BY IAN FEUER
When i was 8 years old, I was asked by a neighbors kid if i wanted to play soccer because his team was in desperate need for players. I had no idea that the kid asking me if I wanted to play soccer was the nephew of the infamous Chicago Mob Boss Toni Spilatro! (The movie Casino is based on his life story) How could I say no? “Fah-get-a-bout-it!”
So I played A.Y.S.O. for the “Los Gatos” (the cats) for two years. I played the field for a bit and moved in goal when I was 10. It was a case of “put the big guy in goal.” I immediately fell in love with the position as I loved the physical side, but more importantly I hated running!
At age 10 I joined a club team called the Generals. The coach was a guy named Larry Griffith or as I call him to this day "Coach" He became my mentor and had a belief in me that even I had to raise to try and keep up.
His son Aaron was on the team and we became best friends. Aaron and I would spend hours playing a game we invented called hall soccer. It's a game where one player would be at each end of a hallway and we would battle to score on each other using a sock ball we made.
“Coach” Griffith soon took me under his wing and worked with me almost every single day hitting shot after shot using his ball machine which he invented. I remember literally going from 7 a.m. till 12 p.m. having a quick lunch then going back out and training for another 2-3 hours.
Over the next 2 years “The Generals” started to grow in stature and respect and so did I. On the west coast we were known as being one of the few club teams who tried to play good soccer, not just “kick and rush”.
One day while I was at Aaron’s house watching a world cup game between Belgium and Argentina. Argentina was a powwer house which included a player named Diego Maradona. Belgium held them to a tie, and Coach was so impressed with Belgiums dicipline and organization that he stood up said to Aaron and I “Let’s go with the Generals to Belgium! Let's go see some real soccer and learn how they do it.
So the players started to raise money for our European adventure. We mowed lawns, sold candy, washed cars and anything that we could do to make money we did. Remember what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas! LOL
After a year of the team raising money, we were ready to go. While in Belgium the players stayed with local families, I was very fortunate to be paired with the “Hex” family.
This simply was the most wonderful, caring family you could ever ask for. They took me in as one of their own and I owe a lot of my sucess to them. I always will appreciate what they did for me.
We played some games, won some, lost some, but the experience of playing in a country where soccer, or football as they call it, is like a religion is something you have to experience first hand to truly appreciate it.
We went to watch a professional game at a packed stadium where a team by the name of “Club Brugge” played. I never heard of this team before but they were a Belgian powerhouse and it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with them.
The atmosphere was electric and the fans were loud and never stopped singing. I was in such awe of the occasion that I said to myself, “This is my dream right in front of me” I immediately realized my goal in life was real! So right then I made the promise to myself that one day I would play professionally for F.C. Brugge!
Our trip was over before we knew it but we came home a different team. There was something different, a sort of swagger and we were more confident. We had a new found love for the sport of soccer and I came home with a vision of what I wanted and inspiration of setting myself goals to achieve my dreams.
Life without soccer now was not an option for me. I knew what I wanted to be in life and nothing was going to stop me! Not even the biggest political scandal to hit Vegas soccer! And yes it involved me!!!.......Of course!
Here is how it went.........
It was a weekday game, and we (the Generals) were playing our main rivals for the state cup final. We always struggled to beat this team because they just kicked everyone and were much stronger and quicker.
Going into the game we knew the referee was going to be biased for the other team because of a previous business dispute with “Coach”. So we were reminded to stay cool by our captain Aaron.
It was the second half and we were playing well. I had a few great saves, a couple of close calls, and then we go one nil up! Adrenaline is pumping and they start to throw everything at us. I’m now having a great game, and winning is a must for the team, and especially for me because I wanted to repay “coach” for all the time he spent with me to make me who I am to this day!
Then with about 5 minutes left, the referee gets his chance to stick it to us! The other team played a ball over the top to a player who was close to 10 yards offsides. He proceeds to come at me and score the tying goal!.......I lost it!
I ran to the linesman and let him know how I felt. I was angry and felt injustice! I put my hand on his shoulder like you would if you were trying to get someone’s attention, and BAM! RED Card!
I knew I deserved the red card. I should have kept my cool. I let the team down because now we had to put a player in goal and we lost in overtime. I was devastated. Here i am trying to repay coach, and all I did was let him and the team I loved down!
After the dust settled, I awaited the news of my suspension. I figured a couple of games maximum. I Then got a call from “coach” saying they are going to have a hearing because the referee stated in his game report, that I physically abused the linesman! Verbally yes, but physically? No way!
It is now the day of the hearing and I have numerous witnesses ready to testify on my behalf regarding what happened that night as well as my carachter as a player. After the hearing started we were told that I wasnt allowed any witnesess to testify on my behalf, including a referee who was at the game watching, who was prepared to say that I didn’t do anything wrong except lose my cool.
The only people who were allowed to testify were the referee and linesman.
