Free Stash…You Havin a Laf

After spending a year abroad studying in Albany, the capital of New York, I learnt a lot about the ‘greatest country in the world,’ America. Excuse the sarcasm; I just haven’t been able to use it for a year. Yes America may be somewhat behind us in the jesting department; however one area they far outstrip us, is in their University sports. I was lucky enough to experience ‘college’ sport at Albany, playing for their ‘soccer’ team, and there simply are no comparisons.

The first day I was introduced to the elaborate management team, composed of three assistant coaches, a Dutch Assistant Manager and a Chilean First Team Coach. I enter the team’s locker room to see my name and number posted on my locker room door, between my new Brazilian and Italian teammates. This team were far more exotic than anything NUFC could offer. I suddenly gazed for the reassurance of some British names such as Dara Duffy and Toby Hewson, and find myself somewhat relieved to see a locker posting ‘Shaun Kane’, who looks similarly satisfied to see O’Neill as my last name. In his Glasgow brogue he jokes ‘When I heard there was a wee Irish lad joining the team, I wondered what side ye’ were from. Thank God You’re Catholic!’

As I see the lads changing into their large array of stash I begin to count my pennies, until my new Celtic buddy eases my nerves, and hands me a hanger of gear ‘Here, ye kin wear 18 shagger.’ I was awestruck. A training kit for every day of the week (and you do train every day of the week!), three tracksuits, winter jackets, kit bags and even flip flops. Shockingly the Americans managed to this with no facebook messages, no fortunes laid down on cheques and no mispelt names! And the best part? After training you just throw your kit into a big wash bin and its back in your locker the next day.

Next was our first away game in the ‘Great Dane’ Albany Team-bus (because every American team has to have a ridiculous nickname). Now as much as I missed paying obscene amounts for a ‘horse and cart’ style minibus to glamorously chauffeur my fellow NUFC choppers up and down the country, this was a little different. Whilst you casually drift off to sleep in your reclining leather seat, an assistant asking what pre-match meal you would like may rather annoyingly awake you. Can you believe the cheek? ‘Peppered Steak, hold the pepper! I snap.’ Had it all gone to my head or was I simply nostalgically craving a Boots meal deal?

Then there were the matches. Beautiful stadiums with hundreds, sometimes thousands cheering your team on. The impressive scoreboard, flawless pitches and the National Anthem before kick off to set the tone of professionalism. Yet for all the glory, my thoughts immediately return to the atmosphere at the precious Highfields, where the 6 die-hard fans spur you on to victory through the trenches camouflaging as pitches. And the part which American sports can never match. The meet at the venue, the talk about the games, the death-pints for the hero’s and then the night of camaraderie and recklessness which bond a team no level of funding could ever achieve.

Shane O’Neill


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