Origins: Charles Renken and Plastic-Bag Soccer Balls

Time to repost a story first posted last fall on our original blog last year.  Its an inspiring one, both for anyone looking to overcome serious adversity and earn real life-changing opportunity, and for us at FCearth. The story of Charles Renken was literally the first story about the intersection of soccer and culture that inspired us to launch FCearth.

Justin Rodriguez at ESPN introduces us to Charles Renken, a talented 14 year old soccer player and immigrant from Africa to the U.S., who is already garnering attention from the top European leagues. The story of how Charles Bimbe was adopted by the Renken family of Illinois is inspiring.

Let's do him a favor and not call him the next Freddy Adu, since he clearly has his own unique boatload of promise as a U.S.-based soccer player. To us he is also symbolic of the unique global culture of the game. Rodriguez talks about the crude balls Renken (then Charles Bimbe) and his friends made out of plastic found in the streets so they could play barefoot ball, growing up in the impoverished African nation of Zambia. How Renken, now living with U.S. U-17 National team in Bradenton, Flordia, still gets emotional when thinking about those early barefoot playing days.

A friend of mine grew up relatively humbly in Brazil, and in order to play the sport in which Brazil is known worldwide for its artistry and excellence, they would scrounge up socks, wad them up into a makeshift ball, and play. I can't relate at all; the closest I can remember is rescuing soccer balls from the trash cans at suburban soccer complexes and trying to patch them up. Stories like these- about the efforts youth go to just to make a ball, the only piece of gear you need to play, are great reminders of how important soccer is in many communities.

How to Change the World By Playing Soccer

Thierry Henry at the Steve Nash Showdown