by Danny Karbassiyoon
As a kid, I’d always dreamed of being a pro. Growing up in the States during the 80’s and 90’s meant there was never going to be that much footy on television, but the few games (mostly Manchester United and Real Madrid) and Premiership highlight shows they did broadcast, were always guaranteed to have my attention.
England, Arsenal, Manchester United, the FA Cup, and everything in between seemed a world away from me. When Major League Soccer started in 1996, the closest professional team to my hometown was DC United, a solid four hour drive away. We did have a local semi-professional team, and my passion for the game ran so deep that the team’s players were true stars to me.
Despite the gulf in cultures, geography and everything else, though, I continued dreaming. As I entered my teens, I began feeling as if somehow my dreams would become a reality. Considering that as a 15-16 year old I wasn’t on the youth national team’s radar and had only made it as far as the regional pool (the US is broken into 4 different regions for youth football purposes), you could say these feelings of knowing I’d become a pro likely needed to be checked at the door.
In the States, the typical path for many kids sees them finish high school, go to university, then join the workforce. I definitely saw this happening for myself, though, the work force would be either MLS or a team in Europe. I didn’t know how this would happen, but I sincerely believed it would. At 17, when I began visiting universities (official and unofficial visits arranged by the team’s coaches), they asked me about my aspirations. As always, I told them I was set on going pro – somehow.
In my book, The Arsenal Yankee, I go into more detail about how I was initially seen by Arsenal and what happened afterwards. Everything that I’d been working for prior to that moment however, and everything that happened next, pivoted around a single phone call I received from Steve Rowley, our Chief Scout, one summer night in 2002.
I’d just returned from an invite-only college recruitment camp where two of the coaches I had been assigned to were former Arsenal players. They’d called Steve after a day or two of the camp and let him know he should get over to Wilmington, North Carolina to watch me for the duration of the camp.
I didn’t particularly realize throughout the week that my two coaches were asking me questions to better understand my personality. Could you see yourself living in England if a club came in for you? Would you be willing to pass up on university to play pro?
But by the end of the week, they had a good grasp of what I was like as a person as well as what I could do on the pitch. They’d obviously also been relaying the information to Steve who was only able to assess the latter from the bleachers.
When the camp ended, I was told that Arsenal were going to be calling me with plans to arrange a trial.
There was never going to be a clear path for me to fulfill my dream of playing professionally. Thousands of miles away, tucked away in a valley in Southwest Virginia, the odds of anyone noteworthy ever seeing me, let alone inviting me over for a trial to one of Europe’s top clubs, were quite small.
That dream never ended, though, and away from the weekend matches, the invite-only camps, the national team tryouts, and everything else, I always made sure to do everything in my power to prepare myself for a chance if it ever did come.
But in the form of Steve Rowley’s phone call, that chance did come. I remember the night quite clearly – my mom was cooking dinner and in the kitchen when the phone rang.
Of course in 2002, everyone still had home phones, so when she picked up the one in the kitchen and heard Steve’s English accent on the other line, she called for me to take the call in the family room.
We had an amazing old rocking chair sat next to a small table with the phone on it in that room, and I remember just rocking back and forth about a hundred miles per hour as Steve told me he’d seen me the previous week and that the Club would like to bring me in on trial.
About a million questions raced through my mind when the call came to an end, but one thing was very clear. Somehow, life had worked out in such a way that I’d get the chance to fly to London to fight for a contract at one of the world’s greatest clubs. The dream I’d had for so long suddenly had the potential to become a reality.
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The details of that phone call, the reaction of Danny’s mother, what Steve Rowley actually said, and indeed what happened next, are included in The Arsenal Yankee. It is available on Kindle (just type in the title on your Kindle Reader, and as a paperback. Full details of the paperback version are here.
Danny Karbassiyoon’s book “The Arsenal Yankee” with a foreword by Arsene Wenger is published on Tuesday 29 March. You can buy the book…
- On line here for £14.95, plus delivery
- Or by phone on 01536 399 011 using a credit card.
- Or by post to Hamilton House Mailings Ltd., Earlstrees Ct., Earlstrees Rd., Corby, Northants NN17 4HH with a cheque.
- Or by Pay Pal to Jane@hamilton-house.com; include the details of your purchase within the Pay Pal transaction.
The cost of packing and delivery is UK £3.95, EU £4.95, Rest of world: £5.95, and that applies irrespective of the number of books ordered. Our other books on Arsenal are listed at Arsenal Books
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