Retired professional athlete takes on Georgia youth soccer

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.

pic 1 soccerDavey 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.

pic 2 soccerDavey 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.”

pic 3 soccerKatie Van Loan and Simon Davey posing post interview. (Submitted Photo)

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Atlanta: En route to becoming Soccer City, USA

By DREW AMANDOLIA

Contrary to popular belief, soccer is becoming the world’s most admired sport.

When looking at all of the countries on Earth, almost every one has a pro soccer league, as well as a national soccer team. In countries like England and Spain, soccer is the largest sport there is.

FIFA estimates that 270 million people are involved in soccer all across the world.

In the United States, soccer is one of many sports that compete for fans, media attention and air time on television. MLS, the United States pro soccer league, gets minimal airtime. This is due to the lack of interest of casual sports fans.

Soccer’s overall popularity, however, is on the rise in Atlanta. Places where fans can practice their soccer skills, like Marietta Indoor Sports, are proof of that. Soccer enthusiasts of all ages are able to come out and play competitive soccer in a pick-up format.

Nyowo Scott runs the open gyms at Marietta Indoor Sports.

Soccer fans of all ages join in on a pick-up game at the Marietta Indoor Sports facility. Photo by Drew Amandolia.
Soccer fans of all ages waiting to join in on a pick-up game at the Marietta Indoor Sports facility. Photo by Drew Amandolia.

“Atlanta definitely has the potential to be a soccer city. Mexico and Nigeria played a game at the Georgia Dome this year and 68,000 people were there. Indoor Soccer gyms are popping up all around town as well, and people come out to mine for the leagues and pick-up nights,” said Scott. “There are some grassroots organizations and leagues being founded now as well. Once the MLS team comes to Atlanta, I think that the popularity of soccer will follow.”

In 2017, Atlanta will be getting a MLS franchise that will be owned by Falcons owner Arthur Blank. This team will play in the new Georgia Dome. With MLS coming off of its most successful season attendance-wise, Blank’s new Atlanta franchise will hopefully bring people in to watch games.

JR Francis, the Chief Marketing Official for Terminus Legion, said, “Atlanta needs a team at the highest level to give them the option of being a soccer city. Once MLS arrives, we will see how the city responds. We believe we have the perfect owner in Arthur Blank who will assure that the team is in the mix for every player, every coach, giving the team a competitive shot at the playoffs every year. Atlanta embraces and loves success, and with this team’s success, will go the fan base.”

Right now, Atlanta’s only pro soccer team is the Atlanta Silverbacks. The Silverbacks are in the United State’s second division league, the North American Soccer League.  The Silverbacks enjoy a high attendance rating for NASL teams with an average of 4,000 people a game at their home stadium in Gwinnett.

“The Silverbacks were a good first step for Atlanta soccer. They get a good turnout for their home games and have a good, but small, fan base. These fans will translate over to Atlanta’s MLS team and it will go from there,” said Scott. “Atlanta already has supporters groups like the Ultras and the Legion who really love the game.”

Atlanta’s two main supporter groups for Atlanta soccer are Terminus Legion and the Atlanta Ultras. These groups come out to the games and start chants, bang drums and other tactics to hype up the crowd. They also work on growing Atlanta’s soccer fan base by holding events and tailgates at Silverbacks’ games. The Terminus Legion itself has 685 members since their debut in January.

“We are excited to partner with MLS Atlanta on their efforts. We have met with them several times and will be assisting in many community outreaches,” said Francis. “We will be increasing our role in the community through our own fundraising and will be organizing world-class game day support for our new team!”

Cities like Portland, Seattle and Kansas City already have soccer teams with fan bases large enough to where they rival their respective cities NFL or MLB teams. Atlanta has all of the intangibles for the same success with MLS Atlanta.

Monique Hollins, a Seattle native, played soccer at the University of West Georgia.

