Arthur Sutton, my father-in-law, lies in a convalescent home about two miles from where I am writing this. He has suffered a couple of heart attacks and is terminally ill. My wife Anne, his daughter, has written a draft of his death notice that lovingly describes the course of his life events but omitted his soccer achievements. This is something I felt obliged to address, so I drafted a paragraph that speaks about his time in the Beautiful Game:
“Even in his free time Arthur contributed his time and energy towards his dual passions, children and soccer. A lifelong fan of Chelsea F.C., “Coach Art” dedicated tens of thousands of hours to the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), tutoring countless children in the nuances of British football.”
I had to mention his club Chelsea because as everyone knows, “You can change your job, you can change your wife, but you cannot change your football team.”
There are coaching stories from his children, primarily Ellen the youngest.
Lot of things happened in the back yard, the line of trees was “the forest”. Arthur would say, “come on, let’s kick the ball around.” And it would start. Ellen says the boys – Mike and Paul – would sneak out when they thought she was napping. She’d wake up, yelling “come on guys, I want to play too.”
Arthur was one of the coaches assigned a role in the annual AYSO tryouts. This was such a significant event that Ellen would arrange her college schedule to help. Ellen and Art would always get the same station: kicking for distance. But he couldn’t content himself with that. Especially if someone who showed potential came by, he’d say “och” and send the kid out to perform a number of additional activities. He might design anything: trapping, dribbling, shooting. Arthur would ask Ellen to demo and tell the player, “watch her and do what she does.” One of the skills would invariably be heading; Ellen would do so many headers that at the end of the day she’d return with a black circle of grime on her forehead, much to the amazement of Mom and her siblings.
Ellen was playing in a night game at City Hall field. Ellen remembers she “somehow” got kicked in the head – she says “I remember getting up, I was running, and Dad was yelling at me. It was half-time, and one of the moms who had some medical training sat me down to see if I was tracking. She turned to Dad and said ‘I think she needs to go to the hospital.’ Mom wasn’t there to take me, so Mrs McCoppin did. Dad said ‘I’ll be there as soon as the game’s done.’ He did arrive but not before Mary and Mom, who was never angrier. Mom told Arthur in no uncertain terms she was certain there were any number of parents who could have covered the rest of the game.”
Dad became much more involved after Ellen’s first All-star tournament: “We were in a tournament which went into a PK shootout. I had practiced taking penalties for hours on end with Dad in the back yard, the swing set was the goal. He would show us where to place the ball and how to psych out the goalie. They gave me the last kick. Dad says I took the ball and I placed it calmly – I had done it so many times in the back yard it was simple – and slotted it away to win the game.”
Afterwards in the car he asked me, “So you like soccer, do you?”
“Yeah I like it.”
“Good, because tomorrow you and your brother start a camp.”
Ellen, again: “There was a game where everything was going in our favor, even though we only had ten players. We had a free kick wide just outside the area. I set up to hit it with my right and he said, ‘No Ellen, make it a left foot inswinger top corner.’ So I hit it, and it flew into the far post, upper “V”. One of the dads turned to Arthur and said ‘You have her really well trained.’”
One of my first memories of Ellen is that at Thanksgiving, her siblings would tease her repeatedly until she agreed to recite “The Soccer Prayer.” Tonight, I prevailed on her to recite it for me to include in this post:
The Soccer Prayer
“In the battles we go on through life
We ask for a field that is fair
Give us the strength to strive
And the courage to do or to dare
“And if we should win let it be by the code of our faith and our honor held high
And if we should lose let us stand by the side of the road and cheer as the winners go by.
“Our lady queen of victory
(everyone) Pray for us
Our lady queen of soccer
(everyone) Pray for us”
A few minutes after she recited it for me the phone rang. The convalescent home was calling to say Arthur’s struggles had ended. The last game he saw was the USA v. Brazil in the Women’s World Cup, when Abby Wambaugh headed the equalizer, a match the USA did win with its honor held high.
The way you do anything is the way you do everything. Arthur had a passion to do things correctly and a work ethic to ensure that things went well on his watch. This carried over to all aspects of his life: husband, father, teacher and coach. I have learned from him in all these disciplines and will miss his calm influence.