NYC Soccer Stories: The Story of FC Cantona
This is the first in a series of New York City Soccer Stories. These are the stories that could only happen in New York and explain why this city is one of the soccer capitals of the world. If you have any New York City Soccer Stories email them to us at email@example.com.
By Joseph Tirabassi
In recent interviews, Cosmos Director of Soccer Eric Cantona has made the claim that the rejuvenation of the legendary New York club will be a mixture of football and art. To some outsiders, this notion may seem far-fetched, but for one amateur team playing on Manhattan's west side, it's already a reality. Comprised of art dealers, curators and artists, the aptly-named FC Cantona has discovered that rare intersection where art meets the beautiful game.
Formed by Adam Cohen, a director at the Gagosian Gallery, and Michael Bank Christoffersen, co-owner of the Charles Bank Gallery, the team counts representatives from Sotheby's, Untitled Gallery, and Gladstone Gallery amongst its members, in addition to a rotating cast of artists and musicians. "The art of football is what we dream about – fine arts are in our everyday life," says Cohen. The club’s roster has a multicultural makeup that speaks to the international aspect of the art world, the sport, and the city itself. Swiss, Dutch, Belgian, Italian, Japanese, English, Danish and American players come together under the banner of FC Cantona. The squad has become a regular fixture in the leagues at Chelsea Piers, where this rather motley crew of art world insiders take to the pitch every week to do battle.
Growing up just 11 miles from Old Trafford, Cohen has been a Manchester United fan for his entire life. Man U's title run in 1993 provided the young Cohen with a moment of jubilation at his boarding school. "I ran around the school yard going crazy – I remember everyone being rather confused as to why I was doing this. I think everyone thought something bad had happened, such was my hysteria." He picked black as FC Cantona's color because, as he explains it, "It was important for me to be playing in the same color as Eric during his Kung Fu moment. The team’s creation was really about reliving or continuing the myth of that infamous evening at Selhurst Park."
His counterpart Michael Bank Christoffersen is a native of Denmark and spent his youth idolizing the legendary Danish keeper Peter Schmeichel and the Laudrup brothers. A supporter of FC Copenhagen, he first started playing at the age of six during the winter season on gravel pitches with "frozen footballs." The sport was a constant presence for him - "I grew up next to a soccer club (Skovshoved) so it was always around." One of his earliest memories is the 1984 European Championship. "I remember Denmark losing out to Spain on penalties. I was in a bar in France with my dad and all the French locals were cheering for us."
Cohen and Christoffersen first met at Goldsmiths College in London, alma mater to Damien Hirst, Malcolm McLaren and The Velvet Underground's John Cale. They both made the move to New York several years ago. Christoffersen opened the Charles Bank Gallery last year with his business partner Adam Greenberger, setting up shop on Bowery, a few blocks from the New Museum. The gallery recently hosted a collaborative residency by pop singer Oh Land and the Danish artist Eske Kath. Currently, they are featuring an exhibition of work by Swedish artist Allen Grubesic that started on April 7. As director of the 21st Street outpost of the Gagosian Gallery, Cohen's next exhibition will feature works of Picasso from the 1930s.
FC Cantona came about so that these two fans and their associates from the art world could live out their football fantasies on the pitch. "FC Cantona acts as a platform for our dream to still have grounding – at least one evening for a week," says Cohen. The team's record over the seasons has not been as impressive as that of their namesake's famous club, but they take solace in the traditional post-match pub visit, where the conversation skews from the latest gallery offerings to the weekend exploits by Rooney, Tevez and the like. "A few beers and good company goes a long way to heal the wounds," says Christoffersen.
Both team founders are thrilled about the return of The New York Cosmos. “The legacy of the Cosmos is huge – it was the Galacticos mentality they have at Madrid but 20 odd years earlier," says Cohen. Christoffersen adds, "It is something that I believe almost all fans know about. It was like a beautiful fragile moment in football history. Cosmos is of course legendary, and I know I will be supporting them as soon as they get going!"