Youth Soccer News: Manchester Soccer Club Gala Provides a Night of Fun and Fundraising for Families and Coaches
It was cold and drizzling outside on Saturday night, October 20, but inside the Bernardo Heights Country Club there was a warm feeling of community as over 100 parents and coaches of Manchester Soccer Club gathered for the eleventh annual Manchester Gala. With Co-Directors Billy Garton and Jeff Illingworth at the helm, it was a night of fun, family and fundraising that brought out the best in people.
|Manchester SC Co-Directors Jeff Illingworth (L) and Billy Garton (R) and coach Warren Barton (C) pose with autographed shirts for the Manchester Gala live auction
While the evening is in part a fundraiser for the club’s scholarship program, with dozens of items up for auction, the main focus is bringing the club together as a community. The Gala gives parents the chance to mingle with each other and with the many coaches who attended. With teams based both in Carmel Valley and in San Diego’s East County, many of those who came out rarely get to see one another except at the Gala and occasionally at the field.
“I think two things are important,” said Garton about the Gala. “The first thing that’s very important is that people come and have a fun night. We obviously want to give the parents in the club an opportunity to socialize, with the coaches in particular, in a more formal social setting. Normally they see us scrambling from game to game and don’t always get an opportunity to socialize and chat. So that’s one really important factor. It’s a real fun night, always has been.”
Garton explained that the fundraising element, while secondary to the community building, is still important. “We build a certain dollar amount into the budget each year with the goal of raising that amount of money to be able to offset some of our costs like scholarships and other costs that go with some of the teams that may need help.”
The big draw this year, in addition to some amazing team baskets, were three authentic signed shirts the club had obtained through contacts in England. On the table for the live auction were Manchester United shirts signed by team captain Wayne Rooney and recently signed forward Robin van Persie and a Manchester City shirt signed by the entire team.
Illingworth explained that these shirts are not simple memorabilia the way a jersey signed by an American athlete, even a top player, would be. “In England the shirts we have would go for ten or twelve thousand dollars,” he said. “Van Persie, Rooney, the Manchester City team – you can’t get them to sign them. I don’t think people understand they’re collector’s items. Many of the pros in England now, the clubs will not let them sign because people are just selling them on eBay for a profit. So now they’re very careful who they sign for and where the shirt is going.”
It is a great compliment to Manchester SC that they were able to get these signed jerseys for their club auction. Illingworth and Garton were able to leverage their connections to provide something special for the club and its members.
“I can’t imagine too many clubs in California, let alone in San Diego, that would have Wayne Rooney and van Persie and Manchester City signed shirts,” said Manchester coach and FOX Soccer analyst Warren Barton of the efforts by the club’s co-directors. “They’ve used all their contacts.”
Barton, who donated a Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the FOX Soccer studios for the live auction, agreed with Garton and Illingworth on the importance of the Gala. “First and foremost it’s a great opportunity for the families and the coaches and the Technical Directors to come together and celebrate another successful year for Manchester,” he said. “It’s also a chance to raise money for the club and for the scholarship players. It’s a big part of the community and a big part of the club.”
“This is a chance to celebrate the people in the community who do a lot of hard work behind the scenes,” Barton explained. “Club soccer sometimes gets tarnished, but a lot of good work gets done by a lot of good people. There are a lot of passionate people here. I have three kids who are in the program, and I have really enjoyed working with Jeff and Billy.”
Jack O’Hara, outgoing Manchester SC Board President, is a strong supporter of the club and all of its activities. O’Hara, whose son Jonathan plays on the BU16 team, has been a part of the club for over seven years. “Once a year we get together the families that support Manchester and all the kids in the club,” he said. “Basically it’s about the kids. It’s a great club with great soccer. We make great trips to Europe every year and I think the kids get a little culture experience over there.”
“It’s a great event and we get people together from all different teams,” said Becky Merder, who along with being a team manager was Garton’s right hand in organizing donations for the Gala. “You get to know some people you don’t see on the soccer field. It’s a fun evening and it raises a lot of money and helps the club.”
|One of the more unique items for the Manchester Gala silent auction - a British Pub Bonanza
After a mixer, during which guests had the chance to begin bidding on silent auction items, and a delicious meal, the real fun began. Making good use of his experience in entertainment, Illingworth talked up the items and the importance to the club of the Gala as a community event and fundraiser. After one last session for silent bidding, Garton took over to auction off the autographed shirts and other live auction items.
The first item up was Warren Barton’s FOX Soccer tour, which quickly rose to a final bid of $1000. Next up was a cruise on a 57-foot catamaran, which topped out at $600. Then came the signed Premier League shirts.
After some spirited bidding, Hector Gallego came away with the Manchester City shirt signed by the entire team for $700. While winning the EPL Champions memorabilia was a thrill, what meant most to him was helping the club. “It’s not the Manchester City shirt, it’s for the cause,” he said. “My son plays on the U9 Manchester team, and we have a scholarship for one of the boys. That’s why (I did this), for the kids with scholarships on the club.”
The bidding for Wayne Rooney’s shirt started out unusually when Bernardo Heights Country Club waiter Antonio Cuevas opened with a $600 offer. The bidding quickly rose, and the shirt eventually went to Monique Shevel for $1200. Then Shevel did something that ultimately surprised no one in the club who knows her dedication to the Manchester community and true devotees of soccer. Calling Cuevas back out from the kitchen, she presented the Rooney shirt to him.
“You could just see how much Antonio wanted it and what it could mean to him,” Shevel said afterwards. “That meant more to me than having the shirt for myself. This is a great club and I’m very happy. My son loves playing at Manchester. The coaches are great and it’s like a happy family.”
“It was the greatest thing I thought possible,” said Cuevas, “because it was a lot of money. I’m going to enjoy this shirt.”
The final item, the Robin van Persie shirt, which also drew spirited bidding. In the end, Michelle Burton from Manchester’s East County affiliate came away with the prize for $1600. Asked why she was so eager to get Van Persie’s shirt, she explained, “He represents the spirit of soccer. He went from Arsenal to Manchester United just to play for that team. He’s the best forward in the league.”
|Monique Shevel and Antonio Cuevas pose with the Wayne Rooney-signed shirt Shevel won and then presented to Cuevas
||Hector Gallegos and Michelle Burton pose with the Manchester City and Robin van Persie shirts they won at the Manchester Gala
In the end, the night was a great success. Manchester raised money to help with its scholarship program, parents and coaches had an evening to get to know each other better, and one amazed waiter went home with a dream fulfilled.
“One of the things we’ve promoted ourselves as is a community club and a family club,” Garton said. “I think this event actually cements that. We’re more than just a competitive soccer program. We want to continue to develop relationships with the parents in the club in the hope that they continue to respect that we’re not just about soccer but we’re also about building relationships in the Carmel Valley community.”
Clearly the Manchester SC community now stretches far beyond Carmel Valley.
Related Articles: Manchester SC on SoccerNation