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British expatriate unites Chapala kids through soccer

April 21, 2012

Most retirees would probably balk at the idea of driving a car full of Mexican kids from Ajijic to Guadalajara and back again every weekend, simply to spend an hour barking instructions at them from the touchline of a soccer field.

But British native Barry Crocker, 69, is no ordinary retiree. He and his Greek-Canadian wife Emily Crocker are soccer mad and they are using their passion to benefit the local community. Undeterred by the language barrier, they have united kids from both sides of the tracks and forged a strong team of plucky underdogs.

The couple moved to San Antonio Tlayacapan in July 2010, deliberately choosing a house a stone’s throw from the local soccer pitch. An experienced coach, Crocker began running training sessions for local kids aged 10 to 12 last year.

“They started moaning that they didn’t have anywhere to play,” says Crocker. He wanted to give the children the opportunity to play in a more competitive environment, so he entered the team in a league in Guadalajara.

There are around 650 youth teams in the metropolitan area. Crocker’s side, the Marineros, play in the third division. They train twice a week and play at weekends. Crocker believes “two or three have the potential to play professionally.”

“We had very little success to start with,” he admits, but now “I really feel that potentially we’re as good as anybody at this level.” Such a claim was vindicated last month when the Marineros tied against a team from the youth academy of local giants Atlas, only to lose in a penalty shootout.

The Marineros are comprised of children from the Lake Chapala area. Half of the team come from a poor background and would not have the opportunity to play at this level were it not for the efforts of Crocker and his wife. They believe soccer can make a real difference in the lives of these children.

“There’s a lot of organizations in Chapala and Ajijic that help sick kids. Everybody in the expat community chips in a lot, but nobody thinks of normal kids,” says Crocker. There is a potential for such kids to be led astray into a life of crime, as is happening with underprivileged youths up and down Mexico. But soccer keeps them off the streets and engaged in positive activity.

One such success story involves the Marineros’ top scorer, a boy called Chuy, who, according to another coach, sees Crocker as a second father figure. His actual father says he was “very indisciplined” six months ago, but as a result of playing in the team he has become “much better and makes more effort in school.”

Crocker hails from the town of Lincoln in England. He is a dedicated fan of London club Tottenham Hotspur and also has a soft spot for local side Grimsby Town, whose nickname “the Mariners” inspired his team’s moniker. He even bought black and white Grimsby Town replica kits for his side to play in.

Crocker served for 17 years in Britain’s Royal Air Force as a physiotherapist, before moving to British Columbia, where he lived for 30 years. He was physiotherapist for the Vancouver Whitecaps and even came to Mexico for the 1986 World Cup working in the same capacity with the Canadian national team.

He had previously coached in Zambia, an experience which he says “taught me a lot,” and later went on to manage the Abbotsford soccer club. A highlight was taking 12-year-old Canadian children on soccer tours to north west England. “It opened their minds,” Crocker says, adding that he would love to one day take the Marineros to his homeland.

It would be a “priceless” experience for them to play abroad and even watch local idol and former Guadalajara Chivas star, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, play for Manchester United at Old Trafford. Hernandez is “brilliant,” and “the perfect guy” to act as a role model for aspiring young soccer players, says Crocker.

A tour would only be possible “with the right sponsorship,” he admits, adding with a smile, “it’s the first thing I’ll do when I win the lottery.”

A lack of funds currently hinders further development of the Marineros. The side has two under-age players and Crocker hopes to field another team in a younger age group in a local league next year.

But this will not come cheap. Inscription in the Guadalajara league costs 12,000 pesos per year. Crocker paid for the first season out of his own back pocket, but he could use financial support and is hoping to attract sponsorship from the expatriate community.

Approaching 70, Crocker is also looking for new Mexican coaches to help continue his work. With limited Spanish skills, he communicates mainly in English, while some of the dads help out with translation.

The presence of five English speaking kids in the team eases communication problems, while Emily, who has experience coaching girls’ soccer teams, also contributes from the sidelines.

Unimpressed by the standard of coaching in Mexico, but understanding the worth of a local hand, Crocker says, “my dream is that I can find some Mexican coaches that I can teach.”

“I would love to get a couple of younger Mexican guys. I’m open minded and willing to listen and I think they may be able to learn the system, modify it and adapt it to the Mexican way.”

Anyone interesting in getting involved or providing sponsorship can contact Crocker via email at  barrycrocker@live.ca or cell phone on (33) 3141-7783.

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