Spartans FC DOC Liam Muirhead: Me and Jamie Vardy
Sitting next to one another on the bench at Sheffield Wednesday as young teenagers, Liam Muirhead and Jamie Vardy could never have guessed where their football lives would take them more than a decade-and-a-half later.
For Vardy, his long and often grueling rollercoaster rise through the leagues would culminate in this year’s incredible season as one of the EPL’s top scoring strikers with potential champions Leicester City and two goals in two games representing England.
Liam’s similarly circuitous soccer journey took him through a series of professional clubs and across the Atlantic to California where he is busy passing on the knowledge he gained playing alongside some of the best in the game to lucky youngsters at Spartans FC in Yucaipa where he is Director of Coaching.
“I was with Vardy from the age of 9 to 15 at Sheffield Wednesday and I left for Leeds United about 6 months before he was let go. We sat on the bench together,” recalled Liam. “Me and Jamie Vardy were the smallest on the team at the time. We were very skinny and we were released. But we were still growing - now I’m 6ft 2 ins and Vardy’s about 6ft 1 ins.”
Liam, now 29, went on to play in the Leeds United youth team with Danny Rose, now Spurs, and James Milner, now Liverpool - both current England players - as well as Aaron Lennon (Everton) and ex-international goalkeeper Scott Carson (Derby County).
But even as a young player in England, Liam was interested in coaching. He worked with kids in the soccer academies at Leeds United and Doncaster Rovers, two of the teams he’d played for himself. But he leaped at the chance to coach in the United States after visiting family in Redlands about eight years ago.
Now he oversees the Spartans 28 teams, working with his coaches to imprint his attacking style of play on all of the club’s players, whatever their ages.
“We’re not in Orange County or in Los Angeles where there are so many clubs and players,” said Liam. “We have our home-grown players. We like to get them young and develop the way they play.”
Here’s Liam’s football.com Q&A:
1. Can you sum up your soccer philosophy?
LIAM: Exciting. Attacking. We go on the attack. I would rather win 5-4 or 10-9 than 1-0 any day. The kids learn more about the game by attacking.
2. How did you come to work with the Spartans?
LIAM: I was coaching with the Leeds United Youth Academy when I came over to visit family living in Redlands about 8 years ago. Soon after that I signed to play for Hollywood United and I started doing some soccer camps in the Redlands area. Then I was coaching 2 teams at Spartans and later on I had 6 teams and they asked me to be the Director of Coaching.
3. What are your goals with the club?
LIAM: I want to get as many of our players as possible into the top colleges. We have a lot of really exciting prospects. Ultimately, I want some players in the pro ranks - the MLS and the men’s and women’s national teams.
4. Who is/was your favorite pro player and pro team?
LIAM: Arsenal/Ian Wright.
5. As a coach who has played at the highest levels of soccer, can you give us your thoughts on the current state of the U.S. game?
LIAM: I think that it’s getting a lot better. There is a tendency to try and look at it too much as a science and to over coach. It’s important to allow kids to express themselves - let them make mistakes. We have to be careful not to develop robots.
6. Is there a coach that was a particular mentor to you?
LIAM: Gary Worthington at Leeds United (currently Head of Player Recruitment at Manchester City) and Clive Baker at Sheffield Wednesday.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to a youth player?
LIAM: Enjoy the game. Make sure you are having fun. If you don’t enjoy playing soccer, it’s probably not the sport for you.
8. Any other tips for players and parents?
LIAM: Go and watch a pro game. It’s great to play and watch on TV but experiencing the live atmosphere puts the fire in your belly.