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.
If you're looking for advice on coaching abroad, head here
If you'd like to view opportunities to coach abroad, get yourself a subscription to our jobs board.
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 there. I even had to buy a second suitcase to pack all my belongings. We had new family in Pennsylvania (thanks to my grandmother) and I had a girlfriend in Canada that was soon going to be one state over. I'm a very calm, emotionless person, but I nearly fell apart at the airport. Dropped off at Newark by De Niro, with my two suitcases, both of my bags were overweight. The airline wanted to charge me for the extra bag, and for both bags being overweight. This would cost $500. I'd just come back from visiting Calgary, and had no savings, no overdraft, no credit card, and no way to get my bags somewhere safe. I tried everything to move and acquire money. I called home and tried to think of plans. Then the guy behind the counter saw me struggling, and took complete and utter mercy on me, walking over to me at the ATM on the phone, handing me a receipt for my baggage, wishing me a safe flight. I was so speechless that I don't think I even properly thanked the man. Noise came out of my mouth, but my recollection of it was like screeching brakes on a car.
That crash down to reality was not done. About a week later, I broke up with my Canadian girlfriend. Over Skype. The dream to live together and work in New York had been shot down, and exploded on impact. So now what? I was so low that I contemplated giving up coaching altogether. Clearly I was bad at it, and my lack of a boisterous, outgoing personality was not good at making first impressions. But I still wanted to travel, and knew my future was not in England. I began a TEFL course online so I'd always have the ability to teach English. I went to Poland for a week to volunteer for an amazing company called Angloville. Well worth looking into for short stints abroad. I keep checking all the jobs boards, wanting to get back out there, and go somewhere far away. That's when I saw the opportunity in Kuwait.
I went to Poland, had an amazing time, met some great people, met a girl... and began the process to get to Kuwait. I did my research, interviewed, and was offered the job. Now I simply had to wait around to get on my flight and leave. The girl from Poland came to visit me in England, but we knew it couldn't work out. Again, sad, but that is the price you pay for wanting to do this job. And then I was off to Kuwait, on the best economy flight I had ever been on. It was Arsenal Soccer Schools, so the flights were with Emirates. Even the cheap seats were pure luxury. I felt like a celebrity. Quick connection in Dubai, and then it was time to begin a new life in the desert.
I loved my time in Kuwait. A lot of people suffer due to how hard it is to forge a social life. Because of that, I mixed with people from all walks of life, who I'd never have mingled with otherwise. The heat was hard to take, but the lifestyle was alright. The coaching was easy, and I built back my confidence that had taken such a battering just a few months earlier. Our apartment was great, with a pool and a gym. My housemate was one of the best people and best coaches I had ever met, and every day with him was hilarious. I would have stayed longer had it not been for one colleague in particular, who just made life Hell for everyone around him. It was so bad that we actually wrote down and kept a record of the horrible things he said and did. To parents, kids, colleagues, subordinates, and table staff in restaurants. Treatment of waiters and waitresses is a real litmus test of a person.
I could have stayed beyond the initial three months and done the full year. It would have been a great wage, with lots of travel opportunities. That was so tempting, but you see, this opportunity in Mexico had come up. I saw it the year before, and hoped I would see it again. Kuwait was alright. I had a social life. I lived well. I played football and futsal. I even met a few girls, one being a teacher from England, and another being a German women who was thirteen years my senior. I had managed to thrive in a country that people said was harsh. I'd been on dates in a place where people said it couldn't be done. I had friends. But this one guy, and the prospect of Mexico, it was enough to tip the balance. Back home for Christmas, and then a new life to look forward to in 2014.
Staff training in the shirt of the team we support.
One of us is sunburnt, the other is wearing face paint.
The rooftop of our apartment complex in Kuwait. Not to be sniffed at. Sadly, too many disregard parts of the world without knowing much about them.
Our pitch at GUST, sandwiched between two mosques.
A nice place to play a bit of futsal in your spare time at Qadsia.
Met this bloke in a fez at the Kuwait v Lebanon qualifier for the Asian Cup.
A Kuwait league game between Kazma and Al Tadhamon.
