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.”
We want to make history. Winning Round 2 is priority number 1. We last won a Round 2 match back in 2016. The last time a club from Yonkers won 3 matches in @opencup was in the first edition in 1914. Your support as fans will help bring us to greatness.#WeAreLansdowne pic.twitter.com/AuS3jRSohj— Lansdowne Yonkers FC (@Lansdownebhoys) March 24, 2023
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.
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 last 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.”
“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 a lot of 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.”
Sean Kelly, the 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 Dreaming Again
Now the men from Yonkers, twice national amateur champions and back for their second-straight Open Cup, have booked a place in a second-straight Second Round. With that comes a chance for all the players, but one that’s particularly poignant for Mullings, coming, as it does, against that very Hartford Athletic pro side that turned down his services two years ago.
“You can never make too much noise,” said Mullings, who recognizes the power of the Open Cup – like the FA Cup in his native England – to offer underdogs their day. “We want to win everything we can and we want to make our noise out on the pitch. A chance to play a pro team is something we aim for – and whatever’s beyond that too.”
No Hard Feelings
There’s no bitterness in Mullings’ telling of his story. He’s happy where he is. But the player in him – the trained competitor with all the ego that lurks there with it – knows what this trip back to Trinity Health Stadium could mean.
It’s not an offer of redemption exactly, as the veteran striker has nothing to prove. It’s not revenge either, but it’s something that lives in between. And anyone who’s been spurned knows precisely the feeling.
At home in Yonkers, he insists his team has “more weapons this year” than they did last. “And the passion is there too,” Mullings added, his young daughter cooing for his attention in the background through the phone line. “Doors open and doors close, but we do this because we love it.”
Fontela is editor-in-chief of usopencup.com. Follow him at @jonahfontela on Twitter.