Keon Asgarpoor has always loved soccer unconditionally.
He’s played it his whole life, made friends through the sport and tries to play it as much as possible as a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he’s a sophomore business administration major. He’s joined multiple intramural leagues and practices when he can, but there was a facet of the game that UNL was missing: culture.
Asgarpoor and his friend, John O’Neill, felt UNL needed a club where people could hang out, talk shop and engage in the sport in a different way than through intramurals. That’s how, in January, they came to form FIFA Friendlies.
“I basically started it to gather all the soccer fanatics across campus and put them under one roof for a couple hours every week,” Asgarpoor said. “And we haven’t gotten the turnouts we anticipated, but we just started a few months ago.”
At its core the club is about playing the video game “FIFA,” a game that’s conducive to the “hanging out” atmosphere they’re trying to create. That translates into the second half of their name: Friendlies. It’s a bit of a double entendre because while they are welcoming and friendly people; it’s also another name for an exhibition game where the teams only play for glory and bragging rights.
So they got started right away, setting up a booth downstairs in the Nebraska Union where they could try to engage people and talk about their new club. And to Asgarpoor’s surprise, it actually went really well.
“I was dumbfounded when we had the booths downstairs where people were walking past us,” Asgarpoor said. “I didn’t think that we’d have that many people stop and listen to what we have to say.”
Overall, they had about 80 people sign up with emails and phone numbers- although the Facebook has accumulated 92 likes. But that number dwindled down to about 10 to 12 regular members, reaching only about a high of 24.
One of those members is Brady Bassett, a former UNL student who recently moved back from Denver in February. As a close friend of Asgarpoor’s from high school, Bassett was what attracted him to the club. But he soon liked the prospect of breaking his routine schedule and enjoying some time playing and talking about his favorite sport.
“I’ve just always loved soccer and playing,” Asgarpoor said. “And I have nothing better to do on a Tuesday; all I do is work.”
But that’s fine because Asgarpoor said it’s expected with such a young club. When they restart next year, he has plans of setting up their own booth at Big Red Welcome, as well as reaching out again to all the people who originally showed interest.
His goal is to watch the club grow to 50 people, where they can start season long tournaments between people in the club, leading up to a winner who will receive some kind of a prize. But that’s another roadblock standing in the way of FIFA Friendlies growth: money.
Asgarpoor is scavenging whatever he can, and whether it’s the TV’s, Xboxes or anything else required to run the club; he’s fighting an uphill battle at this point.
“The funds are non-existent,” Asgarpoor said. “We’re actually at negative $3 because we had to get some paper from student involvement to make a sign.”
Next year, Asgarpoor said he’s already planning on having fundraisers in the form of watch parties for big games at sports bars around town. Or possibly looking into an EA sponsorship where he can receive a console or some TV’s like a friend of his who ran a gaming club at UNL a few years ago.
But for right now- even though bringing in more people or a little money for the club is very much on his mind- it’s not at the top of his agenda. What Asgarpoor wants more than anything is to make UNL a part of the growing trend of soccer fandom.
“I want them to share the love that I have,” Asgarpoor said. “I just want to grow the sport in general because it’s one of the fastest growing sports in the US, and within in the next 10 years, the US might even make it into the semi-finals.”
And that’s already starting to happen, even if the numbers aren’t to Asgarpoor’s expectations yet.
A few weeks ago was a microcosm for the type of high-octane, yet friendly competition that the co-leaders were going for when they started the club.
It was April 7, 2015 and they were in a corner of the Heritage Room on the second floor of the Nebraska Union. It was the location of that week’s meeting and a tight match between Asgarpoor and O’Neill on one team and two new guys on another. The new guys were pretty good so it was a tight match until the 70-minute mark when Asgarpoor scored a goal.
The two were excited and high-fiving, but when O’Neill went for a celebratory lift in the air from his friend, Asgarpoor misread the signal. He thought it was just a simple chest bump so didn’t catch his friend on his descent. O’Neill ended up spraining his ankle and vowed revenge against the Heritage Room, his true, on their next meeting.
But while the competitive atmosphere is something that’s inherent to both the club and sport, Asgarpoor wants people to take away a more transcendent feeling from the club.
They’re the three things that Asgarpoor said you need in life, the words that sum up Asgarpoor’s interests and world views and the way he signs off on every update to the club’s Facebook group.
“Peace, Love, and Fifa.”