-on and simply enjoy their favorite game.
Twice a week, they rub shoulders with teammates that include former soccer professionals, European expatriates and a sprinkling of local talent for matches in Los Angeles league play as well as charity and tour games.
An hour spent in the company of the over-38s side was more than enough to realize that for the high-profile members of Hollywood United, the club, the game of soccer, and the spirit of competition provide a welcome distraction from the surreal showbiz existence that for them is a reality.
"Playing with these lads is one of the highlights of my life," said Steve Jones, who helped bring punk music into the mainstream as the Sex Pistols' guitarist. "I try to play twice a week, even if my back is killing me, and it gets rid of the mundane monotony of life. Here is the only place I can get this sort of camaraderie."
SHOOTING FOR THE STARS
Jones, now a disc jockey at an L.A. radio station, has been involved for more than a decade, since the humble beginnings when the "club" constituted little more than a few random kickabouts involving soccer-starved regulars of the Cat and Fiddle pub on Sunset Boulevard.
Things are very different now, having been pushed forward by FA Cup winning defender-turned-actor Vinnie Jones and others to the level that Hollywood United now has a uniform sponsor in adidas. Also, few amateur teams can claim to be able to travel to away matches by private jet, a luxury made possible by club president LaPaglia, whose financial backing allows United to be run in an organized and professional manner.
LaPaglia has installed long-serving member Ian Carrington, who moved to California from England to set up a carpentry business 15 years ago and has established himself as Hollywood's most respected advisor on soccer films, in a full-time organizational role. Carrington's position does not have an official title, which is just as well, considering that he – depending on the time of day – acts as manager, coach, secretary, administrator, sponsorship executive and media officer.
For him, witnessing the recent growth – mixed with the chance to deal with what he describes as "inspirational" stars of screen, showbiz and soccer – makes the workload easily worthwhile.
"There is something special about this club and it is great to see how it has come along," said Carrington, who sheds his cheerful and friendly personality for just a moment to yell at the over-38s to "show some (expletive) pride" as they slip further towards a defeat.
"The game is growing in the United States and we can be a part of that, but we will never forget where we started out and will never allow the enjoyment factor to be lost."
Future growth could revolve around LaPaglia, who harbors ambitions to own a Major League Soccer club and may be keen to use the Hollywood United brand name as the cornerstone for a new franchise. Whether or not that happens, the social aspect will remain. Hollywood United has recently added extra teams to accommodate loyal devotees who no longer have the stamina to play for the first eleven.
WE ARE FAMILY
Early problems facing the club included finding an appropriate place to play, although with the increase in fields due to soccer's growing popularity, that is no longer such a pressing issue – even though rents in west L.A. are prohibitive.
Nowadays, the most common obstacle facing United's teams is the frequency with which their opponents bring in accomplished "ringers" before they face them. Carrington also insists rival teams "step up their game whenever they play us." Movie credits and top 40 hits don't buy any extra favors on the field.
"This is the most democratic sport in the world," said LaPaglia, the lead actor in the TV crime drama "Without a Trace" and an Emmy and Golden Globe award winner. "When you cross the white line, it doesn't matter if you are educated, uneducated, poor or rich. Everyone is the same."
That mentality pervades throughout the club. Eric Wynalda's United States goal-scoring record, Danny Cannon's success as director of "Goal! The Movie" and producer of "CSI," or Jimmy-Jean Louis' fame as a star in "Heroes" all count for nothing here.
Egos must be checked at the door.
"This is a family of sorts," Cannon said. "There will be some people who won't fit in. What I like about it here is that nobody gives a (expletive) about what I do for a living and I don't give a (expletive) about what they do. No one is more important than anyone else and you need people who understand that."
There is a feeling at Hollywood United that with a full-strength team they could possibly give the Galaxy a run for their money.
Former Chelsea star Frank Leboeuf, also a World Cup winner with France in 1998, is still in excellent shape as is former Scotland defender Richard Gough. Wynalda, when fit, rarely misses a scoring chance and ex-professionals Derk Droze and Oliver Biaggi both played in Europe. There are also some promising young Americans breaking through, too. In Jason Boyce, Hollywood United has a talented midfield general who should be playing at a higher level.
The most refreshing aspect of the club is how, as a payoff for the enjoyment its players have received from soccer, is putting something back. A recent tie-in with a Santa Monica youth club has effectively brought 20 extra teams and more than 200 youngsters under the Hollywood United umbrella, a project overseen by former D.C. United player David Vaudreuil.
"That can be something really positive," Carrington said. "Over the next few years, Hollywood United could mean different things to different people, but overall I believe we are doing something good for the game in this country.
"People will take notice of what we do because we have got some well-known players, so it is important we send out the right message."