Having lived in the US for 10 years, and witnessed the growth of football here, I was interested in understanding the perspective from ex-Blues who may be living or plying their trade here.
I was fortunate enough to make contact with Adrian Heath at Austin Aztex. We spent an enjoyable hour on the phone reminiscing about the good old days, and he also promised to hook me up with other ex-blues. Our discussion hit on the main topic, but it wandered off in various directions. The transcript is direct off the Sony DIgital recorder, so may be a bit rough around the edges, but here it is...
PR: Adrian, first and foremost, thank you for your time but also for the out-of-body experiences at Oxford and Highbury, I was living in England back in the 80s and one of the travelling 1,000s and those moments are up there with Rotterdam, Wembley '85 and any win against Liverpool….
AH: Cheers, and although it’s a long time ago now, those two games get discussed whenever I talk with Evertonians. The Oxford game you can trace back and see the overall importance, but obviously Highbury got us through to Wembley. I always remembered when I joined the club, Howard said something will happen in your career that people will remember you by. I therefore consider myself lucky I had two, and clearly something we will never forget.
PR: Shall we call it 'football' or 'soccer'?
AH: (Laughs) Let's call, it football so we know what we’re talking about
PR: How do you feel about the status of Football here in the States?
AH: The biggest thing we have seen in the last two years, is when non-American teams have been playing, for example AC Milan, Club America (Mexico), Chelsea and now the US teams like the Seattle Sounders, the gates are huge, in comparison to the past. Also the kids who play the game at High School through College are now seeing a pathway from a career perspective, with clubs starting academies, they bring in local players and many are now playing in the big leagues around the globe.
When I speak to some of the real pioneers of the game in the US, they all comment on the availability on TV to watch top quality games as being a significant factor in the growth. For example, every European Championship game and major Champions League game was shown live on ESPN and you would never have dreamt that 5 years ago — never mind 20.
In terms of popularity, certainly here (in Texas) it’s easily challenging the popularity of Ice Hockey and Basketball, and not far behind Baseball. Fifteen years ago, people would have laughed at you. So there is a definitive shift in the perception of the American people about the game, both as a playing and spectator sport.
You only have to look around the Shopping Malls and see the number of replica shirts being worn and the school kids who know the EPL teams, grounds, players... again, what a change from 5 years ago.
I also see an incredible amount of talent here, the question now is how to harness it and move it through the academies to create a structured format for the development of young talent.
PR: How have you settled into life in Austin, not a bad place to live and work is it?
AH: Yes, it was a great opportunity and knowing the owner of the Austin Aztex, Phil Rawlins, who was also a director at Stoke City for many years and a great pal, made it easy for me. When he said he was going to start a club, I had no hesitation. To be honest it’s going to take a really good job to get me away from here as everyone in the family has settled in well.
PR: Any reflections on the Aztex debut season?
AH: It was a huge learning curve for everyone involved with the club, but it’s been promising that we have averaged gates of 3,500. Season started well with some friendlies against the Dynamo’s which we drew, then the Columbus Crew who we beat, but we did have the youngest squad in the USL this year, and it really caught up with us half way through the season. You could see the players were mentally and physically tired.
It was also a learning experience for me, because some of the lads had only ever played 3½ months in a year through the college system. They got shattered to the point that real fatigue set in. Of course being in Texas the heat is a factor in your training schedule, and we would have to start training at 8:00am before the 100 degree temperatures set in. We are moving to a new venue next season, right Downtown which will help even more attract new supporters.
However, I was disappointed, as I wanted to make play-offs, although everyone felt I was being optimistic, but having learned a lot about the environment, the travel and the quality of the opposition teams, we will really make a big impact next season.
We had a tour of the UK in October, and that was a major developmental experience for our players.
PR: I guess you are pleased with Stoke City’s progress and the chance of pre-season game next season, that must be exciting for you, and a chance to pit your wits against Peter Reid, have you talked about it?
AH: Yes, it has been great for me as a kid growing up, playing for my hometown club and seeing them do well, and now of course my best mate Reidy to be there. They will definitely benefit from his love of the game and knowledge and energy. People forget how important Stoke have been to the game, probably been in the top flight a lot longer than most. Two special moments in my life, making my debut for Stoke and then signing for Everton.
PR: We can’t really talk about Football in the USA without mentioning David Beckham: good or bad for MLS?
AH: Oh, without hesitation — Good. He brought a huge marketing presence, but also a raising of the perception and reality of the quality of the game here. For example at the Everton v MLS All-Star game, Evertonians and players were coming up to me saying how good they were and let’s remember that the All-Star team were all internationals and the USA team is in the top 12 of the FIFA standings, so the blues did well to beat them, albeit on penalties.
PR: The emergence of Manchester City can either be viewed as free market forces in full flow or kick in the shins for clubs who have progressively tried to improve their position in the Premier League; do you think introducing some of the interventions like a salary cap, as we have here in the US, would level the playing field?
AH: Not just a salary cap alone, but possibly a roster cap as well — stopping certain clubs who just buy up all the young talent and let them fester in the reserves. Also, how the TV money is allocated, as it does seem illogical that the richest clubs in the world get the most TV money. Again, the EPL could learn a lot from US major sports about how they can level the playing field.
PR: Like the NFL, surely the best run sport in the world?
AH: It’s fascinating that you asked me that because living here you will probably experience what I see at the beginning of the NFL season, that is, nearly everyone thinks they can win it. Everyone. That’s what football was like 20 years ago in England at the start of the season. Remember the excitement at the start of a season, getting those league ladders from the newspaper and putting your team on top.
