Billy Garton and his boys with Manchester United's Paul Scholes
Youth Soccer: Spotlight Feature on Billy Garton. The Pro Returns Home to Manchester United
Earlier this year, former professional soccer player Billy Garton returned to Manchester United where he spent part of his playing career. This time, he brought his two sons and their teams from the San Diego Manchester Soccer Club with him.
Billy Garton on his Manchester United trip
Diane Scavuzzo: What was it like to go back to England with two youth soccer teams from San Diego and visit Manchester United, where you used to play professional soccer as a defender?
Billy Garton: While I was really looked forward to the trip, it wasn’t until I arrived that I realized how exciting it was going to be, not just for me but for the kids and parents I took with me.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think the benefits are for American kids to go over and see players in England and to have a chance to go behind the scenes like this?
Billy Garton: It is an amazing opportunity to learn whenever you can visit an EPL team. But this trip was unique and very special. We went to Manchester United. That’s the highest possible level. This is not just a pro club, this is a pro club at the pinnacle.
|Billy Garton at Manchester United
Diane Scavuzzo: How many people went?
Billy Garton: Fifty-eight people in total traveled back with me to my home team in England and visited where I played soccer.
Diane Scavuzzo: How many youth soccer players were in the group?
Billy Garton: I took two teams from our Manchester Soccer Club here in San Diego. It was a total of twenty-seven youth soccer players.
We had two age groups; a U10 team and a U14 team with kids who were 12 and 13. I coach both of these teams, so it was kids that I’ve known and I’ve coached for the last couple of years.
Diane Scavuzzo: These are the two teams your sons play for, right? What’s it like to coach your sons?
Billy Garton: Yes, it was their two teams. It’s tough to coach your own kids.
It’s rewarding because you get to see them all the time playing and you obviously get to have a hand in their development.
But it’s tough also because you have to deal with them in a different way and sometimes that’s not fair with them. I’m tougher on them, my expectation are higher. They get in the car after a practice or a game and we all start talking about the game and they’re getting it again.
Diane Scavuzzo: I thought parents weren’t supposed to critique the soccer games in the car ride home …. (Smile)
Billy Garton: Part of the problem for me is that my older son in particular asks about the game and we often get onto…it’s tough not to talk about the game. Often we discuss situations that he was involved in, so it’s difficult. I like to feel that I’m having a positive impact on them, but I think at some point it will be very good for them to experience other voices.
|Billy Garton playing for Manchester United
Diane Scavuzzo: Let’s get back to your trip to England! When you walked through and you entered in Manchester United again, and you had your sons…
Billy Garton: When we got to Manchester United’s training facility, I wasn’t sure that we were going to get in prior to the trip. It’s not easy to get in. It really is a closed shop. Brian McClair runs the Academy now and I used to play with him. He sent an email saying, “You’re in on the Monday when you get there.” I was thrilled.
Our players and their families were able to see the first team warm up, take pictures and get autographs. It was really amazing. When I saw him, McClair’s first words to me were, “You must have some good contacts here because you’re getting in places today where nobody has been.”
We were there early in the morning before the team started their practice and we got into the gym area with weights and mats. It was a big spacious area, until we filled it all up.
It was just incredible – we had to move our feet out of the way so Giggs could do his warm up preparations. We were so close; literally the kids could have touched Vidich or Ferdinand doing their stretching routine. Then the pros did a little weight routine for about 30-40 minutes, and we just stood there mesmerized. The kids were taking photographs and video, and it was just unbelievable.McClair said, “Look, nobody has ever been in here before to watch them do this.” Ryan Giggs came in, who I know pretty well, and he came over and said hi and gave us a hug. Paul Scholes shot a soccer ball past my head as I walked in – that was his “good-morning” welcome call.
Diane Scavuzzo: What happened then?
Billy Garton: Then they let us go outside – we were the only group there – and we watched them train. We were probably 15 yards away from where they were training. They set up their little drills and little small-side games. And every single pro player came over after they finished, signed autographs and took photos with the kids. It was phenomenal experience for everyone.
Then we walked off and watched the reserve team playing a game on another field. I saw some more familiar old faces, coaches I’ve not seen for 10-15 years. It was great to say hi to them.
Diane Scavuzzo: How did it feel for you to be back and to have your children with you?
Billy Garton: It was magical. Having photographs with the kids in the training facility with some of the people I played with or coached or who coached me.
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Diane Scavuzzo: Did your playing professional soccer for Manchester United seem more real to your kids? What do they think about you being a big-time pro football player in England?
Billy Garton: I don’t think my kids fully get that yet. I think that it’s been around them for so long that they’re removed from that sort of kudos that normally being a professional player brings. I’m just their dad.
Diane Scavuzzo: What did the other players on your teams think?
Billy Garton: This trip really brought it home for them and a lot of the parents.
I think the reception I received impressed a lot of people. It impressed me.
Diane Scavuzzo: What impact do you think seeing these pros will have on the kids? Usually you can only see these pros on television while they are playing a game
Billy Garton: I think they realize how hard the pro players work in training. The biggest chunk of time is at practice. You refine all your skills there and you do most of your hard work there. On game day you’re really just fine tuning, and at halftime in your team talk you’re highlighting certain things.