2014 - 13 Flights - 32,799km Flown
1. London - Amsterdam
2. Amsterdam - Mexico City
3. Mexico City - Orlando
4. Orlando - San Antonio
5. San Antonio - Mexico City
6. Mexico City - San Jose, Costa Rica
7. San Jose, Costa Rica - Mexico City
8. Mexico City - Charlotte
9. Charlotte - Raleigh
10. Raleigh - Houston
11. Houston - Mexico City
12. Mexico City - Charlotte
13. Charlotte - London
Countries visited: England, Netherlands, Mexico, USA, Costa Rica. Also went on a road trip to visit Cologne, adding France, Belgium, and Germany to the list. Plus a day trip to the Bahamas from Florida.
Average fight distance: 2,523km
If you'd like to know more about Mexico, you can read about the opportunities here.
Same amount of flights as 2013, but with a shorter total distance, being localised in central America and the southeast of the USA. I started the job in Mexico two weeks after leaving Kuwait. If you think of cultural norms as a spectrum, Kuwait and Mexico are at opposite ends. In Kuwait, a married couple cannot hold hands in public. In Mexico, public displays of affection are everywhere. Both places are, however, hot, but Kuwait is in a league of its own for heat. And the driving ability is comparable too.
Mexico was... interesting. Nothing ran like how I would have done it if I were in charge. Productivity is at the mercy of so many random factors that permeate every crevice of life. Sessions would be called off due to pollution warnings. Two guys making eye contact in the street could spark into fifty people partying until four in the morning. Everything is celebrated, and the celebrations last a very, very long time. It was good to finally be in another football mad culture, where football dominates the cultural zeitgeist in a way that we experience in England. The people are a strange mixture of quick to emotional outbursts, while simultaneously being so relaxed, so friendly, and so welcoming. The highs and lows are extreme, and that is evident in the class system. Extreme wealth living side-by-side with extreme poverty. And then there's the altitude too, which you don't notice at all, until you try to run for the first time. At twenty-four and training for a marathon, it took me a good ten minutes to recover from racing a child thirty yards. Also factor in adding two hours of sleep to your sleep cycle for the first couple of weeks as you adjust.
Mexico is, of course, infamous for being the place where I met the unfortunate woman who would become my wife. Unknowingly, she signed up to a lifetime of trips to Ewood Park, scheduling all plans around games of football, including ones on TV, and also having all future vacations planned around viewing some local football. Sounds great to you and I, but not to someone who didn't care about football.
In April, I flew to Orlando to spend time with my parents for Easter, and visit my old boss Mickey. In August, I flew to North Carolina to complete the National Diploma with United Soccer Coaches. Mexico doesn't have much coach education to offer, so a big draw of the job was the proximity to the US, allowing me to complete courses north of the border. The USA gets a bad rap for many justified reasons, yet the coaching education has become very good, and is worth doing.
Two colleagues and I also had to take a brief trip to Costa Rica. We needed work permits, and had to leave the country to do so. Nobody cared that we'd worked for six months already on tourist visas. We visited the Mexican embassy in San Jose and were awarded temporary residency in Mexico. The turnaround was a couple days, which we took to visit the capital city. This meant walking around the outside of the national stadium, and sneaking into the stadium of Deportivo Saprissa, watching a training session, and even taking penalties against the goalkeeper coach. We were stunned in a sports bar as we witnessed the Earth shattering event where Brazil were embarrassed at home to Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup semi-final. And we witnessed the country's reaction to the returning Costa Rican team, who were given a hero's welcome upon their World Cup success, being eliminated on penalties by the Dutch in the quarter-finals, following group stage wins over Italy and Uruguay, and a draw with England, and a second round shootout win over Greece.
My parents came to visit Mexico. We went loco down in Acapulco, but didn't stay too long, where they met the future Mrs. Wilson for the first time. At Christmas, she came back to England with me, via a layover in Charlotte, where I introduced her to Pinkberry frozen yoghurt for the first time.
The facilities at Club Reforma were superb.
Coaching in the sun takes some getting used to.
I got to attend a talk with this guy, who claimed to have played football. They all say that.
First game ever in Mexico was at the Estadio Azul, where Cruz Azul's last minute winner over Puebla from Marco Fabian was nominated for a FIFA Puskas Award.
Parading the streets of Mexico City after their group stage win against Croatia.
A friendly at the Azteca between Club America and Atletico Madrid.
Plenty of rooftop pitches in Mexico. This one is above a shopping mall.
If you lose a match, the kids will beat you up.
And if you're not careful, you'll need an extra suitcase for all your football souvenirs.
This was in Costa Rica to welcome the national team back from the World Cup, after reaching the quarter finals.
Sneaking into Deportivo Saprissa to watch a training session with Chris Bennett, and we ended up taking penalties against their goalkeeper coach.