Now it ‘s like the top 4 and a couple of maybes. Remember Forest under Cloughie and everything he won, but could you see that now? Nope. Hand on heart, can’t see us, Spurs, Villa or anyone else winning the league, without some billionaire coming in like at City.
What you have is three leagues within the EPL: the top 4 who get into Champions League, 6-7 clubs who will always be looking at relegation, and then the rest looking for scraps. So we used to laugh and joke about SPL being just two clubs, Celtic and Rangers, but let’s face it we are not a million miles away in the EPL. It’s just not competitive enough.
PR: Shifting gears back to your career at Everton, I’m sure you have been asked every conceivable question about your time with us, but one thing I must ask: was Pat van den Hauwe as scary as he appeared?
AH: I got to know Pat really well, but his bark was worse than his bite, and people underestimated what a good footballer he was. Reidy and I often talk about him and the second League Championship we won, he should have got Player of the Year. He played left-back, right-back and centre-back for long periods.
Sheeds idolised him, because he never had to put a tackle in when Pat was around.
PR: I know through Legends events back home that you keep in touch with the lads of the 80s; what was the key to our success?
AH: We were a team, made up of great characters and outstanding players. Reidy is still my best pal in the game, and with Skype we ring each other up at all hours, probably spent more time in hotel rooms with him than with my wife! I still keep in touch with Andy, Sheeds, Sharpy and Ratters, and we always have great time at the reunion dinners.
I was very lucky I played in a great team, but also great characters who are still close friends. We played for each other and all made a contribution to our success.
PR: Were there any players that Howard was looking to buy that would have improved the squad but didn’t come off?
AH: Not really, we bought Gary Lineker, who was probably the biggest star in England at the time, but we already had the best goalie in the world, best midfield and so on. But don’t forget there were players like Alan Harper and Kevin Richardson who were brilliant for us, playing in various positions and both were never given the credit in the game as they deserved.
PR: Heaven forbid, but if Moysie ever left Everton who would be a good replacement?
AH: That’s a tough one... but one thing is for certain, there would be no shortage of applicants, because it’s still one of the biggest jobs in football. Managers who would be perceived as being in bigger jobs, would jump at the chance. However, as you know it needs to be someone who values what the club is about, what it means to the people. Anyone who has played there for a length of time will tell you it gets under your skin.
PR: Fast Questions: Best place for an away game?
AH: White Hart Lane – always great atmosphere when the lads were in town.
PR: Best rivalry?
AH: Obviously Liverpool, I did play in Manchester and Barcelona derbies, but nothing beats it.
PR: All-time Everton Player?
AH: Alan Ball, no question, I was lucky to have made my debut against him when he was at Southampton
PR: All-time non-Evertonian?
AH: Maradonna, won the World Cup single handed, you can argue for Pele and Johan but they played with great players in their side, Maradonna was out on his own.
PR: Players you would always pick for your team, past and present?
AH:Big Nev who was virtually unbeatable for 2 years... and Ratters who stood for everything that was Everton, in that he went out to play, but if you wanted to mix it, he would mix it.
Finally, Adrian said I missed a question which often gets asked, which was: “What was the best thing thing about Everton Footbal Club” to which he said, “Any game at Goodison Park… when you are standing in the tunnel before kick-off and you hear that drumroll of Z-Cars….."
At that moment, we both admitted just thinking about it, the hairs on the back of ours neck stand up and that little welling of emotion...
“That’s what’s special, nothing else in football touches it”
“While I’ll always remember those games at Oxford and Highbury , that will always be the abiding memory of being at Evertonian.”
Top Bloke, True Blue
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1 Posted 14/02/2010 at 15:33:45
One slightly surprising omission: no discussion of a certain Landon Donovan?
2 Posted 14/02/2010 at 17:28:06
3 Posted 14/02/2010 at 18:53:43
I really enjoyed it.
As Michael mentioned, it would have been interesting to know his thoughts on Landon Donovan and Tim Howard.
4 Posted 14/02/2010 at 21:30:30
5 Posted 14/02/2010 at 23:38:29
Great to see our correspondents around the globe taking the time (and effort) to touch home base - as I believe they say over there. Every bit helps, and will be remembered.
Thank you Paul.
6 Posted 15/02/2010 at 00:20:32
7 Posted 15/02/2010 at 01:08:25
Any scope for a Part 2 in future ie end of season, that does take in Donovan. I'm sure the great man Inchy would oblige at some convenient stage.
8 Posted 15/02/2010 at 01:52:29
It has already been ripped off by tribal football website.
9 Posted 15/02/2010 at 09:04:47
Saw him in there with Sharpie, Sheeds and even his old Stoke striking partner Lee Chapman a few times; he always had a few words for us and me and the lads used to take the piss out of his latest hair-do. (Remember his curly perm?)
A few times he sent an unsought round of drinks over, which no other player ever did.
I can remember one pre-match, Terry Curran (anyone remember him? - ’our saviour’... cough) and a group of players came in to the pub wearing a red and white tie and one of the lads gently taking the piss asked him why the fuck he was wearing red and white when he was playing for Everton?
"Fuck off back to your mundane jobs you bunch of wankers" was Terry’s wonderful reply... My mate Ozzie was going to drop him for that remark. Inchy had words with Curran and even apologised on his behalf.
If I remember rightly, Inchy even sorted a couple of the lads out with tickets for big games later on.
10 Posted 15/02/2010 at 10:49:59
11 Posted 15/02/2010 at 13:33:15
12 Posted 15/02/2010 at 13:59:10
13 Posted 15/02/2010 at 16:36:00
14 Posted 15/02/2010 at 20:01:10
15 Posted 16/02/2010 at 00:28:26
16 Posted 16/02/2010 at 14:31:04
17 Posted 19/02/2010 at 10:09:06
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