Wembley to Yonkers: Shamir Mullings’ New Lansdowne RoadAmateur side Lansdowne Yonkers solved two problems for Shamir Mullings – offering the ex-pro a way to keep playing at a high level and a much-needed job as the club’s director.
“It was the first time in my life I ever paid to try out for a team,” England-born Shamir Mullings half laughed, remembering the day his professional playing career ended. “They said I was good enough to play, but with visa issues, it wouldn’t work.”
That was 2021 and Mullings was closer to 30 than 20. The train back to New York from Connecticut, where he’d answered an open call to try out for USL Championship side Hartford Athletic, meandered through the marshlands off the coast of Long Island Sound. The clack-clack of amtrak rails beat out in time with the knowledge, bitter and a little freeing too, that his pro days were over.
“That’s it,” he thought. “I’m done.
Goodbye to a Pro’s Life
He’d moved to the United States earlier that year, the pandemic still raging, to be closer to his youngest daughter. What Mullings left back home was a pro career that never quite hit the stratosphere, but saw him climb as high as the country’s third tier between 2012 and 2020.
There was even a run-out at Wembley Stadium, every London boy’s dream. The big striker and his Forest Green Rovers beat Tranmere there in 2018 to earn promotion to the Football League.
“I remember thinking, I’m not young anymore. I’ve got four daughters. It’s not cheap here in America. I knew I had to work – make some money,” said Mullings. “So that was the train ride back to New York for me. I knew that my career, as much as it was one, was over. I needed to figure things out.”
That’s when the phone rang.
It was Lansdowne Yonkers, one of the top amateur clubs in New York’s metro area and probably the whole country. Mullings heard about the Bhoys from a close family friend. “He told me there was this team that played up at Tibbets [Brook Park],” and Mullings figured why not give it a shot?
A New Road and Running Things
The club turned into a lifeline for Mullings, as a playing outlet (the 6foot5 No9 is scoring goals again among the first-team’s stable of strikers) and as a professional option beyond the field too. In May of this year, he took on a job as the club’s director of operations.
He was shocked by what he found at Tibbet’s Brook Park. “It was a massive surprise,” Mullings admitted. “There are other ex pros and very, very good players in the amateur scene here. I was, like wow.”
The playing was no problem. Mullings has been at that since he could walk, first in the streets and public parks of North London. And later when he joined Southend’s academy at the age of 16.
“Over in England, my job was playing,” he said. “Go train in the morning and then you're done.” But his new post – directing a club with a youth program of over 500 kids and 20 travel teams, Little Kickers as young as three years old – was uncharted water.
“It’s all new to me,” laughed Mullings. “To be the director of a club, I could never get that chance in England. It was overwhelming. But I love trying to help kids find their way and being a part of a strong first team so they see something in their lives, and their neighborhood, they can aim for.”
‘New York Don’t Sleep’
Something Mullings found out fast was that amateur soccer in the New York Metro area is competitive. It takes up a lot of time and requires much travel. A prime example was the 2022 Open Cup First Round game in Ocean City, New Jersey. He scored a late tying goal and the winning spot kick in the shootout.
“It was horrible, just horrible,” he chuckles about the frosty, wet weather that night. “It was late and windy and cold and it took us hours to get there – and everything under the sun. And then you win the game and you’ve got to get back on the road and get home because you’ve got work the next day.”
It’s an amateur soccer story as old as time.
Sean Kelly, the first-team’s head coach, knows it better than most. Once a promising academy player at Arsenal, and a full pro in his native Ireland, he took up an offer from Lansdowne Yonkers that brought both work, in the New York City building trades, and high-level play with the club’s first team.
“You’ve got work and life and training to consider – and maybe a mid-week game out in Morristown, New Jersey – it never stops from early in the morning to late at night,” said Kelly who, alongside assistant coach Craig Purcell, reached the Open Cup and won a National Amateur Cup with the club as a player.
“You have to find the time to train and play and coach and travel with all the [academy] kids all over,” added Mullings, happy for the opportunity if worn-out by the demands. “New York don’t sleep – you gotta’ hustle here.”
Open Cup Dreams
These men from Yonkers, twice national amateur champions, are on their way to reaching a second straight Open Cup. They’ve scored eight goals and conceded zero on a Northeast Qualifying road that’s never easy.
“You can never make too much noise,” said Mullings, who plans to get a few hundred of the youth team kids out to help cheer he and his first-teamers on against Oyster Bay United at home at Tibbetts on November 19. “We want to win everything we can and we want to make our noise out on the pitch.
- FULL SCHEDULE: #USOC2023 Third Qualifying Round
Mullings is no stranger to Cup competitions. He played 15 times in England’s flagship FA Cup. When he was with Havant and Waterlooville, in 2015, he played in his first televised game against a Preston North End side who were top of League One at the time – a game he says he’ll “never forget.”
“Things happen how they happen,” Mullings said, his young daughter cooing for his attention in the background through the phone line. “But doors close and doors open. If it wasn’t for what happened in Hartford [the tryout with Athletic], I wouldn’t have found this.”
Lansdowne Yonkers FC put 3 goals (Mullings, Bala Musa Danso, Kavanagh) past the NY Greek Americans to advance to Round 3 of @OpenCup qualifying. Lansdowne expect to play again on November 19 and the opponent is TBD. @usopencup pic.twitter.com/UZeBSxZhCB— Lansdowne Yonkers FC (@Lansdownebhoys) October 17, 2022
“I’m happy where I am now,” said Mullings, who knows a shot at that same Hartford Athletic could be on the cards in the Open Cup Proper if his side can catch the right kind of wind. “This is a platform with a lot of exposure. We want to push ourselves and even play against an MLS team.”
There’s a lot more early mornings, long drives and late nights between now and that. But Mullings, at home in Yonkers, isn’t worried. “The passion is there,” he said. “We do it because we love it.”
Fontela is editor-in-chief of usopencup.com. Follow him at @jonahfontela on Twitter.