While most of us were still trying to recover from our food comas, Chelsea FC legends Ashley Cole and Michael Essien accompanied their former club’s latest Premier League Trophy from the 2016/17 campaign around the Big Apple last week.
Events included fan celebrations with NBC at South Street Seaport, a visit with the NFL’s New York Jets at Met Life Stadium, and trips to marquee NYC landmarks Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building. The four-day trip was capped off with a visit to the kids at Frederick Douglas Academy and a field visit with FC Harlem L.I.O.NS to dedicate their new (but not yet complete) covered outdoor soccer field, the first of its kind in Manhattan.
The $2.5 Million proposed field is scheduled to be up and operational some time in the summer/fall of 2018 and will be located one block north of where FC Harlem currently operate. The structure will be open-air at its base and at the southern end as well, but will be covered by a galvenized steel tensile fabric enclosure.
It is this last stop of the trophy celebration tour that, in the eyes of many, was the most impactful for growing the game in the U.S. In what many view as a troubling time in U.S. soccer and a true inflection point in the development of the beautiful game in this country, grassroots efforts and a renewed focus on youth development have both bubbled to the top of a long list of priorities that leaders in this sport should be focusing on to better the situation in which we now find ourselves and move the game forward.
Chelsea FC partnered with Harlem FC back in 2013 and their relationship has grown ever since, showing what a holistic grassroots program can look like, developing youngsters both on and off the pitch. The U.S. has been identified by many top clubs around the world, especially in the top European leagues, as a high-potential growth market for expanding their club brand around the globe. When a club takes a genuine interest in a community, as Chelsea have done with FC Harlem, and choose to not only focus on the commercial benefits of building their brand, but invest time and resources toward the growth of the game and of the community in an authentic manner it can be a recipe for great success for all involved.