Late one night a little girl and her mother stood outside the Five Points MARTA station in downtown, staring at what was once just concrete. “This is where it happened,” the little girl from Mechanicsville said. She was talking about soccer, and how earlier that evening she’d had the chance to play it right there—on a soccer field built inside the transit station as part of a program designed to bring the sport to underserved neighborhoods.
Station Soccer is the creation of Sanjay Patel who, while visiting London, would watch kids run off the train to play at nearby fields. It was a working-class sport, accessible to almost anyone. But living in Atlanta, Patel, a commercial development consultant, saw that soccer was primarily a pay-to-play activity for people of greater means. He joined the board of Soccer in the Streets, a nonprofit that runs soccer programs for kids in less privileged communities, and in 2014 he proposed a network of fields connected by public transportation.
With funding from Atlanta United FC (by way of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation), in 2016 Soccer in the Streets unveiled the first pitch built at an urban transit station. Patel hopes to build nine more and create a league.
“The best players have always come from the streets or working-class roots,” Patel says. “They have the passion.”
Kwaku Ntru, an 11-year-old from southwest Atlanta, plays several times a week on the station field. “It helps me in school because you just don’t go home and sit around,” he says. “You know that you can come out here and play.”
Cost of the facility at Five Points MARTA station: about $150,000
Opened: October 13, 2016
Size: 99’ x 66’ (adult leagues play five vs. five)
Materials: Turf on concrete with sand infill
Youth hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (during the day on weekdays, the coaches work with homeless teens); Wednesday, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Adult hours: Lunchtime weekday league, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; every night from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Want to play? Sign up at stationsoccer.com.