“Atlanta isn’t as good of a soccer city yet as some other places in the U.S. It’s not as popular as it is in Seattle or North Carolina,” said Hollins. “Since I came to Georgia to play, I have seen it get more and more popular, especially with people in college. ”

During the World Cup this past summer, the city of Atlanta really embraced the true culture of soccer. Restaurants and bars in the area showed all of the international games and media outlets focused coverage on the players, games and even some controversy that this World Cup provoked. The city even had a projector screen set up in Piedmont Park for the U.S. versus Portugal match.

Scott said, “Soccer is my business. During the World Cup and other tournaments, almost everyone becomes a soccer fan. I’ll have people come in here and want to play just because they watched Clint Dempsey or Jemaine Jones play for the national team. If the people in the area watched MLS like they did the world cup, soccer would be the most popular sport in Atlanta.”

 

Athletic programs struggle during KSU/SPSU consolidation

By MIKE FOSTER

Daniel Wilburn had not set foot on the humble soccer pitch at Southern Polytechnic State University for 11 months. He may not want to walk the field ever again.

Empty water bottles, soda cans, rotting equipment and a blank scoreboard were the only fixtures at the field. There were no lines on the turf—nothing to lead the way, or tell a story. The dilapidated facility had turned quickly.

Daniel Wilburn takes a last look at Southern Polytechnic State's soccer field on campus. The school will consolidated with Kennesaw State University next fall, leaving many former SPSU athletes looking for answers. Photo by Mike Foster.
Daniel Wilburn takes a last look at Southern Polytechnic State’s soccer field on campus. The school will consolidated with Kennesaw State University next fall, leaving many former SPSU athletes looking for answers. Photo by Mike Foster.

Almost too quickly for Wilburn, who was shocked to see the place he used to spend hours on in its current state.

Wilburn is a sophomore and former member of SPSU’s men’s soccer team.

“Just seeing this field, you can already tell how much has changed,” he said. “Coach would never have let it get like this.”

He skimmed the slightly overgrown grass with the tip of the skateboard.

Wilburn last touched the grass in a Hornet uniform in October 2013. The men’s soccer team, of which Wilburn was a member, built a 10-6-2 record and was even ranked No. 2 in the National Intercollegiate Athletic Association in its final season.

When he showed up at the field in preparation for a photo, he brought along all three jerseys he wore as a Hornet. Now relics to Wilburn, the jerseys were given away to the players.

“Heck, they’ve no longer got use for them,” Wilburn said. “So, we get to keep them.”

KSU/SPSU Consolidation

Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University are both situated just off Interstate 75 in Cobb County, an outskirt of the metro Atlanta area that is a mainstay for major suburban development.

Both schools have mirrored the growth of the area through the years, and quickly: SPSU was instituted in 1948 and moved to its Marietta site from Chamblee in 1962. KSU opened up the road a year later.

Since these humble starts, both schools have deviated toward very different identities. KSU is now the third largest school in the University System of Georgia. It’s a largely popular school for its business, nursing and education programs, and with world class housing and dining options, it’s quickly become a model—a mecca, if you will—for building a modern state college.

SPSU has a smaller campus and is a technical school with an almost exclusively male student body.

Just like these differences, the two schools athletic programs have been different in recent years. Kennesaw State is now a Division I program in the National College Athletic Association, while Southern Poly competed at the NAIA level.

Unfortunately for athletes like Wilburn, they soon will be competing somewhere else, or nowhere at all.

In November 2013, the University System of Georgia announced the two schools would be “consolidated” into one institution. This consolidation meant a gauntlet of ambitious logistical operations that had to be dealt with before the merger completes in fall of 2015.

In late February 2013, athletes at the SPSU campus were told grim news: The men’s and women’s basketball teams, baseball team and soccer team, all going by the moniker ‘Hornets’, were done.

The home of the Hornets had now become ‘Owl country.’

Vaughn Williams works through athletic consolidations

Kennesaw State director of athletics, Vaughn Williams, knew immediately he had a tough situation on his hands. Williams, who took over the athletic department at KSU in the spring of 2011, has turned an athletic scene that used to look much more like SPSU’s into one that rivals larger, traditional schools.

