Phil Neal isn’t a name known by many in America or in DeKalb County. It is, however, a name known by millions around the globe thanks to his 11-year career at Liverpool Football Club, one of the most popular soccer teams in the world.
During his career, Neal won the European championship four times, the Union of European Football Associations championship once, the English championship eight times and scores of additional titles, making him the most decorated Liverpool Football Club player in the team’s 124-year history. Neal has also represented the England national team on 50 occasions and racked up five goals in the process.
On April 29, thanks to the efforts of Atlanta-based nonprofit Soccer in the Streets and LFC Atlanta—the metro Atlanta Liverpool supporter’s club—Neal spent the majority of his day passing, shooting, tackling and blocking with Clarkston soccer players.
Ben Butler, a board member of Soccer in the Streets, and Stuart Brennan with LFC Atlanta, said they flew Neal to Atlanta for a question and answer event with fellow Liverpool soccer legend Steve Nicol.
According to Butler, Soccer in the Streets benefits minority, immigrant and refugee teens at low-performing schools, low-income housing, high-crime and high-unemployment areas by introducing them to culturally competent role models through the game of soccer.
What starts out as a friendly kick-around turns into teaching life-skills, personal responsibility and job readiness. Soccer in the Streets teams with other nonprofits, local schools, community centers and parks.
“These kids are refugees—there’s not much of a support system,” Butler said. “What [the program does] is play soccer, but also instills interpersonal skills, teamwork and elementary skillsets a lot of these kids probably won’t get.”
After being told about Soccer in the Streets, Neal requested to meet some of the participants in the program. Butler said he expected Neal to watch players and give helpful advice, but before he knew it, Neal was out on the field, breaking a sweat. About 20 kids from 15 nationalities joined Neal for a friendly game. “He played for about an hour,” Butler said. “He just loves the game.”
*published by The Champion.