Fans' View

Fans’ View: Here’s to our fathers

Last week’s Union win over Columbus was pretty special for me. It wasn’t just the 3-0 scoreline. It was that I got to share the game with one of my most favorite people in the world…my Dad.

As Father’s Day approaches each year, I often wonder what kind of impression I’m leaving on my own boys. Am I living up to the high standard my father set? Will they feel the same about me as I feel about my Dad?

One of the many great gifts my Dad has given me is my love for the beautiful game. Being the youngest of four boys in a soccer family meant I had a ball at my feet at a young age. As a toddler, my parents would dress me up in a red devil costume, complete with pitchfork and tail, and I would terrorize the sidelines of South Jersey soccer fields. I was the mascot for my older brother’s team, the Evesham Red Devils, an independent soccer club started by my father, that was one of the most successful elite teams in the region for many years.

I learned a lot of lessons watching him coach that team on a farm-turned-makeshift-pitch owned by one of the player’s family. I saw that winning wasn’t the most important thing that a coach could do for his players. Their success didn’t come from a focus on results as the goal, but rather from a focus on the development of each player and their cohesion as a team that supported one another. I even got my first taste of driving there one night after practice, at about the age of 7, when he let me sit on his lap and drive his old green Plymouth Volare for a couple laps around the farm.

Scott and his dad at PPL Park.

Scott and his dad at PPL Park.

My Dad took me to see my first real soccer game, the 1994 World Cup match between Italy and Ireland at Giants Stadium. I felt like I was transported to a foreign country, immersed into a tricolor sea of exotic languages and accents. It was pure magic and an experience that my brothers and I will cherish for a lifetime.

My father was inducted into the South Jersey Soccer Hall of Fame for his later contributions as a referee. I often tagged along with him to tournaments where I saw his passion for teaching the game. He didn’t just make a call, but he would always explain to each player (and sometimes the coaches) why he made the call.

When I was in high school, I found out, to my horror, that he was assigned to ref one of my own games — in the playoffs no less. Apparently both coaches had requested him (even with the opposing team’s coach knowing I was playing) because of his quality. I knew this meant he would be extra hard on me just to prove that there was no favoritism. I think I ended up getting a yellow from him in the third minute of that game. It was the only time I didn’t hear him explain his decision.

Hearing his take on the sometimes thankless job of a referee, I found new appreciation for the men in the middle. I mean seriously, how many of you would subject yourselves to the Geiger Counter? As a fan now, I’ve come to see “imperfect” refereeing decisions as a nice allegory to life. It isn’t always perfectly fair. Some calls go your way, and some don’t. All you can do is just keep playing. It’s a nice lesson I want my boys to learn, and it’s why I’m not interested in instant replay.

At a recent game, I got a chuckle listening to a conversation between and father and his young son. The dad clearly didn’t know much about soccer and his son was trying to explain that you only get “two strikes” with yellow cards. In true Philly style, the dad got in one good teaching moment. He taught his son how to shout “sucks” after the opposing players names were called.

I realized that my experience is different from a lot of my fellow young fathers. Not very many of my peers had fathers who played and understood the game. But guess what? Neither did my dad, and I think he did a pretty great job. There’s no reason why we all can’t be great examples and teachers of this game to our children.

My Dad and I took a photo together at the game, and upon seeing it, he remarked, “Geez, who’s that old guy? That’s not me!” I think at heart my Dad still feels like a young man. Dooping it up three times will do that to you, and I think that’s part of the beauty of this game. All the nail biting and hair pulling it necessitates may take a toll on the body, but soccer keeps the soul young.

As I walked out of PPL Park and gave my Dad a goodbye hug, I couldn’t help but be filled with a sense of joy. I’m so grateful I’ve gotten to learn this sport from him. And I’m thankful that I still get to share it with him. I’m grateful to have a wonderful example to follow in my own journey through fatherhood. I can only hope that one day, watching the Union, I’ll get to complain to my boys about how old I look in a photo, and they’ll go home thinking about how they love sharing this game with their children.

Happy Father’s Day to all of us soccer dads!

10 Comments

  1. Phil Naegely says:

    Scott,

    This was a great, well-written article that I can think everyone can take away something from.

  2. +1….good stuff.

  3. Great job! I love that my husband had the opportunity to coach our sons and that soon, they will be their own three man ref crew. Lots of good lessons to be learned on the pitch!

    • It goes without saying that all of you soccer moms deserve a shout out too! Mine definitely had her hands full growing up, and now I see how much my wife does to make sure we don’t forget stuff like cleats…and shorts.

  4. Great One says:

    Is that Mr. Pugh or Clint Eastwood

  5. Great article…my Dad gave me a volley ball for my first ball…he had no idea till later. But the fact that he wanted me to be able to practice at home ment the world to me…it took me 2full years to beat the cover off that ball…

  6. Great article. My dad didn’t play but was an ‘early adopter’ when I grew up in DC. He coached my sister and took me and siblings to Diplomats’ games back in the ’70s. Last year, I got to bring him up to a Union-DC game, where he got to get into it with a fan next to us who brought his young sons to the game. The cycle continues.

  7. All you need is a ball.

  8. great article! hope my sons will write one like that one day…

  9. Awesome article, Scott.

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