My gut was telling me that no matter what I or anybody said, it didn’t matter. The board had already made up their minds of my fate! I remember before the sentence was announced, the “Judge” who I will not name, but let’s just say he has gone no where in 25 years and was the head of Las Vegas Soccer said to the people in the room.... “I don’t know what I would have done if some punk came up to me and physically abused me! It might have turned ugly! We will now break for 5 minutes and come back with a verdict.”
Again this is the “man” who has the freedom to do what he wants with my case! Oh yeah i almost forgot, this was my first ever red card, and up until this point it was only my second yellow card, and one of my yellows was for time wasting!
Then he reads the verdict:
“Ian Feuer will recieve a one years suspension from all organized soccer. You will not be able to participate in any tournaments or games anywhere in the United States for one full Year!”
Now at this point in time, I was crushed! I didn’t know what to do! How could I live for one whole year without my one thing I always craved? I went home and didnt leave my room. I was down for about two days, and then I decided what I was going to do.
I was going to train even harder! Commit even more of my time to make sure these losers didn’t destroy my dreams! And to show them who they were dealing with! My passion was so much greater than theirs and they never pursued their dreams and because they saw potential in me, they wanted to try and crush me. There was only one problem.....they couldn't crush me no matter what because passion will always outshine jealousy and envy.
I saw a saying close after this stating “Things don’t happen to you, they happen for you!” This was so real for me. I took this into my daily life and just rolled with it.
I came back to the Generals after my suspension and we won State Cup that year. The team Coach developed and created was unstoppable. We played amazing soccer and could also scrap with the best of em'
I’m now 15 Living in California and attending Canoga Park High School. I found it difficult in school because everyone was trying to be something they weren't. I saw good kids turn bad because they wanted to be cool and fit in.Fit in with who? The non ambitious "cool" kids who wanted to drag you down to their level so they could feel secure in their own low standards? No not me, I wanted to reach my dreams of playing soccer in Europe so I didnt care waht anyone thought.
One of my all time favorite keepers was the fromer German International, named Toni Schumacher, so when I saw an ad in Soccer America that he was instructing at at camp, I just had to go!
Again I raised money working odd jobs, mowing lawns, picking up trash, mopping floors!.....well not really! mom and dad paid for it, but it sounds cooler if I you thought I worked for it!
So I headed off on my own to Alabama University where the week long camp with Toni Schumacher was located.
When I met him he immediately took to me. Maybe because I had all the schumacher gear and my last name is German. We trained hard all week, and at the end I was awarded keeper of the week by him. After the award ceremony he called me over to talk. I was amazed at his “coolness”!
He told me that he felt I could play in Europe! That I had what it takes to make it in the toughest places to play. He saw something in me, and said “You remind me a lot of myself when I was your age!”
Was I hearing this correctly? Did my idol just say I was good enough, and that I remind him of himself? Wow! I was in heaven!
I immediately called my Mom and told her that Toni Schumacher just told me to move to Europe to pursue a soccer career. He thinks I am good enough!”
Right away my Mom said yes and she asked the Hex family (were I stayed the first trip to Belgium age 12)
if I could stay with them while I searched for a team and they said yes. I then came home from the keeper camp and packed my bags for Europe.
I am now in Belgium, 16 and on my own in a foreign country staying with the Hex family while I figure out the next step.
On our previous trip to Belgium, the coordinator on the Belgium side was a man by the name of Guy Bonny. He lived down the street from the Hex family, and had a couple of connections in the soccer scene, so he said he would help me try and find a team when I got over there. (Guy is one of the reasons I am who I am today. What he did for me is incredible)
Guy knew the reserve team coach at F.C. Brugge and asked if I could have a try-out. The coach said YES! Guy got me a try-out with the biggest team in Belgium, and with the same team I promised myself I would sign for one day after watching a game there on my first trip to Belgium age 12. I was excited, and nervous to say the least!
So a few days later Guy drove me to the F.C. Brugge stadium, and training facility. It is awesome! 40,000 seater stadium, with 11 perfect training pitches right outside. Very awe inspiring, and very intimidating! Especially for a kid coming from a country where baseball, basketball and football rule the sports scene and we at the time didnt have any soccer specific stadiums.
I remember the try-out like it was yesterday! It was a teusday night. Raining and cold. I met a man by the name of Gilbert Marmenhout, the reserve team coach. We quickly met, and he asked me to be on the pitch in 5 minutes ready for the try out.
Now I can’t remember the exact drills we did, but I do remember being tested to what I thought was my limit and then going 100 times past that! I quickly found out what I was made of. I remember doing quite well and just going for it! Not leaving anything behind! What have I got to lose? I actually wasnt nervous. I didnt wonder what if or I hope. I just DID!
I finished the session and went in for a hot shower while Guy talked to the coach. I wasn’t sure what they thought of me, all I know is I did all I could and left it all on the pitch. The rest was up to opinions and fate.
