The Game's Afoot:           Celebrating Soccer In St Louis


By Matt Baker

Soccer in St. Louis dates back to at least 1875 and you couldn't blame anyone for saying that the sport has never been more popular than it is now, in America's First Soccer Capital. But of all the things that go well with soccer, it is a 16th century playwright that is the latest to join the fervor around the beautiful game in St. Louis, courtesy of one of the highest profile sportswriters in St. Louis.

This weekend, St. Louis Post Dispatch sportswriter Benjamin Hochman is bringing William Shakespeare's Henriad to the streets of Downtown West, with a decidedly St. Louis soccer flair. The play is dubbed "The Game's Afoot", and as a production of the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, Hochman aims to infuse the long and storied history of soccer in St. Louis, complete with all the pomp, circumstance and noise, with the traditional Shakespeare historical epic.

"I'm learning to love Shakespeare as part of this process but this is an homage to soccer history in St. Louis. I tell the story of our town and what soccer means to us. If you know a lot of soccer history, you're going to come and get a lot of the references. If you don't know the soccer history, you're going to leave here saying 'Wow I just learned so much cool stuff about my own town!'" says Hochman.

With so much history of soccer in St. Louis, you can be assured that from his skill with the quill, Hochman did his research. Hochman interviewed dozens of people to, as he says, "learn as much about soccer culture as I could, and not just my experience, but all of the experience." Hochman says that he learned just as much from speaking to St. Louis legend Lori Chalupny Lawson as he did from talking to random soccer fans and those who grew up playing CYC, with soccer meaning so much to them and how they grew as people and in their connection to St. Louis.

As an added bonus for everyone in attendance each night - audiences can expect to be treated to 3 unique special guests. Friday night will feature current Maryville Women's head soccer coach and USWNT veteran Lori Chalupny Lawson, Friday night will feature USMNT alumni and member of the 1980 Olympic team, Ty Keough, while Saturday night will include a special appearance from a SLU Men's Soccer alumni who's also made two appearances in MLS for St. Louis CITY SC and currently plays midfield for CITY2, John Klein. Each night, fans will also see Mr. Soccer himself, Bill McDermott and be treated to some familiar noise as one of the six St. Louis CITY SC supporter groups and the heartbeat of CITYPARK, Fleur de Noise will be bringing an original soccer chant to the show.

After hearing all of these stories, documenting all of these vast moments to a Shakespearean backdrop and including plenty of easter eggs for fans, coaches and players to get a kick out of that will honor the legacy of soccer in our town, Hochman himself has a clear takeaway. 

"St. Louis is awesome and St. Louis soccer culture is the best. And I hope people in Kansas City can hear this, but there's nothing like St. Louis soccer culture," Hochman says, "I wanted to capture it and make sure everyone can leave this play thinking 'my gosh, it is fun being a part of St. Louis and St. Louis soccer culture."

But just incorporating some of the greatest and most interesting stories that might not be as well known into a story is only half of what the audience to The Game's Afoot can expect. Hochman says this adaptation of Shakespeare's Henriad includes the stories of Henry IV, Henry V, Falstaff and Hotspur (who without giving away too much, Hochman says 'takes a sojourn to England to play for Hotspur'). Hochman says that one of his most fun scenes though, is the St. Crispin's Day Speech.

"The St. Crispin's Day speech, as Adam Flores our director says, is the first ever locker room speech. It was a guy pumping up the troops! So we use the St. Crispin's Day speech to pump up the St. Louis soccer team in the big moment in the big game, in the play."

In fact, Hochman attributes the St. Crispin's Day speech as the reason why Henriad was chosen as the backdrop for this celebration of soccer in St. Louis. "It kind of started things off as the speech that introduced Band of Brothers, the original locker room speech and we can build on this. The storyline is just beautiful," says Hochman.

Along with the epic nature of this speech, Shakespeare in the Park producing artistic director Tom Ridgley says "It's this multigenerational story about people locked in battles for glory and supremacy and they find themselves tested by their situation and that's how they grow and mature. The enthusiasm and the energy that the team has unleashed in St. Louis is an energy that is latent in all of us. People had it in England in the 1500s and it came out in speeches and in wars and in battles but today we get to feel those same things but we have a different outlet for them. It's cool, using a Shakespeare play as a lens on soccer today connects us with this bigger human experience of caring about something as a group."

Hochman, Ridgley and their experienced cast will have 3 nights to put their passionate vision on full display with CITYPARK as their backdrop, at Olive and 22nd Street in Downtown West beginning this Thursday, September 14th at 8pm, Friday, September 15th at 8pm and a final showing on Saturday, September 16th at 6pm (to allow time for everyone to enjoy the CITY SC match afterward).

The evenings are all free, open to the public and family friendly, with everyone encouraged to bring food, drink and seating just as they would a more traditional Shakespeare in the Park event with vendors such as STL Barkeep and Schlafly Beer on hand as well. Each performance will last approximately 80 minutes. And as an added bonus to the first 300 guests after the Saturday performance - an opportunity to take in the St. Louis CITY SC vs Houston Dynamo MLS match from the Moneta Pitch Club, inside CITYPARK.