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Khan Could Help Break Soccer Out in Jacksonville

Jul 10, 2013 -- 9:45am

By: David Levin (@davidlevin71)

I was there. I remember the lean years, the years when soccer was here in Jacksonville. The years when the NASL had a cult like following in North America and the New York Cosmos and the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers were kings of the mountain.

I was there when the Gator Bowl served as the home of the Jacksonville Tea Men. When Poli Garcia and Danny Green and Nino Zec were names of gods we followed and emulated on the soccer fields, scoring goals against the likes of Peter Child, George Best and Giorgio Chinaglia. Yes, I was there. All 10 years old, thinking soccer was the greatest thing in the world. And when the Tea Men were put on life support and summarily lost in a league of international stars, I was one of the first to jump on the ASL bandwagon when Ingo Krieg brought Dennis Violet and the Tea Men back to life in the American Soccer League (ASL).

For many a moon, it was the only sport where a world championship reigned.

Yes, I was there – and will be again if the NASL is revived again in Jacksonville.

There has been so much talk recently of the changes in the plans for EverBank Field and the growth of sports and entertainment in this town, where soccer is a real possibility again and the strength of the community sound after seeing a Mexican “friendly” played here two weeks ago and women’s soccer being successful as well as play with MLS.

The feeling this could be a “semi” soccer town again has me thinking back 30 years ago to the days when I was playing in my back yard with my brother and walls served as goal posts and we were Tea Men all over again.

OK, I know this is a “Jaguars” blog, so here is where I draw you in, and give you the hook that will bring everything together. While local business owners and leaders appear to be behind the idea of bringing soccer to the area and hope for another professional sports team besides the Jaguars and Sharks rings real, we need a figure head behind it – someone with international ties to sports and business.

We need Shad Khan, and we need him now.

Khan, an international businessman himself, has been up front in wanting the Jaguars to play overseas in London, giving his franchise and this town exposure it would benefit from with economic growth and development. He has championed the cause of change and the need for more business and community strength in this town. He has remained steadfast in his commitment to making the NFL the nest experience he could for the community and the fans.

Why can’t he do that for soccer and its promotion?

I have been here in this town for the better part of 30 years. I have seen downtown as a ghost town and remember when the pulp mill woke me up with its stench instead of my alarm clock. I remember when the Coliseum would fill up for wrestling matches, but not for college basketball. And I remember when grade school boys would kick around soccer balls to pass time. Like an Eddie Farrah commercial, there are the things that keep me humble and taught me great lessons about living in this town.

The vision can be revived. If you are reading this, Mr. Khan, please help us.

Everyone who reads my blogs, my columns and my stories on 1010XL or other websites knows how passionate I am about football and its “religion.” Soccer has that same component. It’s international flavor that appeals to more of the masses now with more “worldwide” growth in the Latin community and international business calling Jacksonville home. This is something I would hope Mr. Khan would get behind.

In many NFL cities, owners have their hands in other sports or have tried to buy other sports franchise or build sport ventures. It shows their growing commitment to staying in the city. While Mr. Khan is committed to having the Jaguars stay in town but remain an international success, this would go a long way to winning both of those types of battles.

And in the end, a sport is reborn, a business community continues to thrive and Mr. Khan shows he not only wants football to thrive in this town, but he wants sports in general to thrive. If they win and are successful, so does he?

And what could be wrong with that?

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