By Jill Beauchesne – (June 14, 2004) USSoccerPlayers — Born in Birmingham, England, Paul Child, one of the leading goal scorers in North American Soccer League (NASL) history, has lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for over 25 years. Paul first came to Pittsburgh as a player in the Major Indoor Soccer League in 1981 and ended up staying in Western Pennsylvania, where he now works at Allegheny Millworks.
Prior to the MISL, he played in the NASL for the Atlanta Chiefs, San Jose Earthquakes, and Memphis Rogues. Paul and his wife also run a horse stable, where his daughter spends most of her time. Meanwhile, his son, also bitten by the soccer bug, has played professionally until this past year, when he decided it was time to get a “real job.”
In this first installment of Hall of Fame: Where Are They Now, Paul Child speaks frankly about the differences between playing for a soccer team in America as compared to a team in Britain. He discusses the “roller coaster” ride that American soccer has taken over the past forty years or so, and also reminisces a bit about his induction day into the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
So it was the original MISL (Major Indoor Soccer League) that first brought you to Pittsburgh. What is your opinion of the MISL, a league that has recently been reincarnated?
Well, in the new MISL, they’ve opted to use a lot of the old teams names and logos, which I think is a good idea. A lot of people associate themselves with the old team names. Especially in the U.S., when there are teams fading and folding all of the time, there’s never real stability. Hopefully we’re getting there now. I think we are. Teams are staying around. That was the biggest problem for a while—when people hear the words ‘soccer league,’ they knew it was a matter of time before it folded.
How did it feel to play amid this constant upheaval after arriving from England?
It’s different because in England, a team has been there forever. Most teams in England are actually owned by the city—practice complexes are supported by the local council, so they’re going to do everything they can to keep it there.
When I first came to the U.S., I was put into a pro draft, after playing briefly in Atlanta before the team folded. In this way, I found out that a team can move or be bought by a new owner. That kind of thing is inconceivable in other European countries, that have established, hundred-year-old teams.
When I went back to England, before being drafted by San Jose, I was really reluctant to come back. I was used to being with a club or team, in this case, Aston Villa, that’s been there for over a hundred years. Every little city in England has a team. Fans are very loyal to the team they grew up with. You follow them, go see them if they’re playing on the road, and you’re always looking for them to do well. You’ll always go to support them.
Do you still get out to play or watch any soccer? How involved are you in the game nowadays?
I still play with an over-40 team. I have a “real” job now at Allegheny Millworks. After work, I’m usually doing something soccer related. I have an A-license and I coach professionally. I coached the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (professional minor league). Now I’m more involved with youth development.
Our league is the Pennsylvania (PA) West Youth Soccer Association. I do clinics, youth development, any thing they have going on. The director will contact me if they need help. I work with a lot of local clubs here as well, like classic league teams, trying to develop younger players in the 9-10 age groups.
I have the National-Y license. It’s more fun coaching kids than pros — they really want to learn and they don’t pretend to know it all. I’m trying to get out of the pro coaching now and do more youth development.
What do you think about the youth soccer movement? What are its strengths and weaknesses?
I really think they need to start playing at earlier ages. When these Pennsylvania coaches go to New Jersey and California, those kids always seem a few steps ahead of us. They’re in the top areas, so they’re getting the quality coaches. In a lot of the strong youth areas there’s a heavy ethnic element and there are a lot of local teams.
This area, western Pennsylvania, is very heavy on American football. We’re trying to develop soccer players. Soccer is much more accepted now than it was 10 years ago. Kids who are good athletes are not necessarily primed for football or basketball. As the game gets bigger and stronger, the players will make more money and the better athletes will be drawn to it.
That’s what happening now, with all of the young players in the game, like Adu and Donovan. It’s good for the game, and it shows you there’s an opportunity to make big money and become a popular athlete. More and more kids will realize you don’t need to be a certain size to play soccer.
You can be small and skillful, tall and good in the air, quick, or strong. The game and its many positions adapt to different shapes and sizes of people, and more players can get into the game.
You have seen soccer evolve into a major professional sport in your lifetime. What have been the biggest changes in the game that you’ve witnessed?
Biggest changes in the game … obviously you’re talking about in this country. I was here when I was 19, now I’m 51 years old. When I first came, I was really happy, because I thought in ten years it would be really big. But it’s been more like a roller coaster, teams dying and then starting again. There were, at one point, 14 teams in the MISL and then it died off. It’s kind of like up and down. I think that the biggest change has been that more and more Americans are starting to realize that soccer is really big and influential.
The women’s team winning the World Cup and the start of the WUSA I think really contributed to that. There’s much more publicity now. We just have to keep these leagues around for long periods of time. You can’t keep saying, well, there’s another soccer team folding. You start seeing the petitions like with the WUSA and people trying to keep the teams around.
I think local investment is important, and having fans that are loyal to their teams, even if they’re not winning. If you’re not winning in this country, you don’t go to the games. It shouldn’t be that way. But I look at the athletes in other sports in this country, and there’s no loyalty there either. You don’t give back to the first team that gave you a chance as a professional. You want to make the most money so that’s what you play for. It happens in Europe too. I think you’ve got to have the loyalty of players and fans, and hopefully we’ll get to that next level.
When the U.S. National Team does better, the publicity goes up. We see more and more soccer now then we’ve ever seen. But you’re competing with so many other sports in this country, but other soccer teams in other countries are just competing against rugby or cricket, maybe baseball. There are so many sports in this country competing for the fans’ viewing time.
Back to your playing days. Could you ever have imagined you’d one day be inducted into the Soccer Hall of Fame? Can you describe what that induction day was like?
I could never have imagined it. It’s got to be one of the neatest shocks you ever get. Not just getting inducted but getting nominated by a group of peers and players, and going in with such quality players. It’s a big, big shock and it takes a few weeks to let it settle in. You realize, boy, I must have done something right.
I don’t think any person thinks that way, thinking of the Hall of Fame while they’re playing. You’re just trying to play a sport you love and play in front of people who are paying to see you. You want to perform for them, the fans, more than anyone else. What’s really strange is that you finish playing, you keep involved with soccer, either by coaching, playing or managing, and then you get fired or move, because in the world of sports, you never know how long a job can last. Then you drift out, get into another field or line of work, and then the soccer pops up again when you go to a reunion or something, and it’s all just a great joy again.
It’s just great that it came back again. You have all of the players you respect, like Carlos Alberto and other big name players that you loved to play against, and then to get a call and hear that you’ve been nominated and accepted to the Hall of Fame, you’re thinking, ‘Are you sure you’ve got the right guy?”
Then, you get to the Hall and this trip makes it more acceptable, it’s kind of like you look around at all of the memorabilia, at what other players have done, and you really understand that you’re being inducted. It really brings it home, and the other players are there as well and it becomes kind of overwhelming. You take a few weeks, and you realize that it really did happen.
You’re a part of history. That’s the other great part. I may be long gone, but some part of me will still be there.
Do you have any advice to the teams out there today, playing in a time when soccer is enjoying some of the widest coverage and influence in this country?
I just hope that these players who are lucky enough to get scholarships and play professionally remember where they came from and give back to the game and their communities. As players make more and more money, they tend to forget where they come from. It happens in every sport.
We need as many people who have done well, and who have been lucky enough to do well, to give back to the community, whether through coaching, clinics, anything. Just remember to give back.