Playing Pickup with Woody Harrelson

By now you’ve probably seen Woody Harrelson’s penalty that won UNICEF’s charity match, Soccer Aid 2010, for the ‘Rest of the World’ team at Old Trafford on Sunday. Here’s the clip:

We reached out to the veteran actor, whose credits include the legendary sitcom Cheers, and such films as Natural Born Killers, No Country for Old Men, and Zombieland, but we haven’t heard back as of yet. That CompuServe email address we got may be outdated. Not sure.

In the meantime, we contacted some friends of Backpost who played in a regular pickup game in London’s Regent’s Park with Harrelson back in 2002, when the actor was making his West End stage debut opposite Kyle McClachlan in On An Average Day.

We asked our pals for a glimpse of the man at play (and at the pub after). For as the late, great John Wooden said, “Sports don’t build character. They reveal it.”

Take it away Our Man at the Valley:

 “Woody was always very enthusiastic. That was probably his best attribute. And his accent was true to his Cheers character. It was always a little surreal to hear him say, ‘Nice shot, Richard.’ ”

Striker? Defender? Midfielder?

“He was least dangerous up front, though he did score the occasional goal.”

Did he really take up the game at age 40, as reports on the Soccer Aid game have suggested?

“That’s true, as far as I know. That was the story when we were playing in Regents Park.”

Did he buy postgame rounds at the pub?

“He typically had a Sunday matinee after the game so he wouldn’t join us right away for beers. But there were a few nights where he was out with us and he always got his round in. He also invited us to his house on different occasions, including for the closing night party with the cast.”

Does he love/know the game?

“Basically everyone involved with the show, from Kyle Maclachlan to the stagehands, told us how Woody would spend day after day talking about playing soccer with us in the park. Sunday through Tuesday he usually did a recap of his exploits from our game on  Sunday, and then Thursday through Saturday were predictions about how he would play the following week. It was very sweet. He’s a good dude.”

Tim the Yorkshireman seconds that notion:

“It was a pleasure to share a kickabout with Woodrow. I’m really not the ‘celebrity type’… but it seems it’s nigh on impossible to not find Mr. Harrelson funny, engaging, a down-to-earth and genuine guy. He became ‘one of the fellas’ almost immediately.

“Bless him. He’s still the best American I’ve seen kick a ball….

Eeeeeeasy…just jokes!”

There you have it. Woody Harrelson—late-blooming footy fanatic, and Tim, fate-tempting trash talker just four days before U.S.-England.

Here are some photos from the Regent’s Park sessions, courtesy of Tim, who had it much, much tougher than you growing up: