World Travelling Football Coach

By the end of 2022, I will have flown 402,632km since my first coaching job abroad. To make sense of it, that would mean if that were a continuous flight, I would have circumnavigated the globe ten times in eleven years. That's a lot of distance covered for something that was often disparaged by my teachers as simply eleven men chasing a ball. Football is a silly game, and it leads to nothing. Twenty years later, and because of football, I have achieved a lot, seen a lot, been a lot of places, and even met my wife. Not a bad haul if you ask me.

If you're like me, you like to keep records of things, and you like to travel. Chances are, you end up with lots of memories, and also lots of souvenirs. I love football, and I like to explore new cultures, countries, and languages. My first coaching job abroad was to work for Challenger Sports in western Canada in 2012. I was supposed to go to California the year before, but had to pull out due to personal issues. Ever since then, I've been keeping a record of my flights, regularly hitting over fifteen per year, peaking in 2017 with twenty-four flights that year. I thought it would be interesting to plot these on a map to see what each year looked like, and to see how far I travelled.

Some of these flights are for work, and some are for personal travel. Making another part of the world your home is a great experience, and one of the many benefits of it is that it allows you to use it as a base to travel and explore from. Let's get started.

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2012 - 15 Flights - 47,943km Flown

1.London - Amsterdam

2. Amsterdam - Calgary

3. Calgary - Seattle

4. Seattle - Memphis

5. Memphis - New York

6. Newark - Toronto

7. Toronto - Calgary

8. Calgary - Edmonton

9. Edmonton - Yellowknife

10. Yellowknife - Edmonton

11. Edmonton - Calgary

12. Calgary - Amsterdam

13. Amsterdam - London

14. London - Singapore

15. Singapore - London

Countries visited; England, Netherlands, Canada, USA, Singapore. Average flight distance: 3,196.2km

I was excited, because this was the life I wanted. Dreams were about to come true. But it meant leaving family, friends, saying goodbye to teams I loved working with, and also saying goodbye to a girlfriend. As great as coaching around the world is, it does exact a heavy emotional toll. The first flight was May 4th, which I was thrilled at because it was Star Wars Day. The final flight was in the beginning of September following a very short stint in Singapore that did not go well at all. You can read about that misadventure here. It's worth keeping in mind that the circumference of the Earth is only 40,075km, and I flew 47,943 in my first year (first five months really) as a coach abroad.

We went to different parts of Canada to deliver camps, including a flight up north to Yellowknife, which is home of the Ice Road Truckers TV show. Between that were frequent eight hour drives to different towns, showing how huge yet sparsely populated Canada is. In between that was a quick trip down to Seattle for my first MLS game to see the Sounders thump LA Galaxy 4-0. A team which featured David Beckham, Robbie Keane, and Landon Donovan. Then it was off to see my then girlfriend in New York, who was participating in a residency at an art college in New York, which allowed me to visit Red Bull Arena for the first time, as the Red Bulls defeated Houston Dynamo 2-0. As the Challenger contract was only for the summer, I secured the Singapore job while considering what to do next after Canada. When flying back to England, it coincided with an international break. My colleague and I bumped into David de Gea in Amsterdam, and then I entered the UK with Steve McClaren behind me in the customs queue.

The flight back from New York to Calgary via Toronto was the first time I had experienced lost luggage. Also the first time I really noticed the true might of Tim Horton's. The Toronto airport had both a Starbucks and a Timmies. Although Starbucks was empty, the Canadians queued for a good fifty yards outside Tim Horton's to get their coffee. I was eventually reunited with my luggage a week later, when it was flown back to Calgary. I very fortunately had my belongings spread across two smaller bags, so had enough undies and kit to get through a week of coaching, even if that did mean a little rationing had to happen. Upon my entry to Toronto via border security, the guard asked me what work I was doing. "Soccer coach" I told him. "Soccer, eh? I had a soccer player come through here last week. He also came from England." I turned it into a trivia game. He didn't know who he played for, but said he was a short black guy. "Junior Hoilett?" I asked. "That's him!" said the guard. He'd already played his last Rovers game by then, but I still thought it was pretty cool. Anyway, when my luggage eventually returned, it turns out it had been taken off the conveyor belt by security due to detecting a suspicious object in there, which happened to be a metal souvenir New York Red Bulls number plate.

