Weekend Report: Yorkshire soccer hopes living the American dream

For many children, boys and girls, the dream is to become a professional footballer.

American education: Leah Galton, front, playing for Manchester United Womens team against Liverpool earlier this month kept her dream of professional football alive by attending university in America (Picture: PA)

How many times did you stand over the ball in the back garden imagining yourself taking a penalty at Wembley?

By the time you reach your mid-to-late teens you have some idea whether that dream will come true or not.

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For the chosen few it becomes a reality, but for the vast majority of us it remains just that – a dream.

Leeds United loanee, Jack Harrison, went to university in the United States. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

For those somewhere in the middle, still balancing the hope of one day making it with the acceptance that you might just fall short, there is a way of prolonging the fantasy and giving yourself one last shot at glory.

And that is the American dream.

For over the last quarter of a century the amount of teenagers from the United Kingdom taking soccer scholarships to colleges in the United States has grown significantly.

Soccer is booming in the States, and at college level it entices teenagers on the promise of equality and education – and the chance to live the dream for a few years longer.

York's Rachel Humble has headed to college in Missouri on a soccer scholarship.

And what’s more, they will pay you to do it.

Take Leah Galton from Harrogate, for instance.

Seven years ago she was on the verge of playing for Leeds United Ladies having represented them through the age groups, wondering as many 17-year-olds do at that age, whether or not she was good enough.

Then a call out of the blue changed her life forever.

“Simon Riddiough, who’s actually from Barnsley, called me from Hofstra University in New York saying they really wanted me out there,” begins Galton, now 24.

“I’d never heard of them but a girl I’m training with now, Amy Turner, recommended me. She said you’ve got to get Leah out here and he rang me and said he was going to put me on a full ride.”

‘Full ride’ is slang for a full scholarship, which in Galton’s case was tuition and accommodation for four years.

Hofstra University paid $250,000 for a teenager from Yorkshire they had only seen play on video tape.

The gamble paid off. Galton scored 48 goals playing collegiate soccer for Hofstra and was drafted into America’s National Women’s Soccer League upon her graduation.

Those years spent in America helped turn Galton’s ambition into a career, and this summer she signed for Manchester United Women who have just begun life in the second tier of the Women’s Superleague.

“If I’d have stayed in England aged 17 I could have gone to a WSL2 club and have possibly got to where I am now,” says Galton.

“But playing and studying in America made me a more confident person, it brought me out of my shell. The experience boosted my confidence on and off the field.”

Galton is not an isolated case. There are plenty of young women and men who have followed that route and are now playing in English football – Jack Harrison who is on loan at Leeds United from Manchester City, being one such example.

For Galton, the move was so rewarding that she is now working as an ambassador with Sports Recruiting USA, a Leeds-based company that sends youngsters to America on scholarships.

“I want more girls to go out there. It’s the best experience,” says Galton, whose studies at Hofstra were built around two games a week and three 90-minute training sessions.

“It’s not just about the football, it’s not just about the education, it’s not just about the social element to it; it’s about combining all three of them and doing them really well. In England, you can’t do all three of those to a high standard.

“I don’t know how we in England can ever replicate what they do in America because they have their college education system down to a tee.”

US Colleges have proven particularly effective in creating more equality in soccer, which is why so many English girls head over the Atlantic to study and play. Each university has to offer an equal amount of sport scholarships to men and women, meaning if they have 65 male American football players they must balance that out with women-only soccer teams.

Helping find the talent in Yorkshire and the north of England to send to America on scholarships is a pair of companies that act as facilitators between colleges and players.

“From a girl’s perspective, the opportunity to train every day and study for a degree like they can in the United States is something they can’t get at home,” says Jon Maloney, the head coach of Harrogate Town Ladies and the head of women’s soccer for Sport Recruiting USA.

“They come back to England at 22, 23 completely different players.”

Just as Galton can spread the word through her own experiences, so Maloney sells the American dream based on the experiences he enjoyed.

Thirteen years ago Maloney was a YTS at Doncaster Rovers when the call came to take a scholarship at Montevallo University in Alabama.

“It’s a big decision for these teenagers to make, I know, because I’ve been there,” he says.

“But the experiences of these young men and women are so positive.

“We will send 31 to the USA on scholarships this year, a number that has grown steadily year on year. On the men’s side it’s between 45 and 50.

“The gap is closing between the UK and the US, especially now our women’s Superleague is professional with players training every day and getting that high level of coaching.

“But it’s still going to take a long time for the gap to be fully bridged. Even in our second tier, which is semi-professional, you’re not training every day as you would be in the States.”

Working to send both young men and women over to the US is Daniel Gray of Pass4Soccer, a company that this year’s has secured scholarships for 100 youngsters.

When Gray went over as a player in 2003 he was one of just 10.

“More people are aware of it now than when I did it and a large part of that is because of social media,” he says.

“People who have gone over there post and share pictures of their experience, the events they are at, the stadiums etc.

“In England, the chances of making it as a professional after the age of 18 are very slim. There’s not many Jamie Vardy’s out there.”

While the growth in US soccer scholarships for English footballers might not be at epidemic proportions just yet, it is clearly a growing trend, one that offers those talented enough the chance to live the dream that little bit longer.

Crossing the Atlantic to play football...

A selection of those who have gone through the US collegiate system and those just taking their first steps...

Jack Harrison: Recent Leeds United loan signing attended Wake Forrest for a year, got drafted by New York City FC and was then signed by Manchester City.

Jonny Fenwick: Had a year as a professional with Sheffield Wednesday and after getting released, went to High Point University in North Carolina.

Matthew Keogh: Part of the Leeds United development team that won a league title last year, but he opted to quit a club he joined at the age of 10 to take up a scholarship at the University of North Carolina. Now playing part-time in Sweden before his scholarship begins in January.

Mollie Rouse: Played for the England Under-20s out in France recently and is currently studying at Louisville University.

Ceri Holland: Former Manchester City Ladies team and Wales U19 national team representative from West Yorkshire who is now at the University of Kansas.

Elliott Barker: Former Bradford City goalkeeper from Harrogate, now at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Rachel Humble: Born in York, former Poppleton Girls and York City Ladies has begun a scholarship at William Woods University in Missouri.