Pelada: A Beautiful Story About the Beautiful Game

 By Ryan Fleming

It’s called various things throughout the world. Games of pickup soccer can be played anywhere – at least I’m confident of that now – and played by anyone. “Pelada,”as it’s called in Brazil, means naked – or stripped down to its core. The documentary, made by two former collegiate soccer stars, showcases the the places, both exotic and natural that the Beautiful Game can be played, as well as the characters who participate in a game that they truly love despite the difficult magnitude of their surroundings.

On a dirty field in Kenya, among three different groups of religions in Iran or behind the Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town, South Africa are just some of the places that former Notre Dame forward Luke Boughen and girlfriend, Duke standout Gwendolyn Oxenham, take us to.

For two former stars that could never leave the game truly behind them, the couple explains that the reality of adulthood never really is welcomed in their lives. Despite their struggles after undergrad and post-grad work, the two decide to take a year off and travel the world to experience the wide variety of Peladas or pick up games they can find. The truly emotional journey is a tearjerker in its entirety and an absolute must if you’re just a casual fan or an irrational supporter of lowly Hereford or the gigantic Inter Milan.

What the film truly does is opens your eyes to how the people of this world can come together, put their often horrid conditions behind them and find some peaceful solitude on a field in Italy, on top of a skyscraper in Tokyo or in a prison in Bolivia, where the money is said to purchase “fruitcakes”.

No matter what the reason, it’s truly astounding to see what is called “equipment” around the world. A deflated ball, a vegetable wrapped in yarn, or barefoot playing on cement using the chalked outline of a goal on the back of a building, it’s the passion of the sport, shown in so many ways that will move.

Both Luke and Gwen have a matched enthusiasm for the sport. It carries them through 25 different countries. So you don’t get any ideas that this trip went smoothly, they share at least a handful of incidents that could deter the normal traveler or fan back to the comfortable confines of your living room sofa. Despite actually being on my couch when I watched the film, it made me want to get up, even in the pouring rain and kick around, even if it’s alone.

`The line at the end of the film rings a special chord: “all over the world people are playing for nothing, for no other reason than to play.” While the soccer that everyone pays attention to is fueled by money deposited in hundreds of players’ accounts who no longer play for the love, but for an exorbitant pay check, are truly forgetting why most of them started to play anyway – to escape reality and for a true love of the game. “Pelada” brings you back to earth and helps you realize the wingspan of the sport.

Pelada is currently streaming on netflix. Ryan Fleming can be reached at fleming.ryanr@gmail.com.

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