So most of your hard work is done on the practice field, and that’s the message I try to get through to these kids. If you practice seriously, you’ll more often than not play seriously. If you practice in a sloppy way, you’ll probably be sloppy on the weekend.
Diane Scavuzzo: So in England, the message was that the pros take it all seriously.
Billy Garton: Here are the best players in the world doing everything by the letter of the law.
If the coach says, “Stop and stretch,” they stop and stretch. If the coach says, “We’re running now,” they don’t whine, they just get running.
If the coach says, “We’re going to work on crossing and shooting now, and you guys go off and work on heading because you’re defenders,” they go off and work on their heading. That’s what happened while we were there – it was classic.
The two central defenders went off and worked on some heading drills, the wide guys and the forwards were working on crossing and shooting and some of the guys coming back from injury went off and did some extra conditioning work.
Roberto Mancini at Man City Training facility
This is the point I was trying to make to the kids. When I get on them about warm ups and stretching, and they are talking and not really stretching, just going through the motions – they are not doing what is best for them. When you watch the guys at the highest-level listen to their coach and warm up, everyone saw how seriously they took it.
The old adage is, “you practice like you play” – you can’t screw around in practice and then go and think you can be a serious player on game day. They take it seriously then, because that translates immediately to game day.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do a lot of Americans realize this? I think many youth soccer players feel practice is just play, not serious.
Billy Garton: For me, most of your development with players is going on the practice field. So winning on game day is a process of assembling together everything learned in practice. If you were not serious in practice, how can you be great on game day?
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think your players got out of watching these pros?
Billy Garton: It’s funny because I mentioned yesterday at one of my practice sessions – I went over some of this stuff, how serious the players were. Warming up, no screwing around, no smiling and joking.
I reminded the players of the grown men, in pairs, doing yoga-style exercises that really did look a bit silly, stretching exercises that looked a bit effeminate at times, but ultra-serious.
Not one screw-around, not one embarrassment while we were watching, not one deviation from the drills that they were supposed to be doing in the warm up.
And then when they got on the field, how – they would have broken each other’s legs. There were sliding tackles, they were physical, it was aggressive, and they were pissed off with each other. It was deadly serious.
Diane Scavuzzo: Did your teams play against the Man Untied and Man City academy teams?
Billy Garton: We played against both Man United and Manchester City’s Academy. We went to Manchester United’s Academy and had the Academy Director put on a session.
Diane Scavuzzo: How did your teams from California do?
Billy Garton: The Academy Director told me after the games how shocked he was with the standard of play and the quality. It was fantastic.
It was great to be involved in a couple of training sessions, intermingling the kids, and have their coaches say how blown away they were by how our kids performed.
The English coaches thought the American kids were going to come and mess up the drills – and to have them feel we were an integral part of the session with no embarrassment was great. The look of shock on their faces was even better.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you think American kids have gotten better?
Billy Garton: I think my kids have gotten better because they have a great coach, and I’m not being big-headed here or boasting about it. The style in which I coach my kids is very similar to the way I was coached when I was in England at Manchester United.
When all the youth teams came together there was no gulf between them. It was proof.
Diane Scavuzzo: So American soccer has gotten better because the coaching has gotten better?
Billy Garton: Ultimately that’s always going to be acid test. If you’ve got good coaches working with kids and you’ve got good kids – you need something there to work with – that’s the perfect remedy.
Diane Scavuzzo: Did your teams win?
Billy Garton: It was amazing. My little U10s – it wasn’t the whole team, I sort of threw the team together – they never lost a game. They won three and they tied Manchester City’s Academy at their own age. They put their younger Academy team out against us in the first game thinking that we were not as strong, and we beat them 4-2. Winning isn’t everything, as we were talking about, but it was fun.
It is easier for Manchester United to have a great pool of players to choose from and develop strong players. They can recruit from a very large area. Here in San Diego, we are really recruiting soccer players from our local areas such as Carmel Valley and Rancho Santa Fe.
Diane Scavuzzo: The player pool is so much larger in Europe.
Billy Garton: Let’s use this scenario: If I could put together an all-star team from North County, let’s say – (San Diego) Surf, (Carlsbad) Lightning, Manchester, Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego Soccer Club – all those clubs – and you could pick an all-star team from U10, you could probably take that all-star team across to England and play against the Academy teams of similar age and win.
It is what happens for the players between these younger ages and 16 or 17 years of age.
Diane Scavuzzo: Just to recap - So if you took the best players from an all-star team, they could be dropped into the Manchester City or Manchester United Academy and they would do well. They would be on par. It’s what we do from this point forward. How do we keep those kids learning?
Billy Garton: The elite players are playing with the elite players in England.
You have to find a way to have the American soccer development programs be a little more intense, and the problem here is the better players are all spread across numerous clubs. The Manchester United Academy kids in England are the cream of the players and they’re all fantastic and they’re all playing and training together.