Perusing my Facebook and Instagram accounts lately, it has become conspicuously apparent that “World Cup Fever” has taken hold throughout our coastal community, as it has around the nation. Friends and acquaintances who I didn’t even know were aware the sport existed, publicly and proudly declare their support for the United States’ men’s World Cup soccer team.
To be sure, football in the “Heart of Dixie,” and across this country, is in no danger of being supplanted by international football (soccer), but it’s intriguing to see this once nascent sport carve a definitive place in our sports obsessed society.
The spread of “World Cup Fever” has caused me to ponder on our own city’s attempt to keep up with the growth and popularity of this sport. The Mobile County Commission is currently studying the viability of building a multi-field soccer complex in one of two places: Irvington, south Mobile County or along the beltline, south of Hank Aaron Stadium.
The former location is supported by County Commissioner Jerry Carl, who feels Irvington would be an ideal and less costly place to build a large soccer complex. The latter, proposed by Commissioner Connie Hudson and supported by Commissioner Merceria Ludgood (and the proposal that to me seems to be a no-brainer), would place the complex at the confluence of I-10 and I-65. The location obviously affords quick and easy access to hotels, restaurants, and businesses, allowing it to be of great benefit economically.
But while common sense waits to win out in this situation, many local coaches and soccer players – young and old – are left feeling frustrated and marginalized. In a conversation months ago during the height of the high school soccer season, Murphy High School’s boys’ soccer coach Hayden Mitchell related his torturous experiences trying to get through the season utilizing Mobile’s current facilities.
The Christmas tornado of 2012 limited his ability to practice at Murphy, so the team practiced and hosted its home games at Cottage Hill Park. He and his players routinely cut the grass of the park’s football field to keep it suitable for them to play on.
During one grass cutting, Mitchell recounted how a couple of city workers, employees of the parks department, stood and watched them for more than two hours (he video recorded this encounter) and acted as though they were trying to physically intimidate he and his team.
Other coaches and officials associated with the sport have similar tales of woe.
“The younger generation of soccer players in this city are very talented,” Mitchell said. “They deserve better.”
Let’s all continue to cheer on Team USA, but let’s also work to ensure there is an appropriate network of support and facilities locally to propel our young generation into the ranks of top national soccer programs – the way Mobile has been able to produce such talent in the sports of football and baseball.