Rovers were relegated just three days after I landed in Canada. For the first of two times they would be relegated on my birthday. The club chair promised me that myself and my colleague could come over to watch the game. We went to the house to watch, but they were out, and none of them were answering the phone. We sat on the porch waiting for them to come back. Maybe there were out and got delayed? Still nothing. My colleague was able to forge a slight Wi-Fi connection because he had been there before. We got it on my laptop, but it was sketchy. There was no alternative. Our house had no Wi-Fi, no satellite TV, and there were no bars or restaurants we could go to. A small town of about two thousand people, forty-five minutes from civilisation, with only a Dairy Queen and a Subway. And that was that. Rovers were relegated, and I was the other side of the world, able to watch the odd scrambled shot on a dodgy feed. Great.

The friendliness of the Canadians meant that Calgary instantly felt like home. I became an avid fan of the Calgary Flames NHL team, and began a relationship with Orange Crush, Tim Horton's, and poutine. Then a week in New York showed me a glimpse of what I wanted in life. The people were cold and cynical, much like myself. I felt at home there too. Most of America is in your face, super positive, and very friendly. New York felt like a dream come true for an introvert, as you could be surrounded by people, but none of them cared, and nobody paid attention to you. There was also a level of sarcasm and self-deprecating humour that was hard to find in other areas of the USA.

Then going to Singapore, despite it being a scam, was eye-opening. People were referring to it as "Diet Asia" because for a westerner, you wouldn't be too far outside of your comfort zone, and could ease yourself much more gently into a new culture and climate, surrounded by so many of your home comforts. A country that regularly finishes near the top on all the best global ranking metrics, with still a huge colonial imprint upon it, it's easy to see why Singapore was so sought after by job seekers abroad. 2012 had set a very high bar. It was a great first year, and showed me exactly what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. After the Singapore debacle, now in love with New York, and a girlfriend back in Calgary, I had to plot how to get back out there.

If you're considering USA or Canada for short to long term coaching opportunities, Challenger Sports are who I initially went with in 2018.

I was made to work a lot in Canada, refereeing in addition to coaching.

This was my first full-time coaching job. We did so much coaching, and it accelerated my development. That's why I heavily recommend stints abroad like this.

Sometimes you have to act like a clown on camp. The kids got to put me in a dress, a bra, and a tiara. What that has to do with football, I'm not sure, but apparently it increases attendance on camps.

In our first few days in Canada, we stole a traffic cone, put some sunglasses on him, and named him Jimmy Bollard. He came everywhere with us, and the kids loved playing with Jimmy.

At the end of camp, the kids typically want autographs.

I covered by bag in little souvenirs and trinkets. Every town wanted to give us something special, and the kids wanted to give us bracelets and keyrings.

It was heart breaking saying goodbye to this team and this town.

A quick stop in Seattle to see the Sounders beat the Galaxy of Beckham, Keane, and Donovan 4-0.

A trip to New York for my first game at Red Bull Arena.

This was a local pitch in Singapore, between all the apartment blocks.

By far the most interesting football pitch I have ever seen.

2013 - 13 Flights - 43,064km Flown

1. London - Calgary

2. Calgary - London

3. London - Washington DC

4. Washington DC - Newark

5. Newark - Calgary

6. Calgary - Newark

7. Newark - London

8. London - Warsaw

9. Warsaw - London

10. London - Dubai

11. Dubai - Kuwait

12. Kuwait - Dubai

13. Dubai - London

Countries visited: England, Canada, USA, Poland, UAE, Kuwait. Also drove to visit friends in Lille and watch football, adding France to the list.

Average fight distance: 3,312.6km

Second year coaching abroad, and again I flew more than the circumference of the Earth. Again, this is without factoring in the huge driving distances that would have been accrued as both a coach and a football fan. Again, mainly in North America and Europe, with a trip to Asia for good measure. The first flight was back to Calgary for Valentine's Day. I saw some old friends, watched NHL for the first time, seeing the Calgary Flames obliterated at home by the St. Louis Blues (if this were a movie, it would be called foreshadowing). The temperature was minus ten degrees and there was snow everywhere. Canadians, tired of snow and never thrilled by the prospect, thought I was silly for being so mesmerised by it, as I ran around throwing snowballs and making sculptures in the snow.

