Themes & Working Groups I: Collective Spaces
Thomas Kohlwein, Maja Mijatovic, Mohammed El - Azzazy, Mariam Waheed
During our dérive, we stopped at the local football club and met local expert and founder of the football club FC Dynamo Olaf Block.
The club was founded in 2009 after parents had repeatedly suggested and asked for an opportunity for their children to play and practice regularly. Until then the club only had a men‘s team. Olaf Block, resident on the Veddel for 11 years now and a pensioner, was able to spare his time and established the football club for children. He works as a volunteer – the passion for the game and the children keep him going until today. Three years later, the club has 136 members from 13 different nationalities who play two times per week for almost three hours together. Due to the high demand for membership and multiple requests of parents and children, the already existing football club Vatan Gücü established another team for older children. Approximately 60 children are playing for this club. The team coaches and parents see football as a way to get their children off the streets. Both football clubs report they have no problem with racism within the teams; children respect each other and also spend their leisure time together. Because some parents cannot afford the monthly fee and their children are still allowed to play, the lack of money available to the club is palpable. Playing equipment and jerseys cannot be afforded. ‘What else should they do? Here on the Veddel there is no other possibility for young people.’ (Sedat, Coach at Vatan Gücü).
Olaf calls this football club an inherent part of the island, especially because this sport is so important for the children. Even though everybody knows about the importance of this club for the children, the motivation and commitment to support the club among the parents is rather low. Olaf is well known and respected on the island; the children invite often him for their birthdays, but apart from that, participation on the part of the parents is rare. He is aware of this and knows that the club is bound to perish if he stopped engaging for it.
By definition, football is a collective activity. Football is a universal sport connecting people who may be different in terms of language and colour and nationality. Players interact with one another, literally, for a common goal. Football also implies to act in specific ways; the rules are set. The children meet at the pitch; football brings them together. So the question arising for us was whether the Veddel football pitch was different. In how far does the football club and the actual field on the Veddel influence the children’s characters and the extent to which they accept each others’ differences? In approaching the football club, we discovered quite a few things that caught our attention. The impression we got on the Veddel was that children from different nationalities were interacting in a way that reminded us of a melting pot. We realised the pitch functioned as a typical neighbourhood spot and a collective space. It reminded us of Randolph Hester’s definition of the neighbourhood space that is public (and ill-defined private outdoor space) close to home that residents consider their own because of collective responsibility, familiar association and frequent shared use. While most neighbourhood spaces emerge seemingly naturally, they require an individual’s or group’s initiative who live in the neighbourhood. Michel de Certeau’s notion and linkages between space and place also came to mind as we analysed the football pitch as it presented a place not many people used before it was opened and defined as a football pitch. After the coaches Olaf Block (FC Dynamo) and Sedat (Vatan Gücü) founded the clubs, the spot became a place and children went there frequently. We concluded that through practice, the space turned into a place.
»Space is practiced place. Thus, the street geometrically defined by urban planning is transformed into a space by walkers. Space occurs as the effect produced by the operations that orient it, situate it, temporalise it and make it function in a polyvalent unity of conflictual programs or contractual proximities.« (Michel de Certeau).
The football field is also a typical public space in that it is open to the public and without entry fee. The children do not have enough money to pay the coaches or their membership fees, but the coaches don’t insist on the money. Rather than managing professional football clubs, the aim of their offer is to get the children off the streets and enable them to experience and learn team spirit. They seek to engage with their community. Sedat told us: ‘Some of the parents cannot afford the fees but I cannot kick the children out of the team.’
The two coaches know and help each other. Both of them train children from different ages so they can complement their work. The coaches play very important roles. They know the team and strengthen the individuals’ abilities to work as a team and support each other. Coaches understand their players’ weaknesses and potentials, their dreams and their fears. As such, they play an important role in the neighbourhood where their team live. The coaches believe that neighbourhood means that people help each other and develop reciprocal relationships.
Our case study shows that public space as practiced space, such as the football pitch, enhances urban life. People find a place to meet and interact as well as strengthen their relationship within the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood is defined as people’s interaction without seeking material benefit.
People are able to create their own spaces by organising themselves independently and helping one another. In order to be successful, such interaction and participation based on little to no funds requires the motivation and will of the people.