GW: As a North Carolina native, how did you wind up in Cambodia?
CD: About a year ago, in November 2014, a friend asked me to visit him in Cambodia. He was hoping to open a soup kitchen in Siem Reap, a city in Northwest Cambodia best known for Angkor Wat (the largest religious monument in the world).
When I got to Siem Reap, I asked the folks at the front desk of the hotel if they knew where I could watch some soccer games, and one of them took me to watch a Hotel League (kind of like a Pub League) match that Sunday. I noticed that the play there is very fast paced and athletic, but the players are a bit bunched up and typically do not utilize the entire field.
When I returned from the match, the owner of the hotel suggested I get in touch with the local youth soccer director, Charlie Pomroy. I did, and Charlie and I met for lunch later that week. He had grown up in the Academy system in England and had trained in the youth systems of both Arsenal and Bolton Wanderers, and had been hired to promote and organize soccer in Siem Reap by an international non-profit organization called Globalteer.
We also discussed my own coaching background, which includes third- and fourth-placed finishes at the national level for youth teams (fun fact: the most famous player I coached, Juergen Sommer, represented the United States in two World Cups and also played in the Premier League). I also have coaching licenses from both the United States Soccer Federation and the National Soccer Coaches of America Association.
At that time, Charlie had organized several youth leagues in Siem Reap and also coached an Under 23 team, which he invited me to watch train. After watching the session, I offered to train the goalkeepers, and he accepted. The level of play was much higher than I had expected and the players were highly skilled, similar to a top-50 NCAA Division III college team in the US.
Charlie and I stayed in touch after I returned home. Over the summer, he mentioned that he was starting a Soccer Academy in Siem Reap and would be pleased if I could come again over the winter to continue training the goalkeepers. I made arrangements to return to Cambodia and help out basically as a volunteer for three months.
That's amazing that everything fell into place like that! How is the academy set up?
The academy is called Next Step FC, and is focused on using soccer to help make a difference in the community, particularly for players from underprivileged backgrounds. Here's their mission statement:
Next Step FC is the world's first professional football club to put more emphasis on social responsibility than winning trophies. This makes us the world's first ever socially responsible football club with a vision spanning over the next ten years to change the face of football here in Cambodia, throughout Asia and across the world.
We are dedicated to using football to change the lives of others. We believe that football has the ability to shape communities, improve society and change lives. We are determined to use this beautiful game to do just that.
Here's a video that Charlie had put together as part of a fundraising effort for Next Step that does a great job of explaining the overall goal of the academy:
That's a fantastic mission and future goal. Is that what made you want to get involved?
Yes, but a lot had to do with Charlie. I admire that he is building a program here from the ground floor up. He has a tremendous commitment of time and energy, not just in the youth programs but in organizing leagues for both youth and men and also as an administrator. It was clear that Charlie was not just committed to his players as a coach, but to their development as people. He has arranged for college scholarships for the players and opportunities outside of the soccer realm. The training sessions he organizes are highly evolved. Plus, Charlie's love for and his commitment to soccer is apparent to all and quite contagious.
What are some of your responsibilities with Next Step?
Charlie had started the Academy by the time I arrived and had two new teams, an Under 14 and an Under 15 team in full swing. My first responsibility was to train the goalkeepers for each of the teams. This has been rewarding and fun. I have some match day responsibilities in coaching the U-14 and U-15 teams, as well. I will be coaching the u-19 team for three upcoming matches. I also support Charlie in terms of player evaluation and discussing training as well as on the field coaching.
Some of the Academy players also asked me to coach some sessions for their school team. The concept of team defense is not well established, and again the benefits of spreading the field and creating passing options have to be learned. In some ways, it is like some steps have been skipped. I have always enjoyed the challenge of coaching and making a difference, though, so taking that on was a lot of fun.
What other experiences did you take away from your trip?
Like many places, there are a lot of opportunities to make a difference in Cambodia once you get plugged into the community. The hotel where I stayed helps sponsor a school where I taught English last winter, and they were thrilled to have me coach the boys this trip.
I also had the opportunity to watch the World Cup Qualifier in November between Cambodia and Japan at the National Stadium in Phnom Penh (general admission tickets were only $8 and reserved seating was $10 - no protests here!). I took a week to visit Kampot and Koh Rong Island, where the TV show "Survivor" was recently filmed. Some friends and I also visited Preah Vihear, a very old temple near the Thai border on a day trip, along with Angkor Wat.
My favorite experience, of course, was developing friendships with the players I coached and the people in Cambodia. It is a wonderful place, the tourism industry is booming and the folks are very open and sincere. I have learned to speak about 30 words of Khmer, which are helpful since not all of the players speak English, but it is pretty easy to understand the points that are being made. Soccer is a universal language.
Absolutely. I'm sure there are plenty of people who would love to help Next Step reach its goals. How can they?
The best way to help is financially. I have an equipment sponsor, Eurosport, which sends about 75 lbs of shoes, balls and uniforms with me each time I go, but there is still a lot of need to help the academy reach its full potential.
If you are interested in contributing, please visit the GoFundMe page for Next Step FC, or leave a comment below and I can send you information for my PayPal account for the academy.
If you are ever planning a trip to Siem Reap and would enjoy watching a game or a training session, you are welcome to contact Charlie Pomroy at email@example.com.
Thank you for sharing! I'm excited to hear the response from our readers!