Watched my first college soccer game when NC State beat Campbell 2-0.
I got to watch the US women train. Tickets for the friendly were a little outside of my price range.
NC State college soccer facilities.
Attending the National Diploma course in North Carolina.
This is the eagle from Club America, who is called Celeste.
Boring the girls to death at the end of training.
If you want to know more about coaching in Mexico, here's a podcast episode where I talked to a group of coaches who have been there, done that, and bought several t-shirts.
2015 - 12 Flights - 28,810km Flown
1. London - Dallas
2. Dallas - Mexico City
3. Mexico City - Dallas
4. Dallas - Calgary
5. Calgary - Phoenix
6. Pheonix - Mexico City
7. Mexico City - Los Angeles
8. Los Angeles - Chicago
9. Chicago - Columbus
10. Montreal - London
11. Southampton - Paris
12. Paris - Southampton
Countries visited: England, USA, Mexico, Canada, France.
Average flight distance: 2,400.8km
This year was back to Mexico for six more months, before the wife and I returned to England. Both of us started a master's that year. Mine was a blended course in coaching education from Ohio University, which suited my coaching schedule as it was two years without having to uproot and live somewhere new. The wife came back with me to England to study hers at Southampton.
At Easter, I went back to Calgary for a week to visit friends and watch hockey. When I finished my time in Mexico, I went to California for a coaching course, which was the Advanced National Diploma with United Soccer Coaches. I spent one day in Disneyland, and flew to Ohio via Chicago to do some work for my master's, and meet with my parents who were on a road trip through North America. We drove from Ohio, through Pennsylvania and New York, up to Niagara Falls, Toronto, and then flew back via Montreal. The wife joined me a couple months later, after much visa stress. And to finish the year, we went to Paris, naturally heading to Disney.
You meet all these wonderful people, but saying goodbye is always hard. They threw me a party at the end of training.
USC Advanced National Diploma in Santa Barbara, California.
Stadium tour and a game at Columbus Crew, when they played New England Revolution.
Tour of the facilities at Ohio University.
Back to visit friends in Alberta, Canada, and play some football in the snow.
This guy came up to me after a game at Cruz Azul, saw me in a Santa Cruz shirt, and within minutes made a genuine attempt to get me to marry his daughter. Talk about Mexican hospitality.
Only home for a few weeks, and I was knocked unconscious by a fourteen-year-old during a training session. Showing another boy how to time his runs on corners, the lad marking me thought it was a live demonstration. He jumped up and elbowed me in the forehead, sending me to the floor in a heap. The team manager called an ambulance, and I had double vision for a few days.
2016 - 8 Flights - 19,752km Flown
1. London - Malaga
2. Malaga - London
3. London - Reykjavik
4. Reykjavik - London
5. London - New York
6. New York - Columbus
7. Columbus - New York
8. New York - London
Countries visited: England, Spain, Iceland, USA, and a trip to Cardiff to see the Rovers. And a day trip to Tangiers in Morocco while on holiday in Malaga.
Average flight distance: 2,469km
Not much travelling for work in 2016. Back in England for a couple years, and I really knuckled down with trying to gain experience and qualifications. A week in the south of Spain for a holiday included day trips to Gibraltar and Tangiers. 2016 will be best remembered for Leicester City, Trump, and Brexit. Imagine how rich you'd be if you put a tenner on those three on an accumulator. I was in Iceland on holiday for the US election and stayed up all night, gripped to the TV in a state of doom. I had begun the process of working for Global Premier Soccer in the following year, so had a vested interest in knowing who the president would be
The big trip at the end of the year, back to Ohio for my graduation, also meant we spent a few days over Christmas in New York. Ohio is special to me (Go Bobcats!) but it's not a special place. The flight back from Reykjavik was the first time I ever missed a flight. We simply forgot what time it was, and were fortunate enough to get on a later flight.
Ballboy duties on a Tuesday night game when Aldershot hosted Eastleigh.
Chelsea v Wolfsburg in the Champions League at Stamford Bridge.
Looking down on a football pitch in Gibraltar.
A bit of Real Betis v Deportivo La Coruña.
A stadium tour of Malaga.
From my final game with Saints Ladies, a nice 6-0 win over MK Dons.
Hampshire futsal league champions.
What are you supposed to do when your minibus breaks down?
Pre-game huddle away to Lewes.
A fine bunch of lads at Aldershot.
Walking around the pitch at half-time.
