Lunchtime game nears fourth decade

Since 1973, students and faculty have congregated at noon to play pickup soccer games

The Nooners have assembled for weekday lunchtime games since 1973.
The Nooners have assembled for weekday lunchtime games since 1973.
The Nooners have seen up to 52 players during warm weather.
The Nooners have seen up to 52 players during warm weather.

In the middle of a pickup soccer game on Tuesday afternoon, a Queen’s student dropped to the turf to complete 10 pushups.

It’s part of a long-standing tradition that has seen students, faculty and staff, called the Nooners, meet for a friendly soccer match every weekday. The game started with a group of faculty and staff from the computing department and ITS in 1973.

When a player makes a rookie mistake, the others call for pushups.

“It’s a joke but it’s also, ‘Yeah, okay I deserve to be disciplined for being such a twit,’” Queen’s IT staff member Mike Smith said late Tuesday afternoon. When the Nooners first started playing almost 40 years ago, it was three-on-three. Now, it’s common to see up to 52 players on Tindall Field on a warm day.

Anyone can join the noon-hour game. Teams are split up at random, and they only play for pride.

Smith, the group’s commissioner and organizer, has been involved with the Nooners for almost as long as it’s been around.

“I sort of ended up being the person in charge, partly because I was willing to carry the cones and the balls to the field,” Smith said.

As the official rulekeeper of the Nooners, Smith has to enforce some unusual policies. There’s no sliding, no contact and no goalie.

“To score a goal, the ball has to cross the line, it cannot be higher than the waist,” he said. “There’s no offsides, there’s no referee.”

Although Smith touts the game’s inclusivity, the field has a limited female presence. Smith recalls a time when there were more women on the field.

“We had a group we called the Soccer Moms, but they sadly have pretty much all stopped playing,” Smith said. “Because there are so many younger guys around, they felt that it was maybe more aggressive than they really wanted.” On Tuesday, Sinead Early, PhD ’14 was one of two females playing in the game. She said the most she’s seen on the field since she began is four.

“I really enjoy playing with guys,” she said, adding that the Nooners are a high-skilled group.

Max Vernet, a retired Queen’s French professor, has been involved with the Nooners since he was a Queen’s graduate student in the 1970s. “I don’t know if I’m one of the 10 earliest [players,] but I’m certainly one of the oldest now,” Vernet said.

This year has seen an infiltration of younger players, Vernet said, especially when the weather gets warmer.

“The younger guys are taking over,” he said. “We have to tame them.” Vernet said part of what makes the Nooners special is the banter between players on the field.

“You don’t take this stuff seriously if you’re a Nooner,” Vernet said. “Every day somebody makes a mistake, usually me.” Initially, the Nooners were relegated to the cricket field in front of the Frontenac County Court House near the corner of Barrie and Union Streets.

“The ground was very uneven,” he said. “Lots of leaves, lots of ankles got twisted on that field.” Since Tindall Field’s renovation in 2008, the group has played on the artificial turf during good weather and inside the ARC during the rain or the cold.

Vernet said the Nooners are unique to Queen’s.

“It’s a great integrator. We’ve had people from all over the world — from Japan, from Iran, from Nigeria,” he said. “They don’t know anybody, all they know is they can play soccer and they see this game and they come in and they integrate.” Ahmad Blharram, ArtSci ’11 and MSc ’14, said the older players are generally good company.

“They can be annoying,” he joked. “Their rules are really annoying, but they joke a lot, they’re fun. It’s just meant to be fun, really.”

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