Pursuing a soccer career from the Non-Leagues upwards is not an easy process at all. From London to Puerto Rico Christopher Nurse has managed to prove his doubters wrong by playing professional soccer. An inspiration to many including myself, Christopher stopped by for a chat about his soccer experiences, charity work and his long standing friendship with Brad Guzan and Nigel Reo-Coker. Exclusively for http://www.soccernightexclusive.wordpress.com
For all the readers who are unfamiliar with you. How would you describe your playing style and your strengths ?
I’ am a Box to box defensive midfielder, the engine of the team with good determination, passion, desire and fight, break up play, win possession of the ball and play simple to the more attacking flair players.
What age was you when you first started playing soccer?, How did you get into soccer ?
Believe it or not when I first started playing soccer with a team I was 11 years old playing a year above myself for Wallington Wanderers U13’s in the Tandridge Sunday league in Surrey. I was small in size for my age and played as a forward for both school and my Sunday team and I used to score a lot of goals too. In one season I scored 44 goals for my Sunday team and 21 goals for my school team. 65 goals in total that one season. Me and my brother who would also play for Wallington Wanderers but the older team as he is 3 years my senior would have competitions to score the most goals and my Dad would offer to give us 50p for every goal that we scored, I don’t think he was happy we scored as often as we did because it left his pockets empty. As I got older my body physique changed and I went to right midfield and eventually to central midfield utilising my more combative attributes.
Have you always wanted to become a professional soccer player ?
I played soccer in the park almost everyday, if it wasn’t St. Helier park right next to my house, it would be Rosehill Astroturf, or Westcroft park. I think when you grow up in England it is almost every kids dream to be a professional football. If there are 100 kids, 97 will want to be a professional footballer, which makes it near on impossible. You have to be exceptional in every aspect because the reality is that with the wide pool of talent you can easily be replaced. It was within high school when it became more of a reality, I wanted to eat like the pro’s find out what gym regimes the pro’s did, my friends Dad would take us to Chelsea’s old training ground in Heathrow so we could watch them train. Where I actually lived was 5 minutes from where Crystal Palace use to train down in Mitcham. They use to train with expensive footballs like 50 pound a ball, we use to hide in the woods and wait for someone to take a bad shot so we could find the ball and run off and take it home so we could use in the park when we went to play. It was common after school or the weekends or holidays to have 20 kids in the park shooting at one goal playing “world cup willy” a knock out tournament where the last one to score was eliminated, sometimes the last 2 depending on how many people were playing.
My friends back home continuously remind me about this when we use to play when I was younger, they say that if I lost I would take the ball and stop the game. This was true, however there was a good reason, as you got closer to the end you would try to ensure the stronger competitors were eliminated so you had a better chance of reaching the finals and winning, so 3 or 4 players would start to play together to make sure id lose or a penalty was given or something ridiculous and I wouldn’t accept it. I hated to lose even playing football in a park with friends it got ridiculously heated, there would be fights, tackles would be flying all over the place. It was intense, but all good fun at the end of the day. There’s so much talent growing up, but at that stage, girls and when you legally drink is where most people stray, talent will always remain, but then it becomes about discipline, desire, willingness to work hard and focus. Your talent can only take you so far. I am a firm believer in hard work over talent, because I’ve seen so many people waste their talent and it’s a shame, I’ve also seen a lot of players get far from hard work and you must respect that. If you can find the right balance of talent and hard work then you stand a better chance. It’s about habits, and consistent habits, doing the things that you need to do everyday, not just someday or when people are watching, its a lot about strong mentality. Some of my friends growing up were unbelievably talent, seriously, but they didn’t make the sacrifices and commitment to utilise it, and now maybe they look back when it’s too late and think about what might have been.
A lot of the players that were with professional clubs growing up and didn’t make the first teams dropped out from football and quit. That’s just how the game goes. You have to remain strong inside and believe in yourself. I remember clearly being at the house of one of at the age of 17, a good friend and he told me I’d never be a pro, that’s stuck in my head for 10 years now, he doesn’t remember but I do. Now I’ve captained a nation in the World Cup qualifiers, scored international goals, won championships and league titles, played CONCACAF champions league, played against some of the worlds best players and been able to make a comfortable living for myself playing soccer for the past 10 years and counting, I’d say I’ve proved him wrong without speaking a word.
