CHAPMANVILLE — For many years and even decades, American soccer, or football as most of the rest of the world calls it, had been treated as a joke.
Soccer had been nowhere near America’s “Big Three” sports — basketball, baseball and American football.
But after years of increased participation, particularly on the youth level, the United States hosting the World Cup in 1994 and the success of American women’s soccer on the international level after the last 20 years, soccer is definitely on the up and up.
Locally, the sport has received a boost over the last couple years with the formation of the Coal Fields Youth Soccer League in Chapmanville.
Still with no high school soccer teams in Logan County, the league has served as a vehicle for getting local boys and girls a shot at playing the world’s game.
Area soccer players received a taste of English soccer last week as about 40 area boys and girls participated in the Challenger Sports British Soccer Camp, which was held at the new soccer field on Sawmill Road in Chapmanville.
The local players were treated to instruction from Adam Lamara and Tom Worboys — two soccer players from the United Kingdom.
Lamara, who hails from Manchester, England, the home of the famed soccer club Manchester United, worked alongside his camp master mate Lamara, of Cambridge, England, teaching the fundamentals of the sport to the area youth.
The camp was broken up into two divisions — students ages 5-10 and those 10-and-up.
Lamara and Worboys work for their company, Challenger Sports, bringing European-style soccer to America.
Both said the camp was a success even though the numbers were slightly down from what they are used to.
“This is my first time in America. It’s different but it has been enjoyable,” Lamara said speaking in a heavy Cockney accent. “We are trying to make a lot of activities in the game fun, giving them coaching points and making the game fun.”
Lamara said he was aware of the Coal Field Youth Soccer League’s success and said he hopes the camp will keep area kids interested in the game.
“Hopefully, if they enjoy it they will come back for more,” Lamara said. “Then that will help the league out because they will have more players that will come and play. Hopefully, it will grow to other areas across the state and soccer will flourish from there. That’s one of our goals.
“We work for the Challenger Sports Company and we go to soccer camps like this across America.”
Although not on par with the powerhouse soccer leagues of Europe and in Latin America, Lamara said soccer in the United States has improved tremendously.
Many point to the beginning of American soccer’s world stage presence to the ‘94 FIFA World Cup, when the United States hosted the 31-day event in Pasadena, Calif., Pontiac, Mich, Stanford, Calif., East Rutherford, N.J., Chicago, Dallas, Orlando, Washington and the Boston area.
The American squad, led by Alexi Lalas, Cobi Jones and goalkeeper Tony Meola, shocked the world by finishing 1-1-1 in pool play, including a 1-1 draw with Switzerland and a 2-1 victory over Columbia, aided by a goal which was kicked into his own net by Andres Escobar. The Americans made it to the Round of 16 but lost 1-0 to world power Brazil.
Then in 1999, the United States women’s soccer team beat China before 100,000 fans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Since, American soccer has gained even more popularity with the MLS and continued success at the world level.
Lamara said soccer in the U.S. is getting better and better.
“Definitely,” Lamara said. “If you look at the MLS (Major League Soccer) there are players such as David Beckham, Tim Howard and Landon Donovan and they have all played in Europe and have had international careers. A lot of American soccer players have plied their trade in Europe as well like Clint Dempsey and others who have played in the English Premier League. American soccer is promising.”
Worboys said the camp at Chapmanville went well.
“Superb,” he said. “I’ve done numerous camps and this is my third year with Challenger Sports. I can’t even remember how many camps that I’ve done so far. This is my ninth or 10th week now. I’ve not been in this region before and I’ve never been in West Virginia before.”
When the Coal Field Youth Soccer League began, the outfield grass at Chapmanville’s Ted Ellis Field had to be used for games as well as the grass areas behind Chapmanville Middle School. The league now has a facility of its own.
“It’s good to see some money being put into some soccer fields here,” Worboys said. “They’ve got some new goals here and this is definitely a way to get the kids’ participation up.”
Worboys said he has a lot of experience in the sport and was glad to pass on some of his knowledge to the area players.
“I really didn’t play at a major high level but when I got to college we were fifth-best in the country at the college level. I also played at the University level and the semi-pro level. I did it more for the fun than the money.”
Worboys said he travels all across the Mid-Atlantic Region doing camps.
“We do summer camps each week, so this week we’re in the coal fields,” he said. “We change each week and we are based all over the U.S. We get put into regions. We’re in the Baltimore Region, which is West Virginia, Virginia, the Baltimore area and D.C.”
Worboys said he’s seen soccer participation grow even in the four years or so he’s been doing camps in The States.
“This is my fourth year now coaching soccer in the U.S.,” he said. “I have seen the numbers and the participation keep growing and growing. Participation is growing and it starts at a young age. These kids here are young and they will have fun with this game this year and the next year and the next year and the next year.”
Bringing soccer to an area like the southern West Virginia Coal Fields is what Worboys said his company is all about.
“That’s one of our goals as a company,” he said. “It’s not just teach kids how to play it is growing the participation in the whole of the U.S.”