NASHUA– It’s a long way across the pond. But for one local coach, it was a trip worth taking.
Some 20 years ago, a former soccer standout in England made a life-changing decision.
Then, a young Winston Haughton, convinced by a couple of UK colleagues who would become business partners, and armed with a very prestigious degree that would keep him making a living in soccer, made the leap.
Fast forward more than 20 years later. Haughton, a decorated trainer, soccer instructor and coach at the club level in New Hampshire, will make his first foray into the high school coaching world as the new Bishop Guertn High School girls soccer coach. The season begins Monday.
“As you can see, I’m still in soccer up to this day,” he said.
Incredibly, Haughton’s landing spot in the U.S.was in Milford. He had come to the country in summers as a student helping out at soccer camps, etc.
“I would come over for the summers and do camp counseling, probably about four or five years through college,” he said. “My colleagues got friendly with a few people from Milford and Amherst, and they told me about it and we all came out together.”
With that local help, Haughton and his group started Elite UK Soccer Training, and things just took off. He never saw it as a risk whatsoever, leaving his homeland and starting a business in the United States.
“Not really,” he said. “I always had a ticket to go back home. So there wasn’t really much of a risk to be fair. It would probably be more of risk now.”
As he said, “This is what I wanted to end up doing in some stage,” he said. So he seized the moment.
And the people/businessmen he had met in the area basically allowed him to feel part of the area rather than just a visitor, including locals Jim Parolin, the late Norm Rice and Reggie Walker.
That local support made the life-change much easier. You see, Haughton was a decorated youth soccer player in England with the English Premier Team Aston Villa and played at an even higher, semi pro level in the English Midlands Combinations League.
But a series of ankle injures limited his abiltiy and he had to make a choice. That choice was to make use of his degree with Honors in Business and Sports Studies from the University of Wolverhampton. He grew up in an industrial city near London and Manchester.
So today Haughton is the Coaching Director and co-founder of Elite UK Soccer Training, LLC, and is also the regional director for Aztec Soccer.
His reputation for training, developing and coaching players at the club level, where his teams have won numerous titles, has been so good he was awarded New Hampshire Soccer Coach of the Year in 2017.
This is Haughton’s first school job, although he’s helped train players at middle school and other levels, including college. He was attracted by the opportunity to try his skills out at the high school level, especially at Bishop Guertin.
Plus, while he worked coaching girls here and there earlier in his career, he’s mainly coached boys the last several years. So he was interested in that challenge as well.
“This would be good at BG,” he said. “I love soccer, a good job in soccer is always a good thing. The good program BG has was big, fantastic players are always attracted to a good program like BG has. Everything I know about BG was better and even prior to speaking to anyone, when the position became available, I was definitely interested in doing so. … As part of my business, it’s always been a key thing for me (coaching in high school).”
Of course, he’s working with athletes who aren’t on the same level of soccer in many ways as he was used to in the UK. And that gives him a big sense of purpose.
“I noticed there are great athletes, but not very good at soccer,” he said. “So thought what we were doing here is very needed. We had knowledge and experience and applied that as young people. This was a new market. You could tell just at the time how appreciated we were by people and those people we were coaching and educating in that respect in soccer. We were always made to feel very, very special.”
Haughton said as young people, perhaps he and his parnters didn’t appreciate that as much as they should have. “You look back on it now, and you think, ‘Wow, that was crazy,’” he said. “They were all very, very helpful to us those first few years.”
Now that he’s been here for 20 years, what does he think of soccer in America now?
“Totally different,” he said. “We’ve seen a generation of soccer players. The organization is night and day now from what it was back then. Players are pursuing the game, they’re very, very, very driven, when before they saw it as an alternative sport.
“Right now there are people, just like in England, who live for the sport, and will do anything to get to that next level. The levels of play have jumped up as well, all the way down to a rec-level player.
“It’s really good to see how the sport has taken off, grown, and the infrastructure has grown as well.”
Thanks, of course, to the work of coaches like Haughton.
“If I think back to the players I’ve influenced, further down the line, it’s quite amazing actually,” he said. “It struck me when I took the BG positon. So many players I coached as young kids in the sport are now varsity players. It’s a nice feeling, they’ve chosen a path in the sport.”
Haughton also feels the college level in the U.S.has improved a lot, “which bodes well for the country moving forward. … Just like in England, no shortage of people with a knowledge in the game, as you move forward all the time.”
Haughton says the difference between England and here is that in the U.S.the college level is seen as the pinacle; while overseas players aspire more to the professional level.
“Here, people go to school,” he said. “In England, you either go to school or go to the pros. You have that choice.
“When I speak of the American model, I think that’s what holds (U.S. Players) back. You don’t have that professional level. Soccer is more of a young person’s sport. You’re 22, and coming out of college, you don’t have that experience in the professional game. That’s the only thing I see in America that’s a stark contrast from Europe in that respect.”
But at the same time Haughton feels that playing college soccer “is a beautiful experience” and it gives players confidence that they can play the game.
Injuries made Haughton go the education work, and he still managed a career in soccer. His feeling at the time was “If I had another injury (to his ankles), what would I fall back on?”
So his playing days as a striker-forward, when he was “always a goal scorer”, ended. “I got into the university and studied sports and business and came to the state,” he said. “It was a very good insurance choice and led me to the life I’m living now. But sometimes I look back and wonder what if.”
But now, he forges ahead. Developing a team philosophy/strategy in theory is fine but not always realistic.
“Everybodylikes to see the beautiful game, with passing and everything else,” he said. “That’s why I’ve always aspired for my teams to play a possession type game. It can be pretty attractive to watch.But that depends on the person and what you see in the game.”
Haughton takes over a talented Cardinals team that graduated just a couple from a Division I semifinal 2019 season, and he basically worked it from scratch with regular tryouts for which he said there was “a wonderful turnout.”
He feels that the program is based in talent and knowledge of the game and that’s helped attract even more good players. “I think it’s a program that is set to grow even more in the future,” he said. “I see this as a stepping stone for something that will continue to grow in the future.”
And, of course, he wants to put his stamp on that future.
“That would be lovely,” he said. “Hopefully we’re trying to win something this year with BG and establish a good program. We haven’t played our first game yet but hope to be a good group coming together, set the foundation and we’ll see when we kick off.”
When asked what he likes the best about the U.S.after 20 years, he joked, “I’ve probably forgotten what I liked about the UK.” But when he first arrived, he enjoyed the hot summer weather – he feels it’s hotter here in the summer than England – but also that the seasons were identical to England. That plus the quality of life, the friendly nature of people, etc., the adjustment was minimal.
“And plus,” he said with a chuckle, “people find you interesting because of the accent.”
But first and foremost, wherever he finds himself, Haughton is a coach.
“I like working with players that appreciate the game, and learn from the game as well,” he said. “I’m often told that they appreciate what I’m able to bring out of them on the field . … and they learn life lessons. You get a chance to shape and mold people and young minds.
“A lot of these kids, when they do take up soccer, they’re very devoted to soccer for a long while. It eventually becomes a very big part in their development as well. It’s a very honored position to be a coach. I think Americans look up to their coach because of the role they play in developing the person.”
When he first got to the U.S., he realized that coachs were appreciated almost as much as a doctor or lawyer, in “the real world.”
“That’s one of the things that appealed to me,” he said. “People appreciated you and valued your time.”