Invited on the pitch and given a free signed shirt from Rover the Dog.
2017 - 26 Flights - 72,858km Flown
1. London - Mexico City
2. Mexico City - London
3. London - Mexico City
4. Mexico City - Chetumal
5. Chetumal - Mexico City
6. Mexico City - London
7. London - Belfast
8. Belfast - London
9. London - Boston
10. Boston - Chicago
11. Chicago - St. Louis
12. St. Louis - Dallas
13. Dallas - Mexico City
14. Mexico City - Miami
15. Miami - Charlotte
16. Charlotte - St. Louis
17. St. Louis - Chicago
18. Chicago - Hartford
19. Hartford - Chicago
20. Chicago - St. Louis
21. St. Louis - New York
22. New York - Boston
23. Boston - London
24. London - Belfast
25. Belfast - London
26. London - Mexico City
Countries visited: England, Mexico, USA, Belize, Northern Ireland, and France to take the father-in-law to Disneyland Paris.
Average flight distance: 2,802.2km
A personal best with twenty-six flights in one year, and a distance of 72,858km flown, which is one transatlantic flight short of circumnavigating the world twice. It was a topsy-turvy year, with lots of ups and downs. It started with my wife returning to Mexico after her UK student visa expired. And thus began our long distance relationship. We did manage an extra two days, as her January flight home was delayed due to fog that was cancelling flights.
At this time, I was only a couple of months away from starting with GPS, the North American affiliate of Bayern Munich. I was going to be living in Boston, and had planned for my new life. Boston would be home for a few years, while we figured out how to get married, how to get her a visa, and how to live together in the same country. I had been assigned a job, a host family, and pinpointed all the cool things in Boston on my Google maps. I went back to Mexico in the spring for a week to visit the wife. Next time I saw her would likely be in Boston.
The GPS training weekend took place at St. George's Park. We were very excited. It was an impressive organisation, with impressive people, opportunities, and connections. I got to know my future colleagues, created a group chat, and waited to begin our visa process. Yes, the infamous visa process. This was the beginning of it. I'll leave out a lot of the details. Many coaches who have worked in the US know how creative many of the clubs and organisations are over there. In my cohort, I was the second to go for the visa interview in London. We were getting P1 visas, which are for "aliens of extraordinary ability." Essentially performers with world renowned qualifications and experiences. Think performers and athletes. David Beckham and Justin Bieber had them, and Bastian Schweinsteiger was about to get one.
It was coming up to the Easter holidays. We were being told we were only a week or two away from having our visas cleared, and then would be flying out immediately. It was a natural point in time for me to quit my jobs. I said goodbye to Aldershot, and I said goodbye to Pompey ladies. And then began to twiddle my thumbs, refreshing my emails several times a day. I was starting to feel like a bit of a twat. May came, and I was still in England, with no update from the embassy. I knew my former teams were struggling to cover my sessions and games, but I'd already had the emotional goodbye and accepted their goodbye gifts. I was supposed to be leaving literally any day now.
Then my birthday came. Five years after Rovers were relegated from the Premier League on my birthday in 2012, they were relegated from the Championship on my birthday in 2017. It was the most miserable birthday ever. I had to brief my parents to inform the family not to ask questions about the wife (then girlfriend), about work, about the USA, or about football in general. It was a nice, sunny day. Family came over for a barbecue, but I spent most of the time outside alone, with a face like a slapped arse. Unemployed, the other side of the world from my girlfriend, not knowing when I would see her again, not knowing when any of this would change, and then my football team had been relegated. Again. Family events are often filled with small talk, and those subjects are the low hanging fruit questions that everyone goes for.
So what was going on with the visas? At this point in time, Trump had only appointed about a third of cabinet positions. His administration was woefully understaffed compared to previous administrations at this point in their tenure. This meant a lot of departments were in disarray, causing a backlog of overdue admin work. Immigration was one such department. I've not began to think that in life, if a country or organisation has the means, but their system is terrible, it's terrible by design. Let me give you an example. Customer service for multi-billion dollar global organisations. You visit their site, which sends you round in circles, going from FAQ to help centre, to contact us. Eventually you find a number. Twenty minutes of button pressing following automated prompts, with lots of waiting on hold, you're then patched through to someone the other side of the world, who speaks poor English, who can't understand you, and cannot help with the problems. Why? So you give up, get frustrated, and stop trying to get your refund. Bad on purpose. Terrible by design.
