By KATIE VAN LOAN
MARIETTA, Ga. – Simon Davey, a retired professional soccer player, is taking his love for soccer, and his history on the field, by working to bring soccer to children at low costs to parents.
Davey, father of three girls, reclines in his pool chair during the interview and cracks open a beer, signaling it’s not his first rodeo.
Originally born in Wales, Davey toured the world with professional teams such as Swansea City, Carlisle United and Preston North End. Davey earned a spot as team captain on two of his professional teams, and gained recognition when he was selected for the Professional Footballers Association Team of the Season, an award voted for by all the professional players in the Football League.
Davey’s modest tendencies and quirky sense of humor became apparent when asked why he decided to play soccer professionally.
“It’s what my dad wanted me to do, and you’d be out of your mind to cross an angry Welsh man,” Davey said. “Fortunately for me, I had a knack for fútbol and developed a love for the game.”
Davey sports a thick British accent and commonly refers to soccer as “fútbol,” and the field as a “pitch.” Relaxation sweeps over Davey as he begins to reminisce on the sport that he dedicated his life to.
Davey started living the life of a local superstar at the age of 16 when he became the second youngest member to ever play for the Swansea City soccer team in 1987. While most children attended high school and lived at home, Davey toured the world with the professional soccer players Frank Rijkaard and David Beckham.
Davey played with four different teams before retiring from the league and entering the coaching world. Davey said his retirement from playing soccer came earlier than he expected. “I was using a medicine ball for workouts and I just felt something snap,” Davey said. “Then the pain came.”
Davey said he had injured his back during the workout, leading to the end of his playing career ended at the age of 27. Following his injury, Davey said he decided not to part ways with the sport that he loved.
Davey making his debut on the professional soccer field. (Submitted Photo)
Preston Youth Academy manager, David Moyes, gave Davey a chance by allowing him to coach, and it was not long until Moyes promoted Davey to the head of Preston’s Youth Academy.
“When I started coaching, I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be,” Davey said. “I’m not glad that my injury happened, but I am grateful for where I am now. I think that playing soccer was more of a step stone that lead me to coaching it.”
Davey exuded confidence and positivity during the interview, saying he eventually began coaching his own professional soccer team called the Barnsley Football Club. Under Davey’s wing, Barnsley conquered teams such as Liverpool and Chelsea to make an appearance at the FA Cup semi-finals for their first time in 96 years.
“I can’t even explain how it felt when we beat Chelsea to make it to the semi-finals,” Davey said. “What I can tell you is that we celebrated properly after the game that night.”
After his contract with Barnsley ended, Davey said he went on to manage Darlington Soccer Club and then Hereford United, where his professional-coaching career ended.
Davey holding the Welsh Cup in 1992. (Submitted Photo)
Despite the ending of this phase of coaching, Davey said he still decided to stay within the soccer community, but this time he moved across the world to do it. In May of 2012, Davey said he received a phone call from a friend asking if he would like to start up a youth soccer club in the United States.
“My knee-jerk reaction was to decline the offer,” Davey said. “Accepting that position meant moving my three young daughters and my wife to America.”
However, after much deliberation, Davey said he decided to accept the position as Director of the Southern Soccer Academy in Marietta, Georgia.
“The girls wanted to kill me when I told them that we were moving,” Davey said. “Fortunately for me, I’m just as stubborn as my dad, so their whining didn’t faze my decision much. Besides, they love America now, so I don’t feel too terribly guilty.”
Less than two weeks after the phone call, Davey moved to the United States and began organizing one of the largest not-for-profit youth soccer leagues in the Southeast. In addition to moving from a different country, Simon also dealt with building a soccer club from the ground up.
“If I knew how much work it was going to be in the beginning, there is a good chance that I would not have taken the job,” Davey said. “I’m talking 16-hour days and working all night trying to merge five of Georgia’s largest soccer clubs into one super club. A lot of people quit early on because the project was just so huge.”
Southern Soccer Academy, or SSA, provides soccer training for 3-19-year-old boys and girls and focuses on keeping the costs low for the parents.
“Organized sports are extremely expensive,” Davey said. “Parents pay upwards of $2000 a year so that their kids can join a team. The goal of SSA is to keep the costs low by creating a larger club with more members.”
With the help of his staff, Davey said he works to ensure that finances do not exempt children from joining a soccer club.
“Every kid should be part of some sort of team,” Davey said. “You learn a lot by working with other people to accomplish, or score, a goal. I think it’s important that these large, organized clubs focus less on the profits coming in and more on teaching the kids about fútbol.”
Davey’s journey took him from player to coach, finally leading him to the position of head director for an entire club right here in our community.
“Soccer has been a part of my life since I can remember,” Davey said. “I’ve worked with every aspect of the sport and now I am in a spot where I’d like to contribute the knowledge that I have gained in order to help others fall in love with soccer.”
Katie Van Loan and Simon Davey posing post interview. (Submitted Photo)