Stateside Scots: Simon Doherty, From Cowdenbeath To California

Written by Ian Thomson

New York City and California were the two parts of the United States that Simon Doherty longed to visit when he was growing up in West Lothian.

The former Cowdenbeath youth striker fulfilled the first half of his dream two years ago when he accepted a soccer scholarship to play at New Jersey’s Fairleigh Dickinson University, a 15-minute drive from Manhattan. Doherty packed his bags and headed out to the Golden State this summer after transferring to Cal State University, Bakersfield, two hours north of Los Angeles.

Doherty’s switch has brought immediate rewards. He was named as the Western Athletic Conference’s Offensive Player of the Week for Sept. 22-28 after notching two goals and an assist. That brought his total for the season to six goals, matching his combined tally in two years at FDU.

TSO caught up with Doherty in a telephone interview on Monday:

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Simon Doherty in action for Cal State Bakersfield (Photo courtesy of Mark Nessia/Mark Nessia Photography).
Simon Doherty in action for Cal State Bakersfield (Photo courtesy of Mark Nessia/Mark Nessia Photography).

What’s been behind your recent spell of good form?

Coming to a new team has been great for me because the style of play here is a lot different. FDU was more direct. Here, our coach has got us playing a real passing-and-moving style. We seem to be getting a lot of chances in and around the box and I’ve been fortunate to be in the right places at the right times.

What prompted you to transfer?

I knew about Bakersfield’s head coach, Richie Grant, from a guy that played under him at Memphis. He said that Richie would develop me into a better player. Then I’d spoken to Richie on the phone. He told me how he wanted his team to play and how he would play me. I had been out on the wing in New Jersey in a 4-3-3 system and I wanted to be the central striker. I found out Richie was playing 4-4-2 instead. That’s what I was used to in Scotland. It seems to be working so far. I’m playing the best that I have in college.

(TSO Note – Irishman Grant joined CSU Bakersfield this year after leading the Memphis men’s soccer program for 15 seasons).

What’s different about playing on the West Coast to the East?

We’ve got two away games this weekend in Missouri and Colorado. All the games in New Jersey were a lot closer, but the Western Athletic Conference is so spread out. We have to do a lot of traveling.

What’s your favorite memory of living so close to Manhattan?

You see all these movies of the Big Apple all lit up at night. It’s quite an amazing feeling when you first go to Times Square and you realize you can go back any night you want.

What was it like to reach the last 16 of the national championship with FDU?

To go that far in my first year was amazing. I went to eight or nine different states all across America within my first four months here. We beat some strong teams in St. John’s and Saint Louis before eventually being knocked out 1-0 in overtime by North Carolina, the defending champions.

What have you learned about Bakersfield?

There are quite a lot of Scottish people here because of the oil industry. It was weird because there was a ceilidh on campus last Saturday for all the expats. They brought in Irn Bru and Scottish food and stuff. It’s a pity I had to miss it because we had a game on Saturday night. And it hasn’t rained since I got here at the start of August. One day we were training and it was 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 in Celsius). For someone Scottish and pale, you need to throw on a lot of suntan lotion.

What’s the best away trip you’ve had?

San Diego was pretty amazing. The campus is near the beach. The weather was fantastic. The pitch was on top of a two-storey car park. You could look out and see the water.

We also played in Las Vegas last month. We were there for four days, so were allowed some time to have a look around the Strip. Everyone has to see that once in their lifetime. Seeing the Strip all lit up at night was pretty spectacular.

What initially attracted you to the U.S. college game?

I’d been playing at Cowdenbeath for four years and was reaching the end of my time in the U-19 Scottish Football League Youth Division. I moved to Stirling Albion for half a season as well and I felt that I wasn’t going to be able to make a career at that level. I knew a couple of boys that had come to America before me and I saw their Facebook posts. The facilities they have here are unreal. It just looked amazing. It was always in my plans to go to university so this was the best option for me to combine soccer and education.

How did your move arise?

Through David Binnie at Sporting Futures USA. He looks for people who have played at the pro level but haven’t quite made the first team or been offered a professional contract. He helped me out a lot.

A few coaches came to Scotland to watch me. Seth Roland, Fairleigh Dickinson’s head coach, came over for a showcase event that I scored a hat-trick in. He offered me a place straight after the game. I signed my scholarship early in 2012, started saving up as much money as I could and then flew over in the August for pre-season. It was scary at first. I had never flown so far on my own and I didn’t know anyone in America. A couple of guys on the team had done the same thing before me, so they helped me to settle in.

What was it like playing for Jimmy Nicholl and Colin Cameron at Cowdenbeath?

They made it as professional an environment as they could. You had to pay a fine if you didn’t get to training on time or if you turned up wearing the wrong gear. Everyone had to follow the rules. I’ve played on some teams where the coaches have had their favorites. I prefer when everyone is treated the same way. That’s what they did.

What options did you have back in Scotland?

I’d already applied to Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh universities. My plan was to go there to study and try to keep playing part-time, training in the evenings. I applied for a gap year to give me time to look into America. It’s quite a long process to get here because you have to go through so many steps, so if it hadn’t worked out I would have been at university in Scotland.

Do you know anyone else from home playing in the U.S.?

Sporting Futures sent about 20 guys over and I still speak to them. I could name 10 different states that they’re in all across the country in some of the strangest places. One of the guys that set me up for a goal in the showcase event went to Memphis and I ended up playing against him in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s weird how things work out.

Who’s your team?

I’m from Livingston. My dad and I used to have season tickets when they were in the Premier League, but we didn’t go as much when they fell away.

What game stands out from your trips to Almondvale?

We beat Rangers when we finished third in the 2001-2002 season to qualify for the UEFA Cup. Rangers had more fans at Livi’s stadium than we did. Stuart Lovell scored an overhead kick to win the game.

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