People always tell me I was good growing up but they were better, maybe true, but one thing I have is determination, I never give up and I never quit, and I wanted it and did what it took to make it happen, I didn’t just talk about it, I acted on it and surrounded myself with people who had been there and done it, positive inspiration which is how I got this far.
During your growing up stages as a soccer player. Who would you say has been your biggest inspiration and why ?
I think my brother definitely had a big influence on me playing football growing up, my Mom was a midwife and did shift work so there were times we were home alone and he was three years my senior, so pretty much everywhere he went I had to go too. I think it was a nuisance to him at times because I had a big mouth for a younger brother and would antagonise his friends and they didn’t like that. Especially when we played football, I was a good player and they didn’t like to get beat by a kid 3 years younger, so I took some kicking’s when we played. That definitely contributed to my aggressive style of play and never say die attitude, when you grow up playing with people bigger and stronger than you, you have to find a way to get around it and remember I was a small kid for my age. I think through high school there was me and my friend Louis Smith were two of the smallest in our year all the way through high school, I didn’t really start to grow till maybe 17, which can hold back your chances of being professional at a young age.
Growing up it was always the big kids who were first chosen by the professional clubs, not all the time, but a lot of the time, the quicker you grew, the stronger and faster you were , the more chance you had of getting to a professional club. All the big kids in my teams were with professional clubs but they were also good players too. In high school there were kids close to 6 foot. I loved it when they were in my team.
My other big influence is Jamie Lawrence and I think if you go anywhere in London possibly England, people give this guy huge respect. He lives by his word and by that I mean it’s one thing to say something and a completely different thing to do what you say. Today you see athletes on TV talking the perfect game giving the perfect answers deluding the public to what it is they really do. But this guy is a testament to hard work, at 40 years of age, he is the fittest guy I know, and I’m pretty fit and I work hard and I find it hard to stomach that a 40 year old who has retired can still be fitter and stronger than me. People will say its natural genetics but honestly, its pure hard work, he puts in the hours. Hour after hour after hour, it’s a different kind of mentality, his motto is “rest when you are dead”. We would be in the gym training for a 6am start every morning at Virgin Active Colliers Wood or Wandle gym. He would always be the first one to show up then its football training and fitness at Wandle recreation and he’s been consistent in coaching and training players for years now.
A player that’s played in the Premier League is almost never late and always working harder than the young players setting an example. In the off season before players go back to their clubs from Premier League to Non-League, if you lived in and around London you’d go training with Jamie to get fit before the season starts. You’d have Barry Hayles, Clinton Morrison, Sean Davis, Anthony McNamee, Andre Boucard, Wade Small, Jason Puncheon, Robin Shroot, and Bradley Johnson.
He went from prison to the Premier League and with great significance as a black man, because in those days racism in football was very much a big factor, more so than the documented incidents we have seen into the media recently. I grew up in an area that was considered national front, people had very one sided views, and it was common for the ignorance of people to show and be called the “Nigger” or a “Paki” during games or at school. Growing up I would react badly and fight, when people used these terms of aggravation. It got me into a lot of trouble because the second someone of authority would confront them about it, they would deny it, so it was my word against theirs and by that time I would have struck out, so I would be in trouble but I wouldn’t care because I know what I had heard. My Mom got fed up of visiting the school with phone calls from teachers. People will say anything they can to unbalance you or unsettle you during a game it was common growing up for people to whisper racist remarks under their breath in games to wind you up, and I learned to deal with it, the worst time I lost my temper in a game was not long after my Mom died and an opponent said to me “fuck your mom” it kicked off there and in the tunnel after the game I remember throwing a fire extinguisher at their team and all hell breaking loose after a reserve game at Sutton United. My Mom was a huge inspiration in my life, she raised 4 kids and died when I was just 20 years old from breast cancer. This was possibly the clinical point in my football career. At the time I was moving in with bad crowds, doing the wrong things and got really distracted from the life a professional footballer should lead. However growing up my mom would always tell everyone she met, when introducing me that I was going to be a professional footballer, so when she died I felt more than ever that I owed it to her to make it and was determined to become a professional footballer. So now I work alongside the breast cancer foundation here in Puerto Rico in my spare time.
During your career in England you played within the non-league system for a number of clubs including Tamworth and Halesowen Town. What team would you say you had the best spell at ? and why ?
