Monday, March 30, 2009


Houston may not be the most obvious place in the world (or even the United States) for a Scottish footballer to set up home.

For a start, you'd be struggling to find a climate in the developed world so distinctly different to that of Scotland, than in Texas. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing...

But blistering sunshine for the majority of the year, often bordering on unbearable in the summer months, is not exactly what you would call 'ideal' for a game, let alone a full season, of soccer.

It's also not as easy to fit in as I had thought. Or at least, not in a country & western bar following one of the biggest rodeos of the year, wearing t-shirt, jeans and white trainers.....when every other person there is in full rodeo attire.

However, Houston Dynamo's head coach Dominic Kinnear, and his assitant John Spencer, both of whom hail from Glasgow, are no cowboys when it comes to soccer – and have even launched something of a mini Scottish revolution at the club.

The revolution doesn't end there, either. Midfielder Stuart Holden, born in Aberdeen, moved to Houston at the age of 10, before returning to the UK with Sunderland FC.

A horrendous street assault on Holden, in which he had his eye socket broken, speeded up his return to Houston, where he is now making giant strides in the US game, not just domestically but also on the international scene.

That's right, Holden has been whisked away from Scotland's grasp by the US national team, appearing (and scoring) at the Olympics for the U23 side, before being selected in the squad that faced Mexico in last month's World Cup qualifier.

Head coach Kinnear has been involved in soccer in the USA for the longest of the three, moving to California as a toddler. As a result, he hasn't kept the Glaswegian tones like his assitant Spencer, but thinks a Scottish background has helped him in the MLS.

“I think it helps me out in a football sense”, he told me in a now strong American accent. “I grew up in a house where soccer was always on television. My dad coached, my brothers and sister played – I am number 5 of 6 kids, so it was follow the leader kind of thing. And we're all still involved at some level.”

Spencer, meanwhile, only recently returned to the league, having played for Colorado Rapids from 2001-04 before some media work with Chelsea TV. He came back to Major League Soccer with Houston in 2006, and noticed huge developments in the short time he had been away.

He says: “The difference, especially in the media coverage, during that 12 month period, was incredible. Now, youre getting Champions League games on TV, UEFA Cup games, all sorts. We can watch two live games of football a day now – Mexican, German, Spanish, French – we get every league. Over a weekend you could watch 15-20 games!”

Interestingly, Stuart Holden insists the one thing he misses about Scotland is the coverage of football.

The 23 year old, now in his fourth season at Dynamo, says: “I love the sport and I love watching it. You get more games over there (UK), and I miss the whole culture – I am a bit of a prankster and thats more embedded in the culture in UK soccer.”

This 'prankster' culture was apparent amongst all three Scots – and evidently they have tried to instill some Scottish spirit in the Dynamo team, highlighted when one of the American players greeted Spencer as 'bawbag' on his way home after training.

With all three committed to the Dynamo cause, and Holden in particular earmarked for a big future in US soccer, it seems that Scotland's loss will continue to be America's gain.

1 comment:

  1. I'm fairly sure you're thinking of an experience in Dallas. I've lived in Houston 15 years and never seen a place full of cowboys. It's incredibly easy to fit in with countless nationalities making up the populous of Houston.

    In the brief time I studied at the University of Houston, I played soccer with more Europeans than Americans. I even played alongside someone who spent his childhood in Italian youth camps.