Feature / Philadelphia Lone Star FC

New Junior Lone Star head coach Fatoma Turay continues his soccer journey

Photo courtesy of NPSL

Fatoma Turay never saw himself as a coach.

Yet it’s his whistle the players are listening to as Junior Lone Star FC’s first-team begins pre-season training this week. Junior Lone Star named Turay as the new first-team head coach in January. The step, though a big one, is just the latest in a long journey for the 32-year-old Sierra Leonean and his club.

Pre-Lone Star

Turay makes a simple statement in our phone conversation: “Soccer is my life,” he says. He explains that he’s been playing soccer since he was five or six-years-old, growing up in Sierra Leone.

The long, violent Civil War that would ultimately flood Sierra Leone was just beginning around that time, and it was at that age that Turay’s mother left his father and him for the United States. It would be nearly ten years before she could find a way for them to join her.

Turay and his father spent part of those years moving across West Africa, first from Sierra Leone to Guinea, then from Guinea to Senegal, and finally from Senegal to the United States. In each country, Turay played soccer, playing with the “older guys” in Sierra Leone, playing for a club in Guinea, and playing mainly pick-up games in Senegal as he and his father were waiting to leave across the Atlantic.

In 2001, Turay and his family settled in Pennsylvania where he joined a small local club comprised primarily of West African immigrants – Junior Lone Star FC.

A Lone Star star

Today, Junior Lone Star FC enjoys a reputation as one of the preeminent amateur soccer clubs in the Philadelphia area, boasting youth teams, a U-19 team, a U-23 team, and, of course, its first team, which plays in the NPSL. Turay has played – and excelled – for all of them.

Since joining the club in its year of inception, Turay has captained each squad, making over 200 appearances for the club. Playing primarily as a midfielder under long-time Lone Star head coach Bobby Ali, Turay’s talent and aggressive style made him one of the most decorated players in Junior Lone Star history.

The next step

In this past year alone, Junior Lone Star FC has made a great many strides and changes. Their U-23 squad, which essentially acts as the club’s second or reserve team, will be competing in the UPSL this year; the club also added a new team in Liberia. Fatoma Turay’s appointment to the first team head coaching position is not the least of these changes.

“It was an easy decision to make,” says Paul Konneh, president of Junior Lone Star. “He’s been with the club since the club was founded in 2001… from the youth level to the u19 level to the u23 level to the first team level he’s always shown that leadership ability.”

For Turay on the other hand, the change is not what he had always had in mind. “I’m a very passionate guy on the field,” Turay explains. “So I never thought I would actually coach.”

At 32-years-old, and as one of the club’s all time great players, Turay could certainly help the Stars on the pitch. The long time player had a decision to make. After talking it over with the club, Turay decided to commit fully to coaching. “Everybody knows me and everybody has respect for me,” he says. “They thought it was a good idea, and I thought about it and I thought it would be a good idea. I decided to, you know, proceed with the adventure.”

The boy who had played the game across nations, across oceans, was ready to take the next step.

Filling shoes

Turay replaces Neewilli Saie as head coach, but as Saie only maintained that position for one year before leaving for school, Turay really steps in to succeed the legacy of 15-year head coach Bobby Ali. Like Turay, Ali has also been with the club since its inception. “He grew the club to what it is now,” says Konneh. “Especially at the youth level.”

With Ali focusing more on the U-23s, Turay replaces a major figure in his own life. “It’s an honor,” Turay says. “Bobby is a mentor. He’s like a father to me.” Ali is one of a couple of coaches in Turay’s life that have shown him more than simply how to play the game.

“It means a lot not just to be coaching but to be following in the footsteps [of] Bobby because Bobby has done a lot,” Turay says. “Not just for me personally but for a whole bunch of kids that have grown into men”

More than a coach

It’s this mentality that Turay hopes to adopt as his own. Junior Lone Star is known for its aggressive tactics, which Turay does not plan on changing. But his role as head coach is more than formations and drills, especially in a community like Southwest Philadelphia. Turay now gets to mentor young men growing up in situations quite similar to his own, many of them immigrants like him.

“It means a lot. It means a lot,” Turay says about the unique opportunity. “I was fortunate to have people in my corner when I came to the states to actually show me the ropes… Being the head coach for these young men, I have that experience. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. So I can show them the way.”

Turay also made sure to thank Nick Papanicolas, his head coach during his years at Wilmington University, for showing him the value of this opportunity. “It was all about winning. That’s all you care about when you start playing… you don’t care about the impact you make on others.” That all changed, Turay explains, when he met Papanicolas in college.

“Now it’s not just about winning… you want to build a culture that people would love to be a part of… People who have never even heard of Junior Lone Star, when they see what we’re doing, they want to and feel like they can be a part of it.”

Full circle

While Turay is taking his next step in his soccer journey, the step feels like he’s come full circle in a way. With the Southwest Philly soccer community as strong as it is, Turay can train, develop and mentor young men just as Bobby Ali and Nick Papanicolas mentored him. Young men of a similar background and equal passion for soccer can now learn from their new head coach who claims that soccer is his life.

“With the right support that I have from Junior Lone Star and my family and former players and coaches,” Turay says, “I see myself coaching for a long time.”


  1. Very glad to know all this stuff, much obliged!

  2. Nice work Ryan. All the best to Turay. Seems like a good choice and I hope he does well.

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