Trump ran on an anti-immigrant rhetoric. Hard to imagine ourselves as immigrants, but when we go to work in other countries, we are immigrants. In my experience, ex-pat is pretty much a racist term that distinguishes white people with money from the rest of people that cross borders to work or make a new life. Immigrant has negative connotations, whereas ex-pat is what people who hate immigrants like to call themselves. What Trump and his cronies pretended not to like was illegal immigration. Simply a cover for a racist dog whistle. The nature of illegal immigration is that it is hard to control, so what governments do is go after legal immigration. Then when the numbers of immigrants decline, they can use that as proof their policies work. Despite being told "you're the kind we want here" by many Americans, the policies of Trump prevent "my kind" from getting in.
Look. If you genuinely think a thirty foot wall will stop people entering the country, then I have some magic beans to sell you. Human traffickers are incredibly resourceful. America spends thirty billion on a thirty foot wall, and as a result, Mexico develops an economy for thirty-one foot ladders. Still not sure what a wall does to all the illegal immigrants who were already in the US. If anything, it makes it harder for them to go home. Now consider that the number was touted as eleven million illegals living in the US at the time, how does a wall diminish that number? Over half of those eleven million arrived on flights and didn't go home. I kept trying to explain this to Americans, who looked at me like I was speaking Chinese.
"You know how I came here on a plane, right?"
"And you know that my visa expires on the [set date]?" "Yeah."
"Right. Now if I don't get on that flight home, I would still be in the country after my visa expiration date."
"Which would then make me an illegal immigrant." "I guess."
"So how does having a wall two thousand miles south of here do anything to prevent that?"
Several coaches in my cohort gave up waiting, and rejected their GPS offer. Others were told by GPS not to bother. I hung on. Sunk cost fallacy, I suppose. I despaired. Life was on hold. I felt, in summer 2017, how many felt at the start of the pandemic during the first lockdowns. Thinking it would never happen, I looked for alternatives. That's when I found Girls United.
I went back to Mexico to see the wife for a week, then flew out to see the Girls United gang, located in Bacalar, Quintana Roo, on the Caribbean coast. When I say the place was paradise, I mean it. No filter needed on those photos. Girls United is run by Romina Calatayud, and the organisation does amazing things in London and in Mexico. I was humbled and privileged to be among the first group to go out there and coach. Well worth it, if you can get out there. We stayed on the Lake of Seven Colours, which is about five feet deep all the way across, and warm like bathwater. The experience was life changing, and kept me ticking over while waiting for what would happen next.
Back to the reality of England, future still up in the air, the wife and her dad came over for her graduation. We also went to Disneyland Paris, which was great. And it was in London, waiting in Leicester Square for them to do some tourist nonsense, that I got a call from GPS. A position opened up in Missouri, and the were going to cancel my visa request, and fly me out to Belfast in just a few short days to get another type of visa, and then head stateside. Finally. And just like that, all the purpose, ambition, and meaning I'd lost came back to me. Like a balloon being re-inflated.
My day trip to Belfast for the visa interview meant I had to say goodbye to the wife a day earlier than planned, and couldn't see her off at the airport. The company paid for a taxi to pick me up at the other end. I'd been to Belfast before, when I needed to get a tourist visa to the US. Even though it is only a consulate, it still hands out the same visas as the embassy in London. London is strict and intimidating, and Belfast is seen as a bit of a backdoor. London will pretty much arrest you and throw you out for a spelling mistake, whereas Belfast has let me in with entire forms missing. Soccer coaches flying to the US who "definitely 100% aren't coaching soccer" are able to sneak by a lot easier in Belfast.
The company managed to get me a cheap flight across to Boston, with a seat in business economy. Wider seats, a bit of legroom, I felt like a celebrity. But just like in Canada, when flying through Toronto, they lost my luggage. I had to spend a couple days in Boston to be shown the ropes of how GPS operates, meeting the higher-ups, speaking to the directors, watching sessions, and learning how the football and the company works. This was done in my smelly t-shirt and jeans that I was wearing the day before. Being ferried around to football pitches by people in tracksuits in the August sun, while in black jeans and a Deep Purple t-shirt, I did look like a bit of a knob. These situations teach you to be resourceful. I was able to get a small toothbrush and some hotel toothpaste, as well as a cheap stick of deodorant. I smeared the inside of the sweaty bits with the deodorant, and hung them up in the shower to air out. GPS eventually gave me some kit, and my luggage showed up just in time for my flight to St. Louis, via Chicago.
