Football is the world’s favourite sport, but in the USA it has taken a bit longer for the beautiful game to capture the hearts of the population compared to many other countries in the world.
A number of events have take place over the past few decades that have pushed football (or soccer) up the pecking order in terms of popularity. The Major Soccer League (MLS) was created in 1993 and this provided the USA (and Canada) with a competition that represents the sport at its highest level. In 1994 the USA hosted the World Cup across 9 cities, breaking the average attendance record per game with a figure of 69,000 – this record still stands today even though more than 20 years and 5 subsequent tournaments have passed. There’s no doubt that the tournament was a success and this helped the USA show that they were serious about the sport.
Some big names have moved to the MLS in the years since the USA were hosts of the World Cup, most notably David Beckham who joined LA Galaxy in 2007. In terms of the performance of the US national team, their proudest moment was probably during the World Cup in Brazil last summer where they managed to make it out of a tough group containing Ghana, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and the overall winners of the tournament, Germany. They lost 2-1 to Belgium in the second round after extra time despite their goalkeeper Tim Howard making a record breaking 15 saves in the match.
Today over 13 millions Americans play soccer in the USA, making it the third most popular sport after baseball and basketball. One person who is experiencing the rise in popularity of the sport in the USA from a personal perspective is Newcastle United fan Ashley Nesbit.
Ashley is the founder of the Magpies Soccer Club in New Jersey, a training company that offers soccer related activities and elite training to youth players in the area.
His interest in football started at a very young age, growing up as a Newcastle season ticket holder and travelling across Europe to watch his beloved team whenever he got the opportunity. As a player he represented Montagu Boy’s Club in Fenham, a club which produced players including Michael Chopra and John Carver, he headed to the Newcastle Academy set up.
Following a move to the USA, Ashley set up the Magpies Soccer Club in 2013 in Hackettstown, Northern New Jersey. Today the club provides team training sessions and game day coaching as well as private 1 vs 1 and small group technical clinics to improve certain aspects of a players game such as speed and strength training. The club caters for 3-18 year-olds and covers beginner, intermediate and academy level players. This season the under 14 boys team have been successful in several tournaments, seeing off some tough competition from around New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Long island.
We spoke to Ashley to get some more information about his move to the USA and the great organisation he started:
What made you start your own soccer academy in the USA?
Realising I could give kids a great opportunity to love the game as much as I do and have fun while I pass on my knowledge and experiences from soccer down to them. Being able to do a job I love and make a living from it in a country where they love the English accent!
What challenges did you face in starting the business?
New Jersey is the most over populated state in terms of soccer coaching companies. There are new ones popping up all the time, so its important to make people realise you’re around for many years not just 6 months to a year and then fall away. Building those relationships and rapport in the 5 years I was in the country leading up to me opening my own company was very important. Having a great reputation for developing players in the area is key, but I found it tough being able to sell other staff members and spread the work as everybody wanted myself. Not only am I coaching soccer but there is the marketing, selling, cold calls, emails, accounting, taxes and crazy parents to deal with!
You are a life long Newcastle fan and your love for NUFC is clear by the name and the branding of your soccer academy. Have any of the kids followed you in supporting the Toon?
The biggest question I get is, “Magpies? What’s that?!”
even when I say Alan Shearer, it’s still “Who?” (only in America…).
So after explaining the concept of a Magpie being a bird and the mascot of Newcastle United, I convince them that it is the best team in the land and manage to recruit a couple supporters for the Toon. Generally because we aren’t always winning they normally jump to a new team after a few weeks and I get asked the question, “coach why do you support them?”.
By the time I finish telling them they wished they never asked!
What is your fondest memory as a Newcastle fan?
There are many fond moments for me as a NUFC fan for many reasons. If I had a top 5 (in no order) it would be:
1. Tino hatrick vs Barcelona while sitting in the Leazes end
2. 5-0 spanking of Man Utd with Philippe Albert’s chip as the final goal.
3. Travelling to Bosnia to watch a UEFA cup game
4. Beating Juventus 1-0 at St James’ Park in the Champions league
5. Being able to watch NUFC live during the ‘entertainer’ years
Football, or soccer as they call it, is becoming increasingly popular over recent years. Have you noticed this trend since you have lived there?
In the nearly 8-9 years I have lived in America, the growth has been huge. Beckham got the ball rolling and since then with the influx of players, sponsorship, media and competing in World Cups, the game has reached new levels over here. You’re starting to see the athletic players who previously went to American football and basketball now wanting to play soccer and schools really promoting the sport.
What are your hopes for the future regarding Magpies Soccer club?
My hopes are to turn Magpies into an even more successful training company that gives children the opportunity to express and fulfil theie sporting talent, which will help get them into college and receive better opportunities in life through playing a sport and being part of a team.