Tamworth FC for sure. Gary Mills was a tremendous manager and no doubt it is showing with the success they are having at York City FC. He was great at calling on his playing experiences to manage the team, as a player he played at Wembley 7 times and played in the Champions League final, he rightly commanded respect as a manager, put on great training sessions and knew how to man manage individuals, when to ease off you and when to give you a kick up the backside. That season I scored 9 goals from midfield which is a good return as a defensive midfield.
The Tamworth fans are awesome too, always turn out in numbers and full support and passionate, great non league club and we were training full time, so it was perfect, id go to training in the mornings and go to university in the afternoons, I was able to manipulate both.
What was the standard of player and team like in the non-league, during your time period there ?
Non league football is always underestimated. But you consistently see giant killings in the FA Cup year after year, players are very fit and physical, the pitches have a huge influence on the style of play at times, but it makes it a lot more fun, you have to be able to mix it up from game to game, you have to be prepared for the diverse circumstances you may face in a league where your commitment required is the same if not more than those playing in the higher leagues. You can face all kinds of obstacles you’re not blessed with the luxuries of the top leagues so the mentality is a lot tougher. But Tamworth operated like a full on professional club and Buster Belford was a top kit man.
You were born in London, England. Would you ever consider a move back to England ?
For sure London is my home and I’d love to return there, but I was always told play at the highest level you can in the highest league, if you’re not going play in the top league in England, why not play in another country. There are so many avenues to becoming a professional footballer, but the reality is a lot of people give is they feel the world owes them something, giving up at the first hurdle and do not have the desire or strength to really pursue their dream and make it happen. They say they want to become a professional, but don’t want to act on it. They say they want to be a pro but can’t tell their friends they can’t go to the club tonight, they play one game and begin to live the life of the stars without having achieved nothing in their careers. It’s important to keep your feet on the floor, remain humble and in reality, not get misled by external voices or newspapers etc. You know inside if you’ve earned your glory, and if you respect your coach and it’s a good coach I’m sure they will reinforce that.
Since you have moved overseas the time difference is considerable. Do you follow any particular team in England ?
I use to follow Chelsea as it’s the closest Premier League team to where I live after Fulham, but since the whole John Terry racism incident, I wasn’t really happy with the stance the club took in regard to handling the situation and I’ve kind of stepped back from supporting them. Although I still find myself cheering them on, I was disappointed that the club didn’t make a stronger stand against the situation, there’s no doubt a sentence was said, in any context its out of line and wrong, in the heat of a game in aggression, ill say no more. But yes. I’m a football fan right now, not necessarily supporting one particular club.
You first played for Rochester Rhino’s in between spells at Halesowen Town and AFC Telford. Did you know during your time in New York that you wanted to make the move across the pond permanent ?
I just wanted to play in the highest league possible in whatever country. I’d had spells on trial at Colchester, Bristol rovers, MK Dons and I just wanted to play, where was never an issue with me. People ask why so many different teams, because in the lower league there’s not the stability, clubs fold, managers leave, contracts are season to season. Each season I’ve moved has been to a bigger team because I’ve been able to because out of contract or for better financial footing, which is also important.
In 2010 you moved to the Puerto Rico Islanders for your first of two spells. How did that first move come about ?
Adrian Whitbread the now Head Coach came and watched me while I was back home during the off season while I was playing with AFC Telford and we’d taken it from there. Id played against Puerto Rico Islanders in the league numerous times and had good battles with John Krause and at the time USL league MVP Jonny Steele, both of who I’m good friends with now. Good kids always up for the fight, I like that in players. I always view games like going into battle and approach it with a fighting mentality, others play with a smile, everyone is different, I guess I was what the managers were looking for, Colin Clarke was the Head Coach and in my first season here we won the clubs first silver wear in 7 years the Caribbean Club Championship. Then went onto reach and win the playoff Championship final. So it was a good transition.
How quickly did you settle into life in Puerto Rico ?
I have Caribbean roots my Mom is Jamaican and my Dad is Guyanese so, the transition was not too difficult, plus football was the main thing. The only difficultly was acclimatising to the heat and humidity, but even that wasn’t too difficult and my team mate David Foley was from home too, good lad, so it made transition easy
What do you miss most about England ?
