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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Soccer’s Greatest Minds Head To Hofstra

Hofstra University’s International Soccer Conference was being discussed as far back as the institution’s 2012 academic salute marking the New York Mets’ 50th anniversary, according to the event’s co-directors.

Given the time and effort it takes to pull one of these things together, Hofstra needed the past two years to solicit scholarly papers and recruit luminaries to the four-day (Thursday, April 10 through Sunday, April 13) extravaganza, which comes on the eve of the June 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Hofstra history professors Dr. Brenda Elsey and Dr. Stanislao Pugliese, soccer fans who are conference co-directors of Soccer as the Beautiful Game: Football’s Artistry, Identity and Politics, have compiled a program that will bring to Nassau County more than 125 speakers from 25 countries. Panelists will offer insights on how soccer is interwoven into the cultural and political traditions of dozens of nations, although the agenda, which can be found online, is more expansive than that. U.S. professional soccer fans can receive an update on Major League Soccer (MLS), too.

There are sure to be numerous highlights over the four days, but one can be already anticipated. Pelé, perhaps the world’s greatest living soccer player, is addressing a free youth symposium open to high school students at a Friday afternoon, April 11, ceremony, and Hofstra will at these same proceedings confer an honorary degree on the one-time star of the Brazilian national team and the New York Cosmos. Later that evening (April 11), a reception and gala banquet will be held for conferees and the general public in the Sondra and David S. Mack Student Center’s main dining room, with Pelé in attendance and giving a brief address.  

Pelé is returning to Hofstra again on Sunday, April 13, for the unveiling of a plaque commemorating his visit. Before the Cosmos play their 2014 season opener at Hofstra’s James Shuart Stadium that same afternoon (April 13) at 5 p.m., boys and girls from 15 Long Island Junior Soccer League teams will take the field starting at 1 p.m. for a soccer clinic. Among those who won the right to practice with the Hofstra University men’s and women’s soccer coaches at Shuart Stadium, having done so via a lottery, are teams from Albertson, Massapequa and Mineola.

Invoking either the 73-year-old Pelé or the Cosmos is a surefire way to conjure up soccer memories. “Brazil beat Chile in the 1962 World Cup, even though Pelé got injured very early on,” stated Dr. Elsey, an expert on that year’s Cup. Brazil went on to win the world title in 1962, yet it is Chile which is the subject of Elsey’s paper, “Amazonia: Women and Football in Chile,” to be delivered on the conference’s opening day. Having lived in Chile while a research fellow, Dr. Elsey said, “It was really evident a lot of important relationships were formed on the pitch,” a common overseas reference to a soccer field.

“I used to stay up late at night to listen to Cosmos games on the radio,” Dr. Pugliese said. Befitting a scholar who is Hofstra’s Queensboro UNICO Distinguished Professor of Italian Studies, the first Cosmos memory which came to Pugliese’s mind was the late Giorgio Chinaglia’s seven-goal performance in a playoff game. Pugliese was a center forward on Lawrence High School’s varsity soccer team around that same time, explaining his affinity for prolific goal scorers.

Cosmos fans of the 1970s and 1980s should mark Thursday, April 10, 2:55 to 4:20 p.m., on their calendar. Shep Messing, a former Cosmos goalie and one-time goalkeeper at Old Westbury’s Wheatley High School, will be discussing the team’s history on the conference’s first day along with four other speakers on a panel moderated by New York Times sports columnist and Hofstra alumnus George Vecsey. Vecsey’s Eight World Cups: My Journey through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer will be published by Times Books in May.

Meanwhile, a Saturday, April 12, panel will focus on the Media and Football, with MLS a major focal point, given the pedigree of its participants, such as Steven Apostolov, author of Beyond Beckham’s Galaxy, Greg Lalas, a writer for MLSSoccer.com, and Christopher Schlosser, vice president, MLS Digital.

Ticket information, and additional details on what’s taking place at Hofstra between April 10 and 13, can be found online at www.hofstra.edu/soccercon.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net