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The Association – Bringing Together Street Culture, Football & Creatives

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We caught up with the founders and organisers of a new 5-a-side football league in Los Angeles with a twist, The Association.

Every Thursday, a few local influencers, athletes, and others meet at a dark venue in Los Angeles, California. Tacos and drinks are served, music is played, but the neither of these are the main event. Everyone is here for The Association – a 5-a-side football league of creatives, influencers, and athletes.

The United States has never been synonymous with football culture. Whereas football pitches, kits, and club memorabilia is ubiquitous around much of the world, football culture in the US is still largely a subculture.

The fact that creative football fans are still not in the mainstream though means there’s been a coming together of those in this community. That’s how the Association came to be.

The Association Los Angeles Fooball

“We wanted to help LA become a real talking point of culture and soccer,” Ben Hooper, co-founder of the Association, told me. “(We asked) how can we bring different culture parts of the sport and bring great people and teams and artists and people from the fashion world and sneaker world into same room at the same time and get people talking about the sport and things around it.”

And that’s been the biggest benefit of this league. Creatives of all stripes and colors have a physical space to make connections and talk about creative projects related to football.

The Association Los Angeles Fooball

“A lot of great people are showing up to watch and tell their friends and a lot of connections have already been made,” Hooper said. “I’ve been told ‘I met so and so’ or that people connected at the event in real life and there’s a lot of that going on. That’s important for sport and if someone can come through and connect with other people it spawns new ideas or opportunities and creative output.”

The organizers are also hoping the league can last and evolve into the future. Many football events in the US are focused on one off events. They are often centered around an event like this summer’s World Cup. The organizers behind the Association worked on the project for more than a year to bring in the right brands and organizers so that it could be instilled with a sense of sustainability.

The Association Los Angeles Fooball

The Association is sponsored at least partially by adidas. The teams involved are cultural focal points that come from sports, music, fashion, and tech. In fact, when I first looked at the teams involved in the Association I felt uneasy. While it’s interesting to see a streetwear brand like 424 represent their brand in the league, a corporate company like Redbull – who has a controversial presence in global football these days – and SpaceX – the brainchild company of tech mogul Elon Musk that sends rockets into space – are also in the league.

Musk, who has a revered place among some circles in our culture due to his innovative successes, has always reminded me more of a bond villain than our societal savior. I wondered why brands like SpaceX would be involved in a football project focused on growing the culture.

The Association Los Angeles Fooball

Hooper said the Association tried to find brands that already fielded teams. SpaceX, it turns out, played in leagues and would be putting that team into the newly-formed 5-a-side league. He also said that the brands selected truly represent local Los Angeles culture. All the brands have bases there or originated in Los Angeles. The locality of the league means a community is building in Los Angeles and that community is centered around football.

And community is where football has grown from in the United States. It’s these communities that have made the general culture sit up and take notice that football can be a force. But brands in the US are still catching up.

The Association Los Angeles Fooball

“Soccer doesn’t resonate with a lot of brands late,” Mario Flores, the media liaison for the Association, told me. “One of things I’m trying to do is get people out and show them the imagery so they fully understand what this is. People who don’t follow soccer can say shit this is fricking cool! I’m talking to my friends because the vibe is cool and soccer happens to be playing. I tell people and brands to come see this because you need to experience it.”

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Justin Olivier Salhani
Justin Olivier Salhani

Justin Olivier Salhani is a writer, journalist, creative and amateur footballer based in Milan, Italy. He's the founder of Guerrilla FC; a creative collective/streetwear brand inspired by football and the creative director at lowsocks creative, and managing editor of Latterly Magazine. He's particularly into the intersection of where streetwear and football meet and how the two cultures inspire one another. He was previously based in Washington, DC and Beirut, Lebanon.

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