The red rose of Lancaster

We love hearing strange and unusual stories here at TBIR Towers.  We could of course dedicate all of our time just watching the press releases from Upton Park these days to fill a whole book but that would quite frankly be dull.  So we cast our new far and wide and after our report from our Texan correspondent Damon Williams on the battle for Willie Nelson’s guitar we found out that Miami’s centre back rock Martyn Lancaster actually hails from Wigan.  Starting his career at Chester City he followed a well trodden path around teh north west, playing for Leigh RMI, Southport and Northwich Victoria before spells in Sweden and Scotland before he ended up in the US.  Lucky bugger.  So we dispatched our man over to Florida to find Martyn on South Beach sunning himself and asked him a few questions.

I give you – Wigan’s finest export since George Formby, Martyn Lancaster.

So logical first question. Conference North to Miami? Surely that is every players dream transfer. How on earth did you get that move?
It’s a long, long story!

I came to the US in 2005 to coach a 2 week soccer camp in Atlanta Georgia, met my wife to be Mysti and ended up staying 4 years. I told my parents I was getting married over the phone, and that was that. I wanted to keep playing, and so I looked at the local teams. I called the Wilmington Hammerheads for a trial, which ironically had a English coach Dave Irving who played for the Ft Lauderdale Strikers. He signed me, and then, Atlanta signed me the next two seasons. I moved back over the pond to Queen of the South in 2009 and then to Lungskilke SK in Sweden.

The pro soccer community is very small and everyone knows everyone, My good friend and team captain at Miami, Zack Kirby who I played with in Atlanta, asked me if I was interested in coming to Miami. He told me they needed players. In March, I came to Florida, played in a game and signed.

Is there a big difference between the USSAF (the “second tier) and MLS in terms of quality? What standard is the USSAF comparable with?
MLS teams are more organized and better funded than our league. MLS plays 10 months out of the year where we are 7 months, which makes a big difference in fitness. I can honestly say the players are the same with the exception of 2-3 quality players on each team. MLS can attract stronger talent as more funds are available which makes for a better league.

Fans of Chester City and Queen of the South watch our games. They feel the USSF is the stronger than their leagues. The players here are all very strong and athletic. I think the USSF would be comparable to the English League 1.

Is it frustrating to be playing in a league where there is no promotion or relegation?
Yes, it would make US soccer more exciting, but with the money and politics involved in the two leagues, it would never happen. The playoff system is the American way. They love to see the underdog win!

What team do you follow back in England?
I’m a Man United fan. Sorry guys!!!

Do you get the VIP treatment when you go out in Miami?
Ha! Yea we hang out with Diddy on South Beach and party with Paris Hilton. Ha!

When David Beckham first joined LA Galaxy he was paid something in the region of 50 x as much as some of his team mates. Does this type of pay differential exist in all levels in America?
There is a lot more money in the MLS this allows teams in the MLS to pay 4-5 players anything they want and the rest of the squad is on a salary cap. It’s hard on the journey man pro who trains and plays all the time making just enough to get by to see the ‘superstar’ who is past his sell by date playing the occasional game for the fans raking it in!!

It happens in our league too. It’s all about the show. If we have a player, no matter how good, bad, young or old, he will play, and get paid a lot of money as long as he brings fans to the game.

How aware of you of the “Willie Nelson Guitar” challenge when you played Austin Aztex’s recently?
Yes, I read online that the two governors bet on the legendary Willie Nelson guitar. “Always on My Mind” …what a true classic!

How easy is it to get the attention the team deserves in a city where the main sports are Basketball (Miami Heat) and American Football (Miami Dolphins)?
We definitely struggle to get fans to the games. It’s not easy when you’re living in a country where soccer is a 5th string sport!

Miami is an especially hard market for soccer as the city is full of internationals that support their team back home but might not necessarily support our local team. It takes a lot of marketing and player appearances to get fans to our games.

We have just moved in to our new stadium in Ft Lauderdale, where before we played in Miami, and so it will take a little time to get new fans.

What is your daily training regime like? Surely it must involve some running around South Beach?
We train everyday at 8:30am. With the 100 degree weather, our sessions are short and sharp. I don’t think a South Beach run would fly with the coach. But, we did play volleyball last week at south beach on our day off… if that counts.

