NOT QUITE FAMOUS
by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
SEATTLE, Wash. -- The very large playing field that separates my house from the Whitman Middle School provides constant entertainment for a people-watcher. The multilane track that surrounds it seems to encourage every known form of human and animal perambulation.
In the summer, when baseball is in progress on the diamond, other parts of the field are often given over to soccer training camps.
These latter have fascinated me for several years, not so much for the soccer itself as for the stentorian bellowing of the coaches, who always seem to be Brits.
Last week curiosity overcame me. I put a fresh cartridge in a little tape recorder and went over to the field.
The coach was pacing off the field between training sessions and putting down markers. There was a slight problem: some baseball players had wandered into the space reserved for his soccer players. The coach politely but firmly established the boundaries of his realm. No one seemed inclined to argue with him.
On his return to the sidelines I introduced myself as - may God forgive me - a newspaperman. The young fellow, David O'Neill, 21, from Birmingham, England, kindly agreed to be interviewed and modulated his voice so as not to shatter my equipment. Much taller than he seems from my deck, he is 6'5" and weighs 210 lbs.
I said I'd watched his work for two years now, but he said that was impossible. Last year he'd been coaching in Illinois. It was some other Brit, he said, probably one who also worked, as he does, for an organization called Challenger Sports. They recruit British footballers--the game is not called "soccer" there - to come to America as coaches for their summer camps.
My respect for what had struck me as a summer diversion for children was instantly magnified when I looked up Challenger Sports on the Web and saw the eye-popping fees they charge for their coaching.
Had he played soccer professionally?
Football, he murmured. No, he'd played for a semi-pro team called Pershore Town.
He was wonderful with these children, I said. Had he any of his own? He looked at me in disbelief. "I'm 21!" he said.
What about his education? He'd done his A Levels? Yes. Beyond that? Leeds University, where he earned a degree in Sports Science & Physiology.
Watching Dave work with a dozen or so little six-year-old girls - and above all listening to him - is sheer pleasure. How he manages to command such instant obedience and such really amazing feats of precision ball control from these tots is quite marvelous. From my deck, it looks like an advanced form of choreography.
Now, why do we keep our heads up? Very good! Everyone understand? Exxxcelent ! Okay, No. 2, which foor are we using? Right!! Tremendous!! Which part of the foot do we use to change direction? Wunnerful!!! Okay, now when I shout, we're gunna move side to side like a goalie. Okay? Off ye go! Much bet-t-t-tah! xxxcelent!
Dave's every other word is some form of exclamatory approval and encouragement. He closes today's training with, "Well done, girls! It's been a pleasure coaching you!"
His pleasure, I would wager, does not come even close to that of his worshipful little pupils, who disperse murmuring various faint forms of "thank you" and who, when the time comes for them to have romantic dreams, will never forget one tall handsome prince with a weird accent.
As I leave, I ask Dave whether he'd ever given such an interview before.
"Never!" he said, "I feel quite famous!!!"
Clarence Brown is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.