Keith Mayer, an accomplished soccer coach in England, is assisting in the start-up of Sugar Hill’s new soccer club, the All-In Futbol Club. A native of Wigan, England, Mayer played soccer professionally in his native country and was the youngest player (15) to play on the reserve team for the Bolton Wanderers. He holds a UEFA A license in coaching.
In the edition of “Getting to Know…” Mayer spoke with staff correspondent Chris Hillyard his interest in coming to Gwinnett, what type of experience he has in the sport and which member of his very talented family he thinks might be the best.
CH: What is it about this particular club that is drawing your interest to coming to America?
KM: Well, first of all my son plays soccer at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. So he is there already and me and my wife have had aspirations of coming to America. I met (All-In FC founder) Mark MacKain last March in San Antonio when I came to America for a teaching course. Mark was one of the instructors there and I met him and I immediately liked him. He came across very well as a man of integrity and honesty and he seemed like the type of guy I would like to work with. It started from there with a running dialogue between myself and Mark and eventually he told me about All-In. That’s an interesting name for a club and I was intrigued to learn more. Grassroots football is where I started and I have 32 years of coaching experience and have worked in academies in the past at Nottingham Forest and Leeds United.
I have a great post in England and it’s a very good job. So coming here would be a very big decision. But primarily it would be to be closer to my son. So far with the way Mark has things going, it seems like that would be a very good decision. Certainly the weather is different than what I am used to.
CH: I understand you have been involved in some levels at the professional level with the English Premier League. What has been the experience you’ve gained there?
KM: I work through the FA (the governing body for football in England) and actually deliver psychology courses for the FA. I am a UEFA A License coach. And I went into Manchester United to work with their foundation and some of their soccer skills coaches. Then I was asked to get into some mentoring and they had started some academies in China. So I was asked to go there and to India, respectively, and to help set up schools and skills coaches there. So I’ve done mostly mentoring. I want to be clear with that, I’ve never been with the first team with Manchester United. I’ve been around them and had dealings with them but I’ve been a part of a large group of people that are involved with teaching soccer skills and mentoring coaches.
CH: What is appealing to you about being able to come in and start a program here from scratch?
KM: With that you get to put your own DNA into it. We will have locals running a local club and that will help us to connect to the community rather than having an academy that is run by a foreign club. It’s more of a connection piece than anything else. Mark’s model seems to be bringing in as much experience as he can and integrating that with the community and people already in place.
CH: What would be your day-to-day activities should you come on with the club full time?
KM: That is something we would need to formulate. It will depend on the numbers and how quickly we can get the numbers up. Certainly will be working with the other coaches who would be a part of it. One of my roles in the UK is to mentor and coach the coaches. So that’s something I would like to continue. And I’m always learning. There isn’t one way to do things, there are several. So hopefully I can bring some of my experiences and continue to learn from them as well. You can never stop learning.
CH: Ideally, what is the timeline and when would you like to move your family into the community?
KM: There are still some things to work out. Mark has been very upfront and honest with me about it. I am not a single guy. I have a wife and a daughter to bring with me and a little dog. So I guess if he puts his paws in American soil then it’s official and we are here. I’d like to say that would be as soon as possible. There are certainly challenges and things to still figure out.
CH: What are your impressions on the growth of the U.S. game at the MLS level and as a whole. Is that something that would impact your decision to come here full-time?
KM: I couldn’t comment about the MLS with any depth, that would be an injustice. But the health and strength of U.S. soccer has dramatically improved beyond all recognition from when I first came to America in 1981 in college. From where it was then to where it is now is very different.
CH: How about Atlanta getting an MLS team? Is that something that you could see impacting the club?
KM: Sure. That can only be good for the local community and helping to grow the game. That’s something I’m certainly looking forward to in 2017. And perhaps we can help the pro game at the grassroots level by helping to bring players along and teaching them the skills they need to have an impact at that level. But first we have to build a club. If you look too far beyond where you currently are then you can fall quite quickly.
CH: Tell me more about your son David. Is he at UNC-Charlotte currently and what led him there?
