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An open letter to Robert Pires


I’m writing this letter to you from my front porch here in northwest Philadelphia. Across the cobblestone street, I see the short 200-year-old stone wall that lines the open field lined with massive trees and old stone buildings beyond that used to be a convent and now house a church. It’s kind of a unique place.

Hot Brazilian chicks prefer Philly.

See, I know where you’re coming from with this whole Philadelphia’s not beautiful thing. I used to think that too, but then I changed my mind after getting dragged here kicking and screaming by my wife, who prefers Philly to her native  Brazil. Unlike you, we”ve actually seen what this city looks like beyond the airport. So here’s what you’re missing, from a guy who was born in Manhattan, spent much of his childhood in NYC, and would take Philly any day.

I can walk up the street into Chestnut Hill, which with its old stone mansions and cinematically perfect downtown is routinely listed as one of the best urban neighborhoods in the U.S. Or I can walk two blocks from my house, and I’m in the woods. Yeah, woods in the middle of the city. (Great for mafia burials!)

Better yet, let’s drive. We’ll take the road through the woods into the heart of Mount Airy, past some more old stone houses, before hitting the windy and wooded Lincoln Drive, a road carved out of the Wissahickon Gorge. Down the steep drop to my right, the Wissahickon Creek flows along the path my dog and I used to run. (You remember running, right? It’s what young soccer players do.)

Yes, this is Philadelphia. The Wissahickon Creek, to be specific.

Eventually you hit the Schuykill River, flanked by the river drives, which have more eye candy jogging along them than anywhere north of Miami. We’ll cross over to MLK Drive and go east, through Fairmount Park, long one of the nation’s two largest urban parks. We got more woods there, athletic fields and all sorts of good stuff (like, uh, soccer). Keep going, and you’ll see the boathouses across the river, aka Boathouse Row. At night, they light these up with all sorts of colors, and on weekends, you can catch some of the nation’s best regattas.

But then I’m into Center City, passing the Art Museum. (Yes, THE Art Museum. We don’t bother with the formal name. We got other museums, but EVERYONE knows this one. You get one run up the steps for the camera before we have to hurt you.) Go down the Ben Franklin Parkway, which might seem familiar. It’s modeled after the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Those flags? Yeah. You got it. Not quite the same, but whatever. Like anyone really wants to imitate France anymore. We’re all about Freedom Fries here. (OK, so maybe we’re not. Pretend I didn’t say that.)

Rocky's steps are on the other side. You get to run them once.

Now that you’re heading into Center City, with its brilliant murals and historic architecture older than this country, you’ll probably notice that things have a bit more character than say, New York. There’s a reason for that. You see, New York is great in a different sort of way. It’s not a beautiful city. It’s massive, imposing, crowded, but not prototypically beautiful. What makes it great is that, as Sinatra said, it never sleeps, and it’s where most immigrants come when they first get here. But if you’re looking for a physically beautiful city? Sorry Bob, New York ain’t the place.

So your options here in the States are slim, if what you want is a beautiful city with a soccer team. You could try Seattle, but your old Arsenal teammate, Freddie Ljungberg, is better than you. (So too is your other former Arsenal teammate, Thierry Henry, who’s going to beat you to New York.) There’s Los Angeles, but David Beckham probably ruined your chances there. I guess there’s Chivas USA, but, like most people, you might not know where they actually play, other than that it’s in the USA. D.C. United has a crappy stadium. Miami doesn’t have a team. By the time Portland and Vancouver get one, you’ll be even older.

Yeah, our beaches are kinda cool too.

So Bobby, I think you’re S.O.L. here.

You had a chance with Philly. Here, you had a brand new soccer club in Philadelphia Union that seems to be doing things the right way. They have a legitimate coach and a brand of soccer that’s slowly coalescing into something interesting. This place has this crazy grass roots soccer network. We had a supporters group with thousands of fans before we even had a team. We had a new adult amateur league start in 2006 and reach 40 teams and four divisions within three years, and we have half a dozen other good leagues around here. You can find pickup games all over, with guys (and girls) from numerous countries likely at each game. Kids play everywhere. And despite some crappy neighborhoods (I hear Paris and London have a few too), this area has some serious views to offer. I haven’t even started talking about the Cape May beaches or the isolated villages on the Delaware Bayshore, which the Nature Conservancy lists among its “Last Great Places.”

But you missed your chance. See, you just don’t insult Philly. People here are used to that, but they don’t like it. So if you’re smart, don’t come here. Don’t visit. Don’t even join Major League Soccer, because then you have to visit Philadelphia Union. Some fan might throw batteries or snowballs. Someone might even puke on you. A slightly aggressive center back might come in studs up or welcome you to MLS with a cleat in your ass.

The Union already have a Frenchman we like, one who busts his tail, never stops running, and has a nose for the net. Definitely not a prima donna. Actually has a future. His name is Sebastien Le Toux.

So go retire if you want, Bobby. It’s cool. We’re OK with that. We didn’t really want a washed-up European has-been anyway.




  1. great letter, I lived in Center City for the past ten years and now drive that same beautiful path to and from there almost daily. It never gets boring taking in the beauty all over this great city. Are there are ugly parts? Certainly, but there’s ugliness everywhere, especially in his words. Bobby is straight up ignorant. Who needs him?

  2. Nice touch at the end. I have lived in the city for two years and am a transplant from Boston and just love it here. I love living in center city, the city is beautiful and everyone I show around falls in love with the city. The reputation is crap, there are some terrible areas but cmon where are there not terrible areas but the beautiful areas are tough to beat. The sad thing is Bobby has played in some dumpy, crime ridden, small cities and should have known better. Nowak’s comments were the best.

  3. Well said. I’ve lived in Europe, South America and now the Caribbean. I’ve been to many of the “beautiful cities” of the world and Philadelphia is rightly counted among the. It is an American Trea sure and anyone who doesn’t want it doesn’t deserve it. I only wish Peter Nowak could make such a defense of the city. Someone needs to take him on a tour of the city and the region. Our coach needs to be an ambassador for the city and not just the team as what makes the Union special is the place it represents.

  4. Bingo. Philly has an image problem. What it doesn’t have is a beautiful city problem. Fortunately, we also don’t have a problem with over-the-hill, overpaid European soccer imports.

  5. I love Soccer, I love Philly…and it also happens that I am French! I was shocked when I read Bobby’s comments about Philadelphia and pointed out through the Villa Real TV twitter feed that William Penn’s city is a gem of a place to live. I don’t think the man knew what he was talking about and this happens a lot with soccer players. In Europe, we all know that the only wise man in the game is Eric Cantona. Zidane was a wizard with his feet but not so sure with his head. Pires is probably on the second group. He probably knows about LA Galaxy following the coverage in Europe with Becks’ move. It is a real shame, I was a fan of the player especially since his goal in the Euro 2000 final but I think the man lacks experience and everybody knows that Philadelphians appreciate both skills and wisdom and that this has been the case for over 300 years.

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