Rest In Peace, Bill Foulkes

I was terribly upset to learn about the death of a good friend of mine, and a true Manchester United legend, Bill Foulkes this week.

It may not be well known to some but if not for Bill, I may never even have ended up at United myself. In the summer of 1975 I went on loan to Chicago Sting where Bill was manager and I later learned that he had recommended me to his old club; Jimmy Murphy scouted me and told Tommy Docherty to sign me and that was that.

For that reason alone I am very thankful for Bill’s influence in my life but he was a great, great man as well. He carried himself with the aura of the legend he was at Old Trafford but was so softly and quietly spoken that it almost was at odds with his tough reputation. He stands for a lot in the symbolic history of Manchester United; strength, bravery and recovery, and those are three traits that will live on at the club thanks to the effort he put in.

2013 has been a terrible year for this news; my old friend Brian Greenhoff, who died in May, then Jack Crompton, but also Tony Gubba who was known to us as a renowned broadcaster. On a personal level, Adam, the son of my old neighbours Ed and Chris Broadbent, died from cancer this year and he was only a young man with a young family. No news of death is easy to handle but there is some comfort in knowing Bill leaves us having lived a full and happy life and achieved many wonderful things.

Rest in peace Bill, and thanks for everything.

Monday Night Football

Warren Sapp Man UtdThis week I’ll change the subject a little bit; I was invited, last week, to go and see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Miami Dolphins. I don’t often go to NFL games but a local derby in any sport is always a good occasion – I was invited by Phil Jones, an avid Manchester United fan who just so happens to be the president of the Buccaneers’ UK supporters club, too.

Phil does a tremendous job of arranging large trips over with other supporters and I was delighted and honoured to be invited along. There was a tour around the ground, the changing rooms and medical facilities – in terms of the preparation and everything aside from the actual game, everything is so similar to proper football! The fields and training grounds are great.

Watching the training can be a fun experience; they run through drills and warm up’s in much the same way as in football yet seeing these guys without their padding on is quite different, let me tell you! Supporter culture is a little different; before the games, it’s quite normal for people to just stand and mingle with other fans, and then when it kicks off it’s not uncommon for rival supporters to sit amongst each other. It’s integration that you just don’t see in England and though it would harm the atmosphere over the UK, over in the NFL it’s so common that it doesn’t. The atmosphere was electric though I think it scared my wife a little bit; every time a touch down was scored by Tampa, a cannon went off!

There’s a lot of razzmatazz, as you might expect, but there’s a strong appreciation for heritage there (as showed when there was a ceremony to mark the retiring of Warren Sapp’s “No 99” jersey, and a recognition of their 2002 Super Bowl winning team) and when you have that kind of tradition and local pride at stake then you’re usually going to see a competitive game no matter what the sport. That didn’t spill over into any fisticuffs or anything like that even after Tampa won – there was a nice healthy conversation and sporting conversation to be had and heard everywhere.

The club took the time to interview me which can be found on their official website which was a nice experience; I want to say thanks to Brian Ford, the COO, who showed wonderful hospitality at number One Buccaneer Place.

My next plan is to go to the Buccs and see a training day; as a coach, observing their preparation and seeing what goes on behind the scenes there. I think it might be a little bit too late for me to get into that game but I think it’s entirely possible that I can pick up some ideas to put into what I do; the world’s a big place and you never stop learning!

Football was my first and true sporting love, but the American version ain’t too bad either.

All Change At FC Dallas

DallasThe English season might just have got warmed up but the MLS is approaching the business end, with the play-off’s underway. Sadly one team not participating in the play-off’s after a difficult 2013 is a team from my old stomping ground, FC Dallas.

I remember being in attendance when the club moved into the “Pizza Hut Park”, now known as Toyota Park, in Frisco. It’s a stadium that’s built into the ground – you go across flat land and actually descend into the arena, it really holds in the heat that’s for sure (in fact, they call the pitch, ‘the oven’!). It creates a very good atmosphere unique to that club, an identity of its own – the stadium is a fantastic complex.

There are risks that come with playing in a soccer specific stadium, in that you know you’re building it only for soccer fans and therefore not attracting as many people, or casual match goers. The fans can be frenetic and loud but I feel that there aren’t as many as they could be simply because of the move out to Frisco. Nonetheless, it’s very encouraging to see a club at least attempt to create their own kind of identity and culture.

The facilities on the grounds of the stadium play host to the “Dallas Cup”, the famous youth tournament which I have been involved with many times with Gordon Jago, when I was living in McKinney.

In an era where I am so passionate about football people being involved in the game and North American teams establishing their own prestige and culture, it’s refreshing to see the work of Lamar Hunt, who was, of course, so heavily involved in the launch of the MLS and teams in Kansas and Columbus as well as Dallas. Dallas are currently owned by Lamar’s son, Clark – keeping it in the family is certainly a way to at least build a consistent tradition.

The next step, following a difficult season in which Schellas Hyndman has resigned, is to try and re-establish Dallas as a force to be seriously contending for the play-off’s and use their unique setting to their advantage. I remember the days of the former Arsenal player Steve Bould in charge and I can’t help but think that it’s a club that has never reached its full potential. There are some good players at the club – the one who will probably be most familiar to readers in the UK will be Kenny Cooper, who was at Man Utd as a kid. He’s an out and out forward but for me wasn’t utilised properly in the 2013 campaign; there’s been a lot of reliance of Herrera and I think it’s been too much pressure on him.

I won’t name names but I look at the club and its roster and think there are a lot of players given an opportunity because of their nationality and the history of excellence of players from those countries rather than their own ability and it would surely be something that the incoming manager will do to try and get a strong core of quality players in order for things to improve next season. Quality players that are there to make the difference and take the club to the next level, that should always be the aim – and to not make the play-offs is something that is very disappointing for them. It won’t be a surprise to anyone reading this that I am a huge advocate of home grown talent and I know that there is plenty there to be used, these opportunities don’t need to go to foreign players.

Dallas, at the moment, is a club looking to create an identity of its own and that makes it appealing for any football person, like myself, looking to get back in the game and lead a club – an opportunity to use the unique existing features and combining them with your own philosophy and vision.

In the past, the MLS has not always been taken seriously, but in the last couple of years there appears to have been a significant shift. European teams come over here in the summer knowing that they’ll get a proper work out, it’s not just a holiday anymore, and there is a feeling that in the next few years there is an opportunity to close the gap in quality and competitiveness significantly – as long as those steps that are taken are the right ones.