From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.09 :: Mar. 03, 2011
When you think of sport in Texas, USA, you automatically think of American football. Every Hollywood football movie seems to involve a Texan college. But for one kid from the small town of Nacogdoches, Texas, it's another kind of football that matters. Soccer.
Clint Dempsey's life has been as tough as any linebacker's tackle and as similar to a Hollywood script as you can get, but for all the stresses and strains comes the rewards.
Dempsey grew up in a trailer park in a small town in East Texas and knew the first time he played with the Hispanic children of the park he wasn't going to fall in with the traditional American sports.
“I played all the other sports, too. But I hated all the waiting to bat that you get in baseball. And there were too many stoppages in (American) football. Soccer was continuous, free-flowing and exciting — and I was good at it too,” he says.
Dempsey was good at it. So good, that at the age of 10 he only had to dribble a few steps for his first coach to know he wanted him on his team. There was just one problem; a three-hour drive to every game and training session.
Travel cost a lot and Dempsey's family had to make sacrifices to get him where he wanted to be.
He remembers: “My parents were crazy, they just wanted to do everything they could for their kids. With the gas prices now it would be impossible, but back then, they did everything they could to make it happen. It was really tough for them because it was ‘pay-to-play' in club football and it was expensive. But my family did it somehow.”
They did it through hard work and giving up even small luxuries. His mother, Debbie, picked up extra shifts at work and the rest of the family gave up eating out and taking holidays together.
But just as Dempsey was starting to get ahead, so was his sister Jennifer. Being one of five children Dempsey had to step aside to allow his sister to try and forge a career in tennis. The Dempseys only had enough money for one of their children to compete and decided to spread the little money they had among the children.
Jennifer began travelling as a state-ranked player but was tragically struck down with a brain aneurysm and died at the tender age of 16.
Dempsey's older brother, Ryan, believes this was the turning point in his soccer career.
“When something like that happens, your perspectives change,” says Ryan. “I was worn out. But Clint would go out and practice twice as much. He'd work twice as hard. He wanted to do it in her name, in her glory. So he dedicated everything to her.”
Dempsey still dedicates every goal to his sister when he points to the sky in celebration. “Before she passed away, we had talks about death,” adds Dempsey. “And I remember her telling me that if something ever happened to her, she'd help me score goals. She'd help them go in the net.”
This motivation drove Dempsey on to succeed and play with a bigger motivation than he had before. He continued to play in Dallas and moved onto Furman University before leaving for New England Revolution in the MLS draft.
Dempsey played for three years at the Revolution and broke into the national squad in his first year before securing a move to Craven Cottage, a move that made him the most expensive American transfer at US$4 million.
Now an established regular with club and country, Dempsey never forgot who helped him get where he is today. On being selected for the World Cup in Germany 2006 Dempsey made sure his whole family would be at the tournament.
Dempsey said: “It doesn't begin to make up for everything they did for me, but it's a start. And I wouldn't want to do this without all of them there.”
As well as his sister's death, Dempsey's college friend died in a car accident and American rapper and friend, Big Hawk, was shot dead shortly after recording a song with Dempsey.
Dempsey met wife-to-be Bethany Jean Keegan at Furman University. Although she was dating someone else, the pair stayed friends and later met up when both were single. They married on July 28, 2007 and have two children. He owns an Audi A6 Quattro.
Name: Clint Dempsey
United States caps: 68
United States goals: 19
United States debut: v Jamaica, November 2004
Moment to remember:
Picking up the Rookie of the Year award in 2004, his first pro season.
Moment to forget:
Being suspended for two games following a bust-up with a team-mate at a Revolution training game.
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