Liverpool FC Foundation to visit Camden Youth Soccer Club

Posted: July 26, 2014

The text message to Gerald van Wilgen, the president of the Camden Youth Soccer Club, was purposely vague. The sender, a coach with the club, hinted at news and asked van Wilgen to give him a call.

Van Wilgen did so and could hardly believe what he heard: Liverpool FC, one of the world's most famous teams, wanted to come to Camden. And not just come, but put on a soccer clinic.

"We just have to deliver the kids," van Wilgen said this month.

And van Wilgen has plenty of those. The CYSC runs a recreational league that introduces the sport to up to 150 children ages 4 to 14 each season.

That caught the attention of the Liverpool FC Foundation, an offshoot of the soccer team, which is touring the United States to play four friendly matches before the English Premier League season begins.

The Liverpool FC Foundation shares a goal familiar to the Camden club: to use the sport to reach disadvantaged communities. Liverpool will also be running clinics in Boston and New York during the tour. It told CYSC it found the club via an Internet search.

"When Gerald first shared this with some of the board members, we looked at him like he had 15 heads," said Bryan Leib, a CYSC coach and board member. "We're like, 'Really? Liverpool wants to come here?'

"I think we were all taken aback. When we started to look at the Liverpool foundation and what they do, they have a track record of doing this for quite a long time."

Professional coaches of the Liverpool FC Foundation will run the camp, which will be broken into three sessions at Camden High School on Monday, starting at 4:30 p.m. Liverpool FC stars such as Steven Gerrard will not be in Camden.

But 20 lucky CYSC kids will travel to Newark after the clinic to meet Liverpool FC players, who will be preparing to play Manchester City at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.

"These kids probably won't fully grasp what's going on, but they're going to have the time of their life," Leib said. "Once they get on the field and start playing soccer, they forget about everything else. They forget about the stuff and family drama they're dealing with, and they're just kids playing soccer."

The CYSC is a nonprofit organization founded in 2003, and, van Wilgen said, the only organized youth soccer program in Camden. The Union visited a few years ago, but neither van Wilgen nor Leib can recall an organization of Liverpool's stature coming to Camden.

CYSC offers instruction and a safe place to play on Saturday mornings, but the goals are higher. Leib thinks CYSC can, one day, field travel teams to take on the rest of South Jersey.

"I don't think we're there yet," Leib said, "but we're pretty close."


tmcmanus@phillynews.com

@ByTimMcManus

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