By Lexi Ray
When you say football or soccer in the United States people instantly think about MLS, FIFA, and now Messi. However, for Toby McCallum, 21, football is a community and an escape from everything else in his life.
Football is game like no other. It’s a family event and in places like England, where McCallum is from, everyone has their team, and they are die-hard fans. The parents watch and the kids fall in love.
“I started playing at a very young age, as both my dad and grandpa were big football fans,” McCallum, Central midfielder at Flagler, said. “I have been kicking a ball around for as long as I can remember and have never looked back since.”
In Europe though these kids don’t have the same opportunities to play and go to college that exist in the U.S. Some decide that they will try and play professionally through clubs and semipro teams.
Others plan to come overseas and get a degree while still being able to play, as a stepping stone before going pro. “To be honest my plan to come to America was quite last minute,” McCallum said.
“The goal was to always play professionally, and still is, but I’m using college as a stepping stone to get an amazing degree and play high-level college soccer. If it wasn’t for COVID, I probably never would have come to America.”
Flagler’s soccer team is full of players, from around the world that are both tenacious and highly skilled. But soccer isn’t just about the physical, but also the mental aspect. Thomas Coombes, the head coach of the men’s team, knows that we have the talent to succeed.
“It has been a frustrating start to the season as we have a lot of quality in the team, and for the most part we have been happy with many of the performances,” Coombes said. “For us to start getting more wins it comes down to the mental side of the game and the discipline within the game to ensure we stay focuses, as we strongly believe we have enough talent to ensure we get the right results.”
McCallum is one of the players that is a new addition to the team who transferred from a top program.
“Toby has already proven to be a big addition to our program both on and off the field,” Coombes said. “He has played in some high-level games at a top program in the country and comes to us with a competitive drive and sprint that can only propel the group forward. In his short time here, he has already provided some big moments and offers us something different in our midfield than we have had previously.”
McCallum brings a lot of experience to this year’s team, from playing at a division 1 school and playing on the semi-pro level team the Jacksonville Armada, but the community at Flagler is something that’s hard to find.
“The coaches were a big factor in my coming to Flagler, I had met them a few times prior, and they have looked after me from the day I met them,” McCallum said. “Playing with Flagler players at Armada definitely played a big part in my decision making. I got on well with all of them and being around them made me realize I wanted to be a part of Flagler.”
While Flagler’s start wasn’t what they were hoping for they have time to take what they have learned and turn it around.
“We deliberately created a tough schedule for the players this year in order to challenge ourselves as a team, and we believe that the tough lessons we have learned so far will only help us later in the season when it matters most,” Coombes said. “We still have a lot of games left and we have faith that this group and the talent we have will be able to turn it around.”