The fan rivalry, to see opposing fans fighting and bantering would give you an extra buzz, you’d see the police riot vans, it would make your hairs stand up and get you even more excited for the game, because the distances between opponents here is so far, you don’t really get that here. Although we can go to any stadium anywhere in the world and I’m sure there will be a Puerto Rico Islanders fan there, our fans are everywhere and they always show up.
Last season you was a part of Carolina Railhawks. How did it feel moving to a new country so quick after moving to Puerto Rico ?
After wining the championship I didn’t want to leave but we couldn’t agree a deal that we were both happy with, so such is life. But we ended up winning the regular season title so it was positive for me again. It was relatively easy, the first few weeks in a new location is always tough but you have to give it time to settle down and things normally work themselves out.
2011 was a very successful season for the Railhawks. From a personal view, How was the season for you ?
We won the regular season and broke all kinds of records. I felt it was a season where I developed as a player and as an individual I also met a lot of positive people as well as learning a lot of different things and anytime you play in a team that goes on a 10 game win streak will be phenomenal so we had a lot of good times.
Carolina Railhawks broke a number of club records during that title winning season. What would you say was the main factor for the organisation to be successful ?
I have to give credit to the strikers that year we had Etienne Barbara who had the eye for goal and finished with 20 goals in 28 games, San Antonio this year have Pablo Campos and he’s achieved the same record, anytime your strikers can find that kind of form, your team will have a great chance, that’s why they are paid the highest money in teams. But we had a good mix, they scored and the rest of us would work hard and it led to success, there were arguments from time to time because players felt they were working harder than others but everyone got on and did their jobs professionally.
Martin Rennie was the Head Coach in Carolina in 2011. How would you describe his playing style as well as his attributes as a person ?
Martin Rennie is a good person and has a great eye for talent, you can see that in all the signings that he made. They’ve all gone onto achieve things in their career, so you must respect his talents as a manager. He’s very much about getting the ball down and playing football. Also he is a good motivator and has great abilities when speaking to players about different aspects of their lives not just on the field but off the field, also to try to get the best out of them.
Do you still keep in touch with Martin ?
Yeah we spoke not too long ago regarding one of the young players with the Guyana national team, we had our ups and downs, as managers and players will throughout a long season. But we respect each other, it’s never personal in football.
At the start of the 2012 season you re-joined the Islanders. The club have reached the play offs in NASL. How would you sum up the season personally ?
The end of the season is crucial, going into the playoffs it’s all about momentum, team spirit, togetherness, fight and discipline. We are in good form going into the playoffs along with both Carolina and Tampa. So it will be very interesting but I feel we have what it takes to go all the way again.
How would you sum up the season from a team perspective ?
I think we are not ecstatic to finish third as we feel we are a team capable of winning the championship, however given certain adversities we finished the season well, so we are positive and looking forward to the playoffs. We face a team who won the playoffs last year and were very keen to highlight their team spirit and togetherness in the videos they posted after every game online. They are also a team who knows what it takes to win a Championship, so it will be a good game.
I have noticed that within the Puerto Rico roster there is a number of English guys now in the ranks. Does this make the move and settling in process easier for you ?
Always makes it a little bit easier, especially when you talking cockney rhyming slang, and discuss TV things back home. It would be near on impossible talking to an American about Eastenders or Match Of The Day.
Appearances have been quite limited for you this season. Can you put your finger on why that is the case ?
During the off season I had surgery and it took a while to get over. I suffered the injury whilst on trial with Sporting KC at the end of last season. I didn’t fully recover until early June, so it was a tough start to the season for me as well as a frustrating start to the season for me. Anytime you don’t have a good pre-season under your belt it will hamper your season, but I’m feeling fresh now, injury free and ready to go hard after the championship.
Would you ever consider a move to the MLS ?
In the back of my mind yes, but all I can do is give my all for the club I’m with now, where I’m very happy. I play every game as though it is my last and place the rest in gods hands and what will be will be.
P.R.I vs LA Galaxy
A goalless draw against the current MLS champions is a great result. How was the game from your view point?
Good result I think we had the opportunities to win the game but overall it is a very solid point against a team that is probably in the best form in the country right now, with a lot of fantastic talent.
How was your performance during that CCL game ?
I thought I played well, there were a few times during the game when I could have retained possession better but overall I felt we dominated and won the midfield battle on this occasion.