It was only about six weeks until my next flight. Adjusting to life in Missouri, and getting plenty of coaching done, we had a weekend off. It was Labor Day in September, so I flew down to Mexico City. On my way back to St. Louis, my connecting flight took me via Miami. And this is where it got a bit silly. Because of my criminal record, US airport detentions are a regular occurrence. I have to explain, they take my finger prints, double check my paperwork, and then I'm out maybe thirty to sixty seconds later. The detention room in Miami was packed. I was the only white person, and the only native English speaker. I was listening to the conversations around me. People from places like Venezuela, coming to the US on tourist visas, work visas, and even green cards. They were coming to work, to visit family, and were not sketchy people at all.
My name was called, and I approached the officer. With everyone else, these guys are passive aggressive, often rude and insulting. With me, they are friendly and jovial. "You see all these people in here?" the agent said gesturing to the thirty or so mainly south and central Americans behind me. "None of them are getting in. You're the last one we're letting in tonight." Wow. How do you react to something like that? These people had the same visas I did. They were coming in for the same reasons I was. And I should be grateful for my privilege? I lost a lot of love for American in those few years. The place I had always dreamed of moving to and spending the rest of my life living in. The reality of what America was, and the reality I had in my mind, were so far apart. I had several experiences like this along the way.
However, this trip down Racist Lane, laughing at the expense of those dirty foreigners, took so long, that I missed my flight to St. Louis. There were no more flights out that evening, and nothing direct to St. Louis until the next evening. Bollocks. The airline helped, and got me a flight to St. Louis via Charlotte the next morning. I had to spend eight hours in the airport overnight, and felt like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. Missing a flight wasn't that bad. The problem was, we were running a camp that day. One I had pushed so hard to get. My colleague couldn't run it, as he was in Ohio at a tournament. And if head office found out, they'd have flipped. So what we did was clever. I forgot the excuse we made up with the parents, but we sent an email out that morning. They believed it. We needed a way to keep the money made from the camp, cancel the camp, and not let head office find out we had cancelled it. That's why we couldn't go giving parents refunds. It was a day long clinic for about $40, and around thirteen kids had signed up. We offered all of them the opportunity for a refund, or a private one-to-one session with one of us. Private sessions being valued at $60. All but one took the private session. One camp refund was administered, which was fairly normal.
Around Thanksgiving came our annual company retreat to a casino in Connecticut. With a connecting flight via Chicago, dressed in our club tracksuits, my colleague and I spent the entire flight making fun of parents at our club. Many of you will have heard me say that I need therapy after working in Missouri. These opportunities became my therapy sessions. We had recently run the Bayern ID tryouts in Missouri, and needed to call parents to inform them their kid had been selected. One mum and dad in particular were pure comedy gold. So many catchphrases, and easy to parody via impressions. My colleague plucked up the courage to call the mum on the phone. I can't keep a straight face, so it had to be him. He was tasked with attempting to get in as many of the husband's catchphrases as possible over the phone while talking to her. He was a pro. I was in total awe at how he kept it together. Like watching Borat in his prime. Meanwhile, I was under as many covers as possible, crying, trying not to wet myself. Then he hung up the phone, and we laughed hysterically for a good five minutes after that.
To be fair, much of that trip was the two of us laughing. We had several important meetings, guest speakers, and company wide lectures. It proved to be a much needed release from Missouri. I lost several pints of tears and mucus from all the laughing I did. We hadn't had much time along together in Missouri, able to corroborate our experiences of the parents, and it was now all coming out. It got silly.
On that trip, we became part of GPS folklore. On the first day, there was a company wide 2v2 tournament. Each state got to submit their two best players (coaches who could still play) to enter. Being just two of us in Missouri, we both made the Missouri team by default. We were eliminated in the first round because our opponents shot directly from a kick-in, which it was not established whether it was legal or not. Later that day, on our way back to the hotel room, we were complaining about the rules. If a game finished as a draw, it was decided by a game of rock, paper, scissors. I remarked how silly it was, because rock, paper, scissors is really easy to win if you know what you're doing. It was a throw away comment, and I showed my colleague how to do it.
