Decades ago, a legendary local soccer team was formed over beers in a Santa Monica pub by British expatriates.
The core of the team were blue-collar workers and everyday guys who knew how to play, but the team roster was occasionally dotted with actors and rock stars, so they were called Hollywood United. Along the way, many members of the team were hired to be "soccer players" in films or TV commercials. They gained notoriety in the LA football community, won trophies, and raised money for charity.
“Anyone who came, they just came to play football,” says Hilton Goring, who played on the TV and is now a cameraman. “They didn't come to show what their bank balance was. And if you couldn't pass a ball straight, you'd get told about it no matter who you were.”
No matter what careers the players were pursuing during the week, on the weekends, they played hard. There were hard fouls and fistfights, and police occasionally intervened.
“It felt like we were taking it a little too seriously, but such was the competitiveness to win,” recalls Brendan Bourke. The United took it seriously enough to go unbeaten one season. “I still have [a] t-shirt, it says ‘Undefeated.’”
Despite the competitiveness of the matches, players recall the experience being a welcome respite from the stresses of their normal lives.
“You're worried about the ball and someone knocking you over, or you're gonna get injured, so you're not thinking about anything else,” remembers Bourke. “For that 90 minutes … you're stress-free, worry-free. … It really is therapy.”
The matches aren’t the only part of the Hollywood United legacy the players miss. The camaraderie of the group of ex-pats, forged on the field, is what players like Hilton Goring and Brendan Bourke are nostalgic for.
“I always say that the British are so much more clannish out of the country … just to have the same banter, to have the same issues in life once a week,” Goring waxes wistfully.
Bourke concurs. “The sense of banter, which at the time I really took for granted and now in hindsight not having … yeah, I feel like there's a big gap in my life of that community,”
This afternoon was the first time some of them had seen each other for a long while. The United, united once again, fell back into banter, just like they were in the pub after a match.
And the Hollywood United organization still exists, fielding teams at several age levels, holding charity events, and competing as part of the US Adult Soccer organization.