KM: He’s in his senior year there. He was named captain of the team there this year which I am very proud of. He played at a premier league club Wigan Athletic as a scholar for a couple of years, but unfortunately due to injury he fell by the wayside. He then went to play at an academy in Spain run by former England manager Glenn Hoddle. But when that ended we had to think about what was the next best thing for David.
I have some contacts in the United States that I reached out to and very soon after that he got offered some scholarships to continue his education and play here. So he went to Akron, a program which won a national championship. He spent a year there which was an interesting experience for him. He then transferred to UNC-Charlotte, which is a totally different program and different style of soccer. So he’s over there and me and my wife don’t see him coming back to the UK. And we’re a three quarter full family without him around. So the opportunity to come here and re-kindle the fire a bit with a new club and be close enough to go see some of David’s games would be fantastic.
CH: Where are you from originally?
KM: I live in a town called Wigan. It’s a little suburb in greater Manchester. Kind of in between Manchester and Liverpool. The weather there is certainly much different than it is here in Atlanta with all this beautiful sunshine. But that’s where I’m from.
CH: When did you first come to the United States?
KM: I came in 1981 to play university soccer at Mercer County Community College in New Jersey where I became a national champion. That was a tremendous experience. We had a very eclectic mix of Europeans and Americans playing with a mixture of styles. I got here this time on May 15th and will be going back on the fourth of June.
CH: How old is your daughter?
KM: Kathryn is 18.
CH: Is she looking at possibly continuing her education in the United States as well?
KM: She actually wants to go into the Royal Navy. She still has some final physicals, which we expect she will be fine. My wife played football for England. My daughter has represented the north of England in field hockey. So overall we’ve got quite an athletic family. But I think Kathryn’s decision will be impacted by what we do, obviously she misses her brother, but whatever she wants to do we absolutely support her.
CH: So who is the best athlete in the family?
KM: Oh no, that’s a great question. I’ve got to say me haven’t I? Well, I better say their mother. But I’ve got to say that because it’s my 25th wedding anniversary. I am here on the 20th of May, 25 years after we got married. So for her to even let me come over here on such a special occasion tells you how serious we are about this. So I’ve got to say me. Each of them would probably say themselves if they were here. But really it’s probably David. He’s probably the best of us.
CH: Tell me about what your playing experience was like. Did you play at the professional level at all?
KM: I started playing football at a very young age. I captained every team that I ever played for. I’m a left-footer and was a technician. I was very proficient with the football. I was signed on at Bolton Wanderers as a school boy.
Then when I finished my schooling I became an apprentice professional, which is called scholars now. I spent a few years at Bolton when they were in the old first division.
My claim to fame was when I actually played with the first team in a friendly against Bangor City F.C.
Through natural attrition, I was either not good enough or not provided with sufficient time. I moved on to Wigan Athletic, which was my local club. I signed professionally on with them. And I probably wasn’t good enough but I actually did get injured. But left Wigan and found myself coming to the U.S. to play at Mercer Community College. My first year in 1981 I was still injured but in 1982 I was able to win a national championship. That was a great experience and created bonds for life. Then in 1982 I came home and started coaching.
CH: What were your early coaching experiences like?
KM: I started coaching in 1981, actually, in between my seasons at Mercer. I suspect that likely helped me my last season in there. But my playing career ended at 22 and I said this is what am I going to do now. Then I pursued what was called then the four badge, which is the highest coaching classification in England. I attempted the test the first time in 1984 but didn’t pass. Then in 1985 I did and was told at the time I was the youngest person to ever achieve that qualification. So I was very proud of that. So then I started coaching coaches for the FA and training coaches.
CH: Do you have a coaching philosophy that you keep and that you would bring to this club?
KM: Well, that’s the biggest thing about this game is that you get the opportunity to touch people’s lives. You are impacting them in your interactions and how you treat them. So I try to foster a message and provide information to help players become better footballers but also better people. Over here the goals are to use their skills to be able to play at the collegiate level and further their education. If I can add a little sugar into it and create a little magic and help them achieve that, then that fulfills me.