Thursday 19 July 2012 16:58
“I didn’t know where it was at first. People think it’s all mud huts and shacks, I mean I did too, but it’s not. It’s like Newcastle but with nice weather.”
This is how David Foley describes his adopted home of Puerto Rico.
A small island just east of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico is similar in size to the North East region of England which Foley departed nearly three years ago. Now fully settled in island life, the first question most ask him is simply ‘how did you end up here?’
“At the time I was playing for Hartlepool’s reserves,” Foley said, “My first team chances were limited and it was really beginning to frustrate me. I think at the time I’d have accepted any get out really.”
That’s where his current manager and former Portsmouth defender Adrian Whitbread comes in. “I was actually back home for Christmas because of the way NASL’s calender works,” Whitbread explains, “I was based in Essex but made the long drive up to a very cold Hartlepool to watch a few players, including David.”
By half-time, Whitbread had seen enough, and the two clubs entered negotiations to have Foley’s Hartlepool contract terminated early. Once concluded, Foley began the long journey to his new home – but not without some reservation: “I wasn’t sure when I first came over, but now I’m settled in I really enjoy it here. Just playing regular football and being an important member of the team has been a great feeling.”
Foley also credits his team-mates for aiding him in the smooth transition to island life: “Thanks to my teammates it feels like a second home. There’s a lot of lads in my shoes that have no one else here but their teammates. We actually refer to each other as brothers- it’s that close knit a camp.”
The new culture also included a new language. While neither Foley or his manager claim fluency in Puerto Rico’s first language of Spanish, Whitbread does feel more confident than when he first arrived, something his striker jokingly contests. “I think the gaffer just gets people to write it down for him to say,” says Foley with a laugh.
Champions League qualification
Despite describing his own Spanish as ‘the ability to say some bad words’, this hasn’t inhibited Foley’s play. A vital part of the Islanders team that recently qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League his performances have not gone unnoticed.
January saw him earn a trial with the New England Revolution, currently home to former Derby County midfielder Benny Feilhaber. “It was a bit of a shambles really,” Foley admits with a disappointed tone to his voice, “I was played out of position, and I picked up a foot injury on the second day. It was a frustrating experience but a good one. I know I can play at that level, so it’s about waiting for another opportunity should one come.”
Keen to try his hand in MLS, the striker also has desires a return home. Describing his years in English football as leaving a sour taste, Foley believes he has unfinished business in his homeland, “I’ve been away for two-and-a-half years so it’s starting from scratch, but it is something I want to try and do eventually.” He said.
Since arriving in the Caribbean, he has also fielded a number of questions from fellow professionals at home about life in Puerto Rico. “A lot of the younger lads have enquired about coming out here to play,” He explains, “It’s a massive step though. When I came here I had nothing to lose, I was a young lad with no family commitments. I didn’t have kids , I wasn’t married, I was very career driven.”
A big step it may have been, but he believes it has served as a huge benefit to his development both on and off the pitch, as he explains, “At Hartlepool I was still living with my Mum and Dad, out here I’m very much on my own so I think in that sense it has matured me a lot.”
Foley is not completely isolated from reminders of home in Puerto Rico. Former Brighton and Manchester City goalkeeper Richard Martin joined the club in 2011, giving the Islanders squad a pair of Englishmen. “I actually room with the other goalkeeper Cody Laurendi. Rich is a bit loved up, actually.” He says pausing to laugh, “He’s engaged to a Puerto Rican girl after only his second year.”
Foley has an engagement of his own, with former England international David Beckham. “We’ve been drawn against LA Galaxy in the CONCACAF Champions League again.” He says, rather nonchalantly.
Last time the sides met, the Islanders shocked the Galaxy with a 4-1 victory at the Home Depot Centre in the first leg. Foley scored that evening and is hoping for a repeat performance, and possible a souvenir from his trip: “I’m definitely going to try and get his shirt. He’s the player of my era. I grew up watching him and I admire him a lot., but I bet there’ll be a long line.” He jokingly says before asking, “Maybe you could get in touch and ask him to give it to me?”