Who would you say was the thorn in the side of Puerto Rico Islanders ?
Wouldn’t say one particular player on that night was a huge threat, Buddle was very good at securing the ball for them up top but I feel we were able to prevent him from being over threatening.
With Keane and Beckham not in the match day roster and Donovan not starting. Do you think they underestimated you ?
I think it would be ridiculous to underestimate a team that defeated you 4-1 on your home turf and won a 2 legged series 5-3 overall just 2 years ago to eliminate you from the preliminary stages. So I don’t think Bruce Arena would show a level of disrespect. I think they played the best team they had fresh and available on the night, LA to Puerto Rico and the change in environment is a stress on any player so I guess it was an opportunity to rest the more senior players and save their legs. Donovan played and is a tremendous player. However he might want to watch out, who he goes around telling he is going to “break their legs.” He’s not built that way and most certainly is not that type of player, but I respect his talent, he’s been the best player in the US for a long time now and deserves the credit.
Can the Puerto Rico Islanders qualify for the next stage in the CCL ?
I don’t believe it’s mathematically possible anymore so I will have to say no.
Being born in London England, you qualified to play International soccer for Guyana. How does it feel to represent your country ?
Any time you represent your country is a special occasion, especially at this point in time to captain the national team through the biggest stage it has ever been, to facing Mexico, Costa Rica and El Salvador is a tremendous honour and one I take very seriously. I was put in my place early as national team captain and warned of the dangers that most athletes find themselves facing by getting carried away with cars, lavish lifestyles and women. I was reminded that any talent I have is a gift from God, I did not create this myself, therefore it is my duty to inspire and motivate others. So it an honour I take very seriously.
Nigel Reo-Coker and you played in the same Sunday League side. Did youknow at that stage that Nigel would be heading for the big time ?
He had the strong mentality as a kid, he was a leader, had the size from a early age and never looked back. He achieved a lot at a young age and is just approaching his peak years, our birthdays are actually only one week apart, you wouldn’t believe that he looks like he’s going on 33,lol.
Do you still keep in touch with Nigel ?
Yes he is one of my best friends, I actually was supposed to be the grooms man at his wedding in June but had to miss it because of World Cup Qualifiers. We speak regularly, we play the same game but just at different levels, so we often discuss football and I’ll ask his opinion on games etc. He use to come to Tamworth games in his spare time when I was back home.
In our previous conversation you said you are good friends with American Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan. How did your friendship materialise ?
Brad I met through Nigel when Brad first moved to England, and we’ve stayed friends since. They were both at Villa together and I was in the Midlands with Tamworth.
Brad is now number one at Aston Villa. How would you describe Brad as a keeper and as a person ?
Brad is a top man, good person, dedicated to the game, deserves his chance and has been performing well recently in the games I’ve watched. But he is a genuinely good guy. I have tonnes of time for Guzan, the two of them recently just sent me signed jerseys for a charity auction. I help with the breast cancer organisation here in Puerto Rico, so keep a eye out.
Your brother Jon Nurse currently plays in England. Have you ever spoke to him about playing in the NASL or MLS ?
He would have loved to play overseas at some point, although I feel family commitment wouldn’t allow that situation to materialise unless he was ridiculously lucrative. He’s recently had a little girl so I don’t think he’ll be moving overseas anytime soon.
Do you visit England during the off season ?
Yes always in the off season. US customs kick me out once my visa expires, so it back to London for Christmas so I can’t complain.
Not many people know you have a degree in Sports Therapy. Is this the type of career you would like to enter once you have finished playing soccer ?
Honestly…no, only as a business owner. If I could go back I’d definitely have studied business and marketing or economics. But when you’re young and playing sports you want to play or be involved in the nearest thing. It was a good time and something I can utilise in the future at some point along with obtaining my coaching badges.
Paraskevas Pantazopoulos great kid, good player, but he always catches onto jokes 20 seconds after.
HAHAHA the Coach doesn’t allow this, u get a immediate kick up the arse, everyone trains hard.
Worst Taste In Music
I’m going to go with Jared Van Shaik, I haven’t heard but I reckon his iTunes has some bad songs.
Worst Dress Sense ?
Jay Needham has some rascal shoes he wore on Saturday
I would like to personally thank Christopher for his time and efforts during the interview process.
By Anthony Bedworth