After my shower I met Guy and the coach and we sat down to talk in the players lounge of the stadium. There I was told that they were very impressed and that they were willing to invest the time in teaching me over the coming year because they see something special in me and that "IT" factor is there. Probably the same thing Toni Schumacher saw in me back at the camp.
They told me I will be 3rd keeper on the 16’s and that I will have to establish myself if I want to stay for the long term. I told them, “I don’t care if I start as 10th keeper! I will do what it takes to play in this stadium one day!”
I couldn’t believe it! A major powerhouse soccer team from Europe wants me! I quickly called my parents to tell them the great news!
It must have been bitter sweet because my parents and I were always best of friends, so it meant that I would be gone for at least a year before I could come home as the soccer seasons there last 11 months.
F.C. Brugge put me up with a foster home and AGAIN I was very fortunate to land at the Home of a lady named Madelaine De Meulemeester. I don’t think I could have asked for anything more from a foster parent. She simply was the sweetest lady on earth. (besides you mom!)
Now they say the way to a man’s heart is through his belly, and I can tell you she stole my heart from day one! It was like living with a gourmet chef! I was in heaven!
Now i’m still only 16 and have to finish school. I had your usual classes math, science but I also had German and French. Oh and did I mention that both those clsees were taught in Dutch? So here I am taking French and German but taught in Dutch and I only speak English at this point. I had to quickly learn Dutch! Now the beauty about Belgium is that they love American TV so they had all of the top shows. Baywatch, Erkel, Fresh Prince and their favorite show was "Dallas" They would put subtitles below in Dutch and this quickly helped me pick up the language. After about 6 month not only was I fluent in Dutch, I spoke it in the dialect of Brugge! I soon became popular in school as everyone would ask me questions about America and if I ever met JR Ewing or Will Smith and do we really eat only hamburgers from Mc Donalds?
"My room at school"
Also in Belgium you have to be 18 to drive so I had to ride to and from school on this beat up old bike that looked like the bike Mary Poppin's used.
Three times a week my team would train. It was intense and well structured. Every moment mattered and you were always being analyzed. How you trained, how you reacted to diversity or a mistake, how you represented yourself, your manners, your level of thinking and what is possible. You name it, they were watching taking notes.
I trained hard, I competed but I wasnt getting any playing time. I was starting to wonder if they believed in me anymore but then I reminded myself that I dont need them to believe in me, all I need is me to believe in me and the rest will fall into place! So I just kept training and training. I went out almost every day and jumped rope, took shots against a wall to save it when it rebounded off. I did anything I could think of to gain an edge. After all I was American. This is their sport! To get into the team I couldn't be just as good, I had to be way better to even get a slim chance.
Training became my "game" It was the only place I could show them I was worthy of a chance. I saw little to no playing time for about 9 months and then out of the blue I got a call from the 2nd team coach. He told me he needed me to travel to France to play in a U23 tournament. All 3 of his keepers were injured or sick, and he said he has been watching me train for a while and was impressed with my progressions as a keeper.
So off to France I go. I am now playing with 23 year old pro's and I just had my 17th birthday a week earlier. With having not played a competitive game for the past 9 months, I was a little nervous going into the tournament. Once we got going though it all fell into place. I played against some of the top teams in the world including Paris Saint Germain, AC Milan and a game against Glasgow Rangers which became a turning point in my life. We lost 2-0 but I was on fire! I had one of those games where you don't think, it just happens. I guess I was in what they call "The Zone" I made save after save after save. It didn;t hit me how well I did all weekend until when I got back from France, F.C. Brugge asked me to come into the office of the First team coach. I was nervous as they didn't tell me why or for what. So I got dressed and rode my bike to the stadium where I met the Head Coach. He told me that he was so impressed with my work ethic, attitude and commitment to getting better that he wanted to offer me a pro contract as the third keeper of the first team!
"Club Brugge team photo"
I had just turned 17 and in less than a year I had gone from 3rd keeper of the 16’s to 3rd keeper of the full team, and training everyday with some of the top players in the world!
So now I was a professional keeper for the exact team I said I was going to play for when I was 12. After signing I became the first american keeper to sign a pro contract in Europe! My dream has come true. All my hard work paid off. But this was just the beginning of a whole new level of hard work and dedication.
It’s now the first day of training. I am so excited to get started, so I hop on my bike and ride to the stadium. I get there early and look around the locker room. There are big names above all of the individual lockers. National team players, heroes of mine and then I see my name! I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. In my locker is a load of new gear. Tracksuits, shoes, shirts, gloves, you name it! It was packed!
I meet all the players and they all seem nice, giving me the typical quotes from famous hollywood movie’s and making fun of our cuisine. (they think all we eat are hamburgers)
We get changed and go out for our first training session of the new season.
To be continued............