Our chums over at Lesrosbifs.net keep an up to date list of Englishmen playing abroad at the moment and by our reckoning you would make the starting XI in our England Abroad team, along with Eddie Johnson at Austin. Do you feel a kinship with other English players in the league?
Thanks guys!  There are 5-6 English guys in our league. I’m good friends with George Corrie, the captain of the Wilmington Hammerheads. He spent 12 years at the Hammerheads. Also, I played with Martin Nash at Chester City, and now, he plays for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

What do you miss most about living in Florida? Marmite, English Tea, Coronation Street, rain?
I definiatly miss the hanging out at the pub and walking over to lab-rooks and losing all my money! Plus, in my small village of Haydock, I lived next to the Crispy Cod Chippy. They do the best chips, fish and peas ever…which I crave from time to time!

Living in Florida you must have been to Orlando. Are you a Disney or a Universal man, and are they better than a day at Alton Towers?
Surprisingly, I’ve never been there. It’s about a 4 hour drive, and so maybe after the season, I’ll go and see Mickey Mouse! I really doubt there is anywhere on the planet that can compare to Alton Towers!!!

So what do you do on a day off in one of the best cities in the world? It must get boring waking up to hot sunshine on a daily basis?
Ha! Yea, I’m very lucky. I get to have BBQs on the beach, go deep sea fishing, ride jet skies, parasail, body board, scuba dive and rollerblade down South Beach. Are you getting jealous yet???

Have you driven around Miami pretending that you are in Miami Vice or Grand Theft Auto?
Always! I wear aviator shades, lose the shirt and roll the windows down.  And I play the Will Smith song, “Welcome to Miami” as loud as I can! Ha!

How tiring is the travel – you face regular away trips to the likes of Texas, Oregon and Puerto Rico? How does a game in the 100 degree heat in Austin, Texas compare with a cold wet night in Southport?
Our travel schedule is real tiring. Take last week for example. We played in Austin Saturday. We flew from Miami to Atlanta and then Atlanta to Austin, played the game Saturday night, and flew back Sunday via Memphis. Tuesday, we flew to Baltimore for a Wednesday night game and flew back to Miami on Thursday. Friday, we flew to Puerto Rico, played Saturday and then, flew back Sunday. We spend a lot of time on the road and is physical and mentally exhausting!

The heat is something you have to get used to. I don’t think I have yet! We played a game at 2 pm in Baltimore last week in 100 degree humidity…..

Far cry from a rainy day in Leigh…But I have to say when it rains here, it’s a breath of fresh air! It makes for a welcomed change from the soaring temperatures hitting the high 90s all year round.

Fan culture in US soccer is much more organised than in England, although due to the distances away support is almost unheard of. Does this have an impact of the team’s performance?
It’s nice to have support and it does help! The banter and passion of fans back home is something I miss. Our derby against the Tampa Bay Rowdies is a good atmosphere. we do have the home and away fan banter. All of our games stream live over the Internet so fans do watch the games.

What has been the highlight of your career in the US so far?
Getting to the final in 2007 with the Silverbacks was a great time! We were the underdogs, just scraping into the playoffs (for the first time in team history) and we went all the way to the final. We lost to Seattle who the next year moved up to MLS.

What is the latest on the changes in league structure next season? Will the club be playing in the new North American Soccer League? And will they become the Miami Strikers as a mark of respect to the old Fort Lauderdale Strikers NASL team?
We will be the FT Lauderdale Strikers in 2011. This makes sense. The Strikers have great heritage in the FT Lauderdale community.  The NASL looks like it will take place with a couple of new teams joining the league. There is still a lot of meetings and discussions that need to be made to make the league concrete for 2011.

Do you hope to come back to England to continue/finish your career?
Never say never. I’m 29 now, and I don’t think the misses will let me! I had a great time playing in Scotland last year and would have liked to have stayed. I just couldn’t get anything with security for my family. If the right deal game along I would consider. I’m fit, and I still have a lot to offer.

Finally, can you sum up Martyn Lancaster in a 140 character Tweet post for our twitter post?
I’m a ruggedly handsome journeyman from Haydock who made his way across the pond to the land of the free. I’m playing good soccer and enjoying life with a great American WAG!!

So it’s not all prime rib and Budwieser Lite then over in the US, and proof that sometimes the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  It is also an inspiration to other players out there that there is hope – you just have to seek it out.  So we salute you Martyn…and when we are standing on a cold wet terrace in November we will think of you on South Beach playing volleyball and we will not be jealous at all!

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