The next day, to make life a little more fun, and hand out some prizes, they decided to do a GPS rock, paper, scissors competition. We looked at each other in amazement. You had to get a partner, and compete against another pair in a best of three game. To make it extra fun, if you won, you gained the opponents as fans. There must have been around two-hundred and fifty people taking part in this. Time to test the formula. We won, won again, and won again. We were gaining fans. The formula is fairly simple, but you still have to think quickly. This lead me to avoid eye contact, receiving comments like "autistic," "Rain Man," and to be asked several times if I understand how to play. We kept winning. We looked weird doing it, and kept laughing that it was working.
We got to the semi-finals, and were summoned on stage, with the whole company now watching these matches. As expected, we won, and won the final. They couldn't believe what we had done. There was cheering and jeering across the entire lecture theatre. As our prize, we were handed a huge bag of English sweets, which we triumphantly ripped open and threw all over the coaches in our section, who had been cheering us along from the early rounds. Loads of people asked me how I did it, and were very underwhelmed when I showed them. It really is that simple. At lunch, in the bar afterwards, even being tapped on the shoulder during presentations while people asked. They were adamant I was somehow cheating.
A couple weeks later saw a return to England, via New York and Boston, to begin a new visa process, also in Belfast. Home for Christmas, and then out to Mexico for New Year, in which time I proposed to the wife.
Ending my short time at Pompey with a trophy.
Winning the league with Surrey University. Some of the best football I've ever coached.
In costumes for a training session on Halloween.
Coaching in paradise with Girls United in Mexico.
You should definitely give it a try.
Herding cats who are resistant to my pearls of wisdom.
Giving the parents the "don't shout at your kids, don't argue with the refs, and let me do my job" talk before my first game with this group.
This was a very special bunch. They couldn't even keep it together for five seconds for a photo.
2018 - 21 Flights - 36,100km Flown
1. Mexico City - Houston
2. Houston - St. Louis
3. St. Louis - Atlanta
4. Atlanta - Boston
5. Boston - New York
6. New York - St. Louis
7. St. Louis - Denver
8. Denver - Houston
9. Houston - Mexico City
10. Mexico City - Guadalajara
11. Guadalajara - Mexico City
12. Mexico City - Dallas
13. Dallas - St. Louis
14. St. Louis - Chicago
15. Chicago - Hartford
16. Hartford - Chicago
17. Chicago - St. Louis
18. St. Louis - Dallas
19. Dallas - Mexico City
20. Mexico City - London
21. London - Mexico City
Countries visited: England, Mexico, USA.
Average flight distance: 1,719km
The least time spent in England of any year of my life, spending fifty one weeks of the year abroad, making it home just in time for Christmas, and disappearing again to spend New Year's Eve in Mexico. I flew to Boston to finish the United Soccer Coaches pathway, partaking in the Premier Diploma. The assessment criteria had changed, and now coaches were assessed at their clubs, in their environments. This was during the men's World Cup, and allowed me to spend a day exploring Boston, which involved a trip to Cheers, and a good time in a bar watching football, talking football, and using salt and pepper shakers to talk tactics with two coaches from the course.
In this time, I travelled a fair bit around the Midwest by car for tournaments. From 2017-2019 I went to Memphis, Indiana, Ohio, Chicago, Kansas City, and Tulsa for tournaments. I watched as much sport as I could finally completing my ambition of watching a game from MLS, MLB, NHL, NBA, and finally NFL, watching the soon to be Superbowl champions Kansas City Chiefs, which, I found to be a very underwhelming experience. If you don't drink, go alone, and don't care much about the sport, it's not an interesting experience at all. In 2018, I started the USSF B licence, which was eventually finished two years later, mid-pandemic, via a remote session while in England. One of those experiences where just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
In the summer, I went down to Mexico for some wedding planning. As you can imagine, I was really passionate about choosing the colour of the plates, and matching the flower display to the table cloths. During that time, I had to get another visa. The one that turned out to be that visa. No appointments in Mexico City, so I took a short fight to the consulate in Guadalajara. My dad wanted to come with me for a laugh, and we spent a couple days there. My wife booked a hotel for my dad and I, but clearly didn't pay attention, because when we arrived, it turned out to be a Love Hotel. It was designed and used by romantic couples.
The visa interview was fairly straight forward. Standing in line for hours, waiting out on the street, rehearsing the visa script the company had provided. It went well up until the moment the agent asked me which countries I had travelled to recently. I reeled them off, and she asked me if I'd ever been to Liberia. The country famous for George Weah.
"No, I have not."
"Just making sure, because we have a man on here with the same name as you, who is wanted for recruiting child soldiers in the civil war."
"Wow. No, definitely not me."
"Yeah, I can tell, but I'll still need two character references just to verify."
