THE BIG INTERVIEW
Waiting for his turn in the chair at Jason Stocks Barber Shop in Preston, former PNE midfielder Warren Beattie made eye contact with the bloke sitting across from him.
Elliot Livesey had also stepped inside the Ribbleton Lane establishment for a quick short back and sides.
The pair nodded at each other and exchanged the usual pleasantries – little did they know at that moment that it was to be the start of a fruitful partnership between the two.
Just a few years on from that chance encounter, the pair, along with fellow partner Chris Anderson, are helping young footballers from this country experience the highs of playing the beautiful game on foreign shores through their new company Soccer Smart Limited.
Having played abroad themselves, all three believe they have the necessary skills, contacts and experience to benefit talented young footballers who are keen for a new adventure overseas.
In Livesey and Anderson’s case, they enjoyed four-year university football scholarships in the United States of America, while Beattie – who was the reserve team captain at Preston – had a stint playing semi-professional football in Australia.
Beattie said: “I met Elliot in a barber shop in Preston.
“We were both waiting to get our hair cut.
“We got chatting and discovered that we had a lot in common.
“He used to play for Burnley when he was younger and I used to play for Preston.
“He’s a great lad and he started telling me about his experiences over in America.
“At the time, I was thinking about going over to play in Australia.
“We kept in touch. We would see each other at the barber shop and football tournaments.
“Anyway when I got back from Australia, we got back in touch and we decided to get started with Soccer Smart.”
The new company is the brainchild of Livesey, who devised its concept in his flat at Shorter University, which is in Rome, in the US state of Georgia.
Livesey felt there was a gap in the market to form a company solely dedicated to helping young players from the UK to realise their dream of playing abroad.
It may be that some players have been released by Football League clubs and are searching for a route back into the game, while others may just be looking to continue to play at a high level while studying for a degree.
Livesey was on the books of Burnley as a youngster and then moved on to Morecambe before being released at the age of 18.
“I was a player in the youth team at Turf Moor,” Livesey said.
“I was playing for Lostock Hall juniors when I was scouted by Burnley and signed to their academy for two years. Up until I was 16, Jay Rodriguez – who is now at Southampton – was there at the same time as me.
“I got released by Burnley and then I went to Morecambe. I was there the season before they got promoted to the Football League.
“Sammy McIlroy was the manager at the time. I played a few times in the reserves, but it didn’t work out.
“I had a couple of bad injuries and I lost a bit of confidence.
“I suppose it was at that moment when I started to think about reinventing myself abroad and looking for a fresh start.
“When you get released at 16 or 18, it is a disappointing time.
“Nearly every young boy dreams of becoming a footballer and to have that chance taken away, it was a bit disheartening.”
Looking to further both his football and academic career, the former All Hallows Catholic High School pupil decided to go to the US on a four-year football scholarship.
“The realisation that I was not going to get a professional contract in the UK meant that going over to America was the next best option,” Livesey said.
“The college and university sports are pretty huge in America.
“You get to play a sport, while the university funds your degree while you are over there.
“I had a great time, although I had lot of injuries and stopped playing when I was 22. I broke my ankle and did my cruciate ligaments in consecutive seasons.
“But it was great experience. I was studying business and Spanish and then playing football.
“I was meeting players from all across the world.
“There weren’t just Americans playing in our team – there were players from Europe and Jamaica.
“There were players who, like me, had never made the grade in the professional game in their own countries.
“But the standard out there is very high.
“For me it was a great time. It does change your whole outlook on life.
“In the dressing room in America I would be sitting next to somebody who could speak five different languages, for example.
“It makes you realise what’s out there and that Preston isn’t the be-all and end-all of everything.”
After returning from his four-year adventure Stateside, Livesey went to live and work in London before returning to Preston to set up Soccer Smart.
He hooked up with Anderson – a former player on the books of PNE and Morecambe, who had also enjoyed a four-year scholarship playing for the successful US university team Rio Grande.
“I came back and lived in London for a while where I was doing stockbroking,” Livesey said.
“But then my personal circumstances changed and with the development of Soccer Smart, I decided to head back up north and do it full-time.”
Soccer Smart aims to find places for youngsters either in America on scholarship schemes or discover players for professional and semi-professional clubs in Australia and New Zealand.
They are strict on who they send out overseas and personally scout and watch every player.
Regularly during the year they will hold trial days where hopefuls can showcase their talents to the trio.
“There are a lot of companies doing this sort of thing but we think we are different,” Livesey said.
“A lot of companies will just send out players willy nilly.
“A lot of them have never been out there and done it themselves, so they don’t know what the standard is.
“But we will see who is available and then match them to the right standard.
“We get players from amateur leagues, the North West Counties League, players who have just been released from League Two clubs…the players vary from across the spectrum.”
Beattie, who can list Fleetwood Town and Bamber Bridge among his former clubs, spent around a year in Perth, Australia, where he played for a team called Armadale.
“It was the best experience of my life,” he said. “I was working and also getting paid to play football.
“The lifestyle was a lot more relaxed than it is over here.
“I was playing in the State League Premier Division, which is one level below the A-League, so it was quite a good standard.
“When I was there the manager was Scott Miller, who is a former Australian international and I think he also had a spell with Crystal Palace during his playing career.
“I wanted to get in the A-League but it didn’t quite work out for me.
“To get in the A-League, what they do over there is get all the best players from the State League and they come together to represent Western Australia.
“If you impress in that team, you will get invited for trials for the A-League.”
With his visa running out and his son Charlie due to start school, Beattie decided to come home but is hoping to one day return, as well as helping hundreds of other youngsters follow in his footsteps.
“What I’m doing now at Soccer Smart is helping lads like myself go and play out in Australia,” he said.
“We’ve built up loads of contacts in Australia and America.
“We are getting coaches ringing us up asking for players.
“The good thing for us is we know what the standard is like over here and what the standard is like in Australia and America.
“So we kind of know where to put which player into which club.
“We do hold the showcase events every three months and it can be hard to judge a player just off one game.
“But if they have a decent CV and they can show that they have played at a decent standard then there shouldn’t be a problem.”
Livesey was interested to see fellow Prestonian Luke Mulholland make his debut in the MLS earlier this month for Real Salt Lake.
Twenty-five-year-old Mulholland has trodden the same path as Livesey by completing a four-year football scholarship before graduating to the professional game in the US.
After a spells for the NSC Minnesota Stars and the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Mulholland got his big break when he was signed by the MLS club this year.
He made his debut for his new club against LA Galaxy in the first game of the news season. Although Mulholland has no connection with Livesey, the Soccer Smart founder would love to help other players achieve something similar.
“Luke went to university in America and did really well,” Livesey said. “He’s gone through the leagues and now he’s made his debut against LA Galaxy in the MLS.
“If we could have somebody come through Soccer Smart and do the same, that would be ideal.”