Sheffield Wednesday supporters in New York go under the moniker NY Owls. Hear the story of how one member achieved success with a group of kids from Astoria.
NY Owls Fan Sara Belshaw Coaches Astoria Kids to Title Before Big Move Home
By Michael Fitzpatrick
The ‘simplest game’ is rarely easy.
Ask the 1986 Fulham team, beaten 10-0 by Liverpool in a League Cup tie, or the 1995 Ipswich Town lads, who conceded nine versus Manchester United, or perhaps the Thailand girls, thrashed 13-0 by the USA in this year’s World Cup. Ask them how simple it is.
We’ve all been there, the injury-time winners, the disallowed-goals, the scandalous red cards, and of course, those 10-0 losses. Some of us have anyway. The kids of Queens, New York-based team Saint Joseph’s certainly have. Those thumping defeats, where nothing went right. Goal-kicks volleyed straight back over the line, backpasses that trickled into empty nets, officials unsighted during offside calls. Games, while character-building, were also soul-destroying, as these courageous kids endured a demanding right of passage in the world of football.
It takes a certain type of individual, to steer a ship successfully through such troubled, stormy waters, to reach safety, and indeed, glory, on the other side. Someone with passion, pedigree and positivity.
Sara Takes Charge
Step forward then, English born New Yorker, and Sheffield Wednesday fan, Sara Belshaw. She took over the training of this young team from Astoria and, alongside her assistant coach, former MMA fighter, Sergio ‘The Savage’ Da Silva, turned despair and disaster to jubilation and joy, as ‘Saint Joe’s’ climbed from rock bottom of the league, to champions in a few short seasons.
Saint Joseph’s of the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) Soccer League, is a squad made up of mostly 9 and 10-year-olds (with the occasional 6-year-old prodigy thrown in). Representing almost a dozen ethnicities, religions and nationalities, the team came to Sara’s attention when she, and her Number One supporter, her mum Jan, were looking for somewhere for her son, James, to play.
Meeting up with fellow coach, renowned martial arts enthusiast Sergio (something of a local legend where kids’ sports are concerned too, as he coaches kids’ basketball, football and baseball), the pair began moulding these young football fanatics into a disciplined unit that began to scrape together positive results, gathering wins and the eventual respect and admiration of many an opponent.
In the space of a few months they’d morphed from a bunch of kids who enjoyed kicking a ball about, yet trudging off the field at full-time a little disheartened and a tad devastated, to a glorious, championship-winning band of brothers (and sisters), whose love affair with the game will no doubt strengthen due to this summer’s incredible memory, as they took home the CYO trophy.
Says Sara: ‘To join these kids as a volunteer coach and see them grow together has been a truly rewarding experience, personally and professionally. The season I joined was a 10-match season and we lost all ten! Over the coming seasons we lost a few, gained a few, but this group stuck together and by the time they were 4th and 5th grade-bound, they were champions!’
She added: “There’s no finer example of what determination, passion and persistence can bring. I don’t believe that’s possible without the strengths and bonds of their friendship, loyalty, support and respect for one another, even when they were down. I’m really honored to be part of their story, none of which would’ve been possible without Sergio and the team’s Athletic Director, Jerry Kokkinos.”
Sara, when not coaching kids’ soccer, or doing the whole working for a living/raising her football-mad son James, thing, can be found (on matchdays) hanging out with her fellow Wednesday supporters (including her mom Jan and the rest of the New York Owls) for every game at Smithfield Hall on West 25th Street.
Life-Long Sheffield Wednesday Fan
“Wednesday are the team I was born to love, live to love, and love to love (most of the time). I knew I was a fan by choice when I first went to Wembley in ‘93, to see Mark Bright score the winner over our city rivals, the Blades, in the league cup semi-final. I was a hysterical 9-year-old, I remember the noise, and the goosebumps, and have bled blue since then. To stick with a team for 30 years, through the highs and lows, you have to have passion. We even have our own supporters groups throughout the USA.”
Growing up watching the likes of John Sheridan, Chris Waddle, John Harkes, Benito Carbone and David Hirst, Sara, born and raised in Sheffield, says, that living there; ‘Football becomes a habit very early in life. Coaching a group of kids and seeing the next generation love it as much as I do helps me see how, through football, we can bridge one of the many gaps we are facing between ‘us and them’.
Leaving New York
As Sara prepares to leave New York and return to Sheffield with James, she reflects on her time coaching the kids of Saint Joe’s to the title: “I think we did what we came to do. We didn’t stop fighting, we didn’t give up, we lost many many games but were never, ever the losers! I wish all the kids the very best in the future with whatever paths they may take.”
From shouting along the sidelines for the Blues of Saint Joe’s, to singing in the stands for the blue half of Sheffield, the kids of Queens, and the Owls of NYC wish Sara the best of luck back home.
Saint Joseph’s squad: Angel, Austin, Braiden, Christopher, David F, David M. Emerson, Evelin, Haroun, Henry, Jack, James, Julian C, Julian P, Justin, Kevin, Liam, Mahmoud, Maximus, Moussa, Nazir, Rey, Sergio.