I gave her my godmother, and my friend who I had known since I was three. And that was that. Until I had my regrets upon walking out, remembering that my friend had the personality of Eric Cartman, and if the US government were to call him and ask if I'd been recruiting child soldiers, I just knew how much fun he'd have with that scenario. Fortunately, they never called him.
Before the year finished, I went back to Connecticut for the company retreat, home to England for Christmas, and back to Mexico for the new year.
We won a tournament in Indiana, and the girls wanted to collect their trophies with cones on their heads. It got a few dodgy looks, but winners can do what they want, and these champions wanted to wear their champion hats.
Sunning it up at a summer tournament in Missouri.
Coaching in action.
They made me the most amazing hat to raise money for brain tumour research.
Pretending I'm Pep.
2019 - 18 Flights - 42,127km Flown
1. Mexico City - Atlanta
2. Atlanta - St. Louis
3. St. Louis - Houston
4. Houston - Mexico City
5. Mexico City - Houston
6. Houston - St. Louis
7. St. Louis - Minneapolis
8. Minneapolis - London
9. London - Detroit
10. Detroit - St. Louis
11. St. Louis - New York
12. New York - St. Louis
13. St. Louis - Detroit
14. Detroit - Mexico City
15. Mexico City - Orlando
16. Orlando - Kansas City
17. St. Louis - Chicago
18. Chicago - London
Countries visited: England, USA, Mexico.
Average flight distance: 2,340.4km
Back around the world again, flying just a little further than the world's circumference. A couple trips down to Mexico, including the wedding. Family flew over for that, and then we went to Orlando for a week, so their trip would be even more fun. Instead of flying back to St. Louis, I went to Kansas City. Bayern Munich were in town, and we were hosting some events around their friendly in Kansas with AC Milan. The kids were ecstatic and loved the opportunity to see them train, watch the game, and meet some players.
In the spring, I had to fly to England for a week. Part of our visa requirement was that we had to undertake a college course in the UK. The less said about that the better. It meant studying for a week at Portsmouth College. Lucky for me, as that was just down the road. I got to stay at home, catch up with family, meet friends, spend time with the cat. It was great. The course as an NVQ3 in the delivery of school sport. Not useful for the job, beyond needing it for the visa, but useful further down the line when back in England.
My flight home was via Minnesota, and I would arrive in England in time to see Saints against Spurs at St. Mary's. When I went to board the flight, the airline called for volunteers to give up their seats. American airlines do this a lot. They overbook flights on purpose, knowing that a small amount of people won't show up. That didn't happen in this case, and it turned into an auction over the public address. "We're offering passengers $200 to take the same flight, but tomorrow instead." When it got to around $700, I began to become interested. Eventually, a handful of us came forward, and took a grand each to spend the night in a nice hotel, and take the same flight tomorrow. Not bad at all. I watched that very Saints v Spurs game from the luxury of my Marriott hotel room.
It nearly backfired, however, as the next day, there was a blizzard. The flight was delayed and almost didn't take off. We were on the runway for two hours, and could hardly see a thing with all the snow coming down. Credit to those pilots.
Here I am slaughtering kids at FIFA in Memphis at one of the many travel tournaments we'd attend. Yes, it did make me feel good about myself.
USA v Panama and Trinidad & Tobago v Guyana in Kansas for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Watching the US Women's National Team versus New Zealand in a friendly at the home of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Meeting Jermaine Jones at the United Soccer Coaches Convention in Chicago.
Plenty of opportunities to watch USL in St. Louis, who were hosting the famous Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Liga MX Femenil, as Pumas hosted Veracruz in what used to be a quarry.
Professional indoor soccer is very popular in some parts of the US. This was a game between St. Louis Ambush and Orlando Seawolves.
Meeting Thiago after watching a Bayern training session.
2020 - 7 Flights - 26,397km Flown
1. London - Mexico City
2. Mexico City - Newark
3. Newark - St. Louis
4. St. Louis - Dallas
5. Dallas - Mexico City
6. Mexico City - Madrid
7. Madrid - London
Countries visited: England, USA, Mexico, Spain.
Average flight distance: 3,771km
Quite a lot of distance travelled considering it was only seven flights. Now back in England for the foreseeable future, but with further lockdowns to endure.
Little did I know this CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final between Club America of Mexico and Communicaciones of Guatemala in a private box would be my last game as a spectator.
2021 - 4 Flights - 13,902km Flown