To this point, his job had been a clean slate of positivity. He oversaw the long-awaited approval of a football program, re-committed student athletes to the classroom, implemented a complete rebranding with a contract with Adidas, upgraded the Convocation Center on campus and brought in numerous sponsorships.

When it came to the merger with SPSU, Williams might have had it harder than any other department.

There’s no way to simply combine two athletic programs, and while the Hornets only existed in four different sports, there was little room on the existing Owls rosters.

In a press release from KSU in late-February of last year, the 88 student athletes at SPSU would be honored their existing scholarships and would be provided the opportunity to try out for Kennesaw State teams.

Apparently, those tryouts were a pipe dream. There simply wasn’t room on any of the four rosters at KSU for SPSU athletes. To this point, no former Hornets are now Owls.

Williams knew he was put in a tough situation and says that ample time was spent helping student athletes get into other programs in a short turnaround.

“It was a hard thing to do,” Williams said. “We’re talking about impacting lives. Nobody asked for it or saw it coming, and that was a big concern of ours. We wanted to make sure the student athletes understood what was going on.”

KSU’s primary solution was to honor the scholarship portion of former SPSU athletes. Williams said about 21 former Hornets will choose to stay part of the new school and give up their athletic careers.

Matt Griffin, the athletic director at SPSU, didn’t have to go job searching. He was hired on as KSU’s associate athletic director earlier in the fall.

Griffin, who now knows the two entities well, knew that getting NAIA players on DI rosters wouldn’t be the best route.

Instead, Griffin said nearly all of the scholarship athletes who had remaining eligibility have transferred out of the institution, some even going to play in higher classifications than before.

“We were an NAIA school, we weren’t Division I,” Griffin, a former Hornet baseball player and coach, said. “I think that was in the back of most of the athletes minds.

“A large majority of the student athletes have either chosen to continue their academic and athletic career at another university, or they chose to stay at Southern Poly to continue to finish their degrees. We helped them along the way as best we could, myself and administrators at Kennesaw State, to have a hand in making sure they found a place.”

Griffin said all four coaches of SPSU’s teams found jobs elsewhere despite the short turnaround, as well.

However, Wilburn and his teammates weren’t given any tryout opportunity.

KSU does not field a men’s soccer team, and probably never will due to scholarship mandates in Title IX, which requires a certain balance of men’s scholarships versus women’s scholarships in athletics.

“It just kind of sucks really,” Wilburn said. “It’s called a merger, but it really feels like a takeover…they kind of just took our team away and told us to find something else to do.”

Wilburn’s soccer career and future plans

A graduate of Lassiter High School, just minutes from Kennesaw State, Wilburn, 19, has been playing soccer since he was 5 years old.

He had an opportunity to play Division I soccer at Mercer, KSU’s rival, or even at South Carolina.

“I tried out at South Carolina,” Wilburn said. “Had I pursued that a little bit more I probably could have gone there. I also knew Mercer’s coach pretty well.”

Wilburn went to SPSU for its civil engineering program. He redshirted this past season and would have had four years of eligibility with the team.

“At first, I didn’t even know about this school until Coach came up to me and told me about the program,” Wilburn said.

While the news of the merger was tough on Wilburn and his teammates, he can’t help but admit he’s looking forward to his future.

“I’m actually looking into pursuing playing for KSU’s club team,” Wilburn said. “It kind of works out for me because civil engineering is becoming difficult, and I need more time to study and things like that.”

“The north campus is beautiful. I’ll probably go up there on some weekends to get a pickup game in, because it’s usually pretty dead down here.”

As far as the history of the Hornets is concerned, one of the major projects included in the merger was the Southern Poly Athletic Hall of Fame, which Griffin and Williams look forward to implementing.

“It’s a tremendous honor to show off the tremendous athletes that competed at Southern Poly at a high level,” Griffin said. “It’s great for them.”

“We wanted to make sure we could honor the past, and part of the history of the new university,” said Williams.

Wilburn agrees the Hall of Fame is an ample part of the consolidation process, but he endorsed some other ideas to remember the Hornets past as well.

“Maybe they could have a throwback night where they wear green instead of gold,” Wilburn said.