I was tolerating coaching in England, knowing it was only temporary. Perhaps my heart wasn't in it, as I was desperate to get back out again. This came in the form of working for United Soccer Coaches, who were based in New Jersey. I applied for several coaching companies, and turned a few down, as this was the one I wanted to work for. Ironically, they initially turned me down, and only brought me in as someone else dropped out. Funny how life goes, as another coach they rejected is now an A licence coach in England, and several of my then colleagues don't even work in football anymore. It goes to show that recruiters don't always get it right, so as hard as it may be, don't beat yourself up too much for not getting the job. The Canadian girlfriend and I both wanted to live and work in New York together. I was now in New Jersey, and she had been accepted to study a master's in Buffalo New York, so this long distance relationship may work, and our dreams may be coming true.

There was a moment wen I went to see a Red Bulls match with some colleagues on a Saturday evening (I went every chance I got) where the group of us took a moment and realised how cool life was. We were in our early twenties, but felt like we had achieved something so brilliant, that whatever else happened in life, it didn't matter. The Red Bulls defeated the New England Revolution 4-1. It was a warm spring evening, and as we were walking down the steps to exit the stadium, we saw the iconic New York skyline in the distance. We felt like we had made it. We then went into Times Square after the game. Times Square! Think of all the grotty, horrible places you end up post-game in Britain, and here we were in Times Square after a match. That in itself was pretty cool, but we couldn't get over the feeling that... we weren't tourists. We were locals now. This was our neck of the woods. The Red Bulls were our local team. People would pay thousands to visit New York and would dream of it for a lifetime, and now... we got to go there whenever we felt like? That's an indescribable feeling.

I'd walk around NYC by myself, knowing where I was going without needing to check a map or ask for directions, wearing my New York Mets hat, and I looked like I belonged. Plenty of other foreigners would be roped into tourists traps, yet I was able to evade them, because I lived there now. They ignored me. It was great!

But, sadly, like many good things, it doesn't last. The bubble burst quite abruptly. A few things had happened, and I was not in the good books of the employers. It got off to a bad start immediately. On our first day, after landing at one in the morning, and then into the office for meetings at nine, a handful of us were taken out around three to go and deliver our first sessions. We didn't know the kids, and planned our sessions in the car. Jetlagged, lacking sleep and food, not having unpacked, we were now ambushed into a session. A session for which we were to be assessed by one of the directors. Naturally, my session was crap. First black mark against my name. In the first couple of weeks, I didn't anticipate the traffic well, and was late to a couple sessions. Another black mark. I had to miss a day of coaching because I was summoned to court for a traffic violation. Another black mark. Some badly signed roadworks caused a string of drivers, about five of us in one batch, to be pulled over by the police for going the wrong way. I was simply following the guy in front of me, trying to navigate the bollards and barriers. So I missed work AND was fined. Another black mark. A complaint was put in against me for being rude and dismissive to a parent (it was mistaken identity, the day was actually my birthday, I was very happy, and only spoke to one parent that day, there were three or four other coaches there that day, but they were adamant it was me). Another black mark. Then I was run over by a colleague. No joke, actually run over by a colleague driving a company car. Black mark. The basement bedroom where I was staying was flooded during a storm, and a lot of personal property was destroyed (weird feeling to wake up and see your belongings floating around you) including my laptop. I put in an insurance claim against the company [black mark], which they never paid. And to top it off, a kid on one of our camps was called Justin, so we referred to him as Justin Bieber once as a throw away comment. The next day, I was sacked. The boy's mum had complained, and the company decided I was too much trouble, and I was on a plane back to London that evening.

To have your dreams crushed that quickly was a horrible feeling. I put on a brave face as one of the directors frog marched me around the house while I packed, and my housemates and colleagues shed a few tears, then was driven to the airport by the big boss, who resembled Robert De Niro. I was trying to build a life the