Talking to John is more listening than talking but I mean that in the best possible way. He is extremely personable gracious with his time and an overall nice family guy. The fiery Scotsman is undoubtedly the heart and soul of this Rapids team both in the locker room and on the pitch.
John has a resume second to but a few professional footballers which is why he commands so much respect in MLS and also makes for a great interview. His time in Colorado follows stints with some of the biggest clubs in two of the finest leagues in the world. John has already announced that this season will be his last in MLS as a player.
Rapids fans you only have a few more games to watch the MLS Best XI selection and MVP finalist in person. I strongly recommend you do so before John Spencer and his family head back across the Atlantic to the UK as his passion talent and leadership will be greatly missed by the Rapids next season.
Please enjoy John’s thoughts on how he became a soccer player young players in the US and even some well thought-out views on life in general.
Soccer365.com- What’s the best part about being a professional footballer? Worst?
John Spencer- "Best - for me I think the hours. You get to spend 2 or 3 hours doing something that you’d do for free.
Worst-The traveling that you do away from your family-spring training trips to Europe and things like that.
(In the UK) we would do most of our training at home then maybe a week to 10 days maximum in Sweden or Norway. Sometimes we’d get down to the south coast of England. We’ve got a lot of teams in our country looking for games at the same time. Obviously you don’t play against other English Premier teams or first division teams so you get a bit of variety. Here we go and play other MLS teams and you end up facing the same players for 10 games a season. I think it’s something the league needs to look at freshening up.
For me I’ve been a professional for 18 years. I’ve traveled the world for free. I’ve come to the US. It’s a great life. That’s what I like about soccer. If you look at a lot of different sports in this country no disrespect to anybody a lot of guys don’t get to go to Europe in their sport. In soccer the US National team the young national team go and play in Poland Germany Korea. How many of these guys in the NFL get to play in Europe?"
365- How did you get started-was it always football for you?
Spencer- "For sure yeah! I believe when I was 1 year old an Uncle of mine would take me out in the street and play football all the time. From the age of 1 it was just messing around you know even if it was just picking up a ball and throwing it and having it around. In a lot of people’s lives back in the UK it’s the most important thing in their lives other than family.
I wasn’t interested in any other sports. I only had soccer when I grew up. Yeah you had other sports but other sports to me and other guys were crap! It may be ignorance but it may be the best thing in the world. From an early age I had my heroes-Kenny Dalglish Graeme Souness-both Scotsman who played for Liverpool. When I got older guys like Charlie Nichols who played for Scotland and Arsenal just lots of talented players you could admire and look up to.
When I was a kid you would support English teams but you wouldn’t see their jerseys around about Glasgow. Now you go back to Scotland and there’s EPL jerseys European soccer jerseys whereas before when I was a kid it was just Celtic and Rangers. It’s just inbred into the people there. No disrespect to the Broncos fans here but you go to a Celtic v Rangers game and you could be working with a guy Monday through Friday and come Saturday the two of ‘em would kill each other for a victory-It’s incredible passion.
You’ve got to remember Celtic was established in 1888 and Rangers was established in 1873 and that’s history. That’s why people here don’t understand the ins and outs of the game and why people are so passionate about it. You don’t get a choice to support what team you want you get told. If you’re family are Catholic you’re supporting Celtic and if you’re Protestant you’re supporting Rangers.
I remember when I was a young kid I just loved the game. I followed Celtic but went to watch a Rangers game with my friends. I came back and I said I’d like to get a Rangers strip for my Christmas too and my stepfather gave me a couple of slaps. I said I guess I’m not getting that for my Christmas you know?
It’s a great way of getting brought up. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad. Beautiful sport if you’re passionate about your team but if you’re taking to that other level where it’s about religion and you don’t like a Catholic or you don’t like a Protestant then it’s bad."
365- When you’re not practicing or playing in a match what do you enjoy doing?
Spencer- "People may think I’m just blowing smoke but I love spending time with my wife. The kids are at school and you can get out for two or three hours on your own and you go for a coffee or for a walk around the mall-just spending time catching up. So many families now are getting divorced because they’re not spending enough time with their other half.
I think it’s important that when you bring kids into this world or get married you work at it. My father-in-law has been married over 30 years and always said if you don’t work it it’s not going to succeed. It’s just like if you don’t work at being a soccer player you’re not going to achieve it. So I love spending time with my wife and my children as much as I can.
Every other night I’m down with my little team the Westminster Hammerheads coaching my son with my other coach Terry Mooney and Scotty. We’re doing our best."
365- Hypothetically someone in England or Scotland gives you the keys to a club. Besides any Rapids players (I don’t want to get you in trouble in the locker room) who are some MLS players you look to sign?
Spencer- "I would take Pablo (Mastroeni). I like his attitude great feet on the ball. I’d probably take Eddie Johnson at Dallas. Great young striker. If he keeps working hard keeps his feet on the ground he’s got a chance to go a long way. He’s got all the attributes to go play in the English Premier League. Obviously Landon (Donovan)-good young player. If I was going real young I’d probably take a chance on taking young Seth (Trembly) and Kyle (Beckerman) with me. I think they’ve got great attitudes and they’re always good listeners. They know what I want you to do in the game. It’s not just a case of I just play the game because it’s something to do. They watch the games on t.v. and they try to get better.
For me what I’ve found players I’ve had conversations with in the past and if you ask them 'Who does Christian Vieri play for?' they couldn’t tell you. They tell me I play soccer but I never watch it on t.v. And I say how can you not watch soccer on t.v. if you want to become a better player? Nobody’s saying that you’re going to go watch Thierry Henry and think that you’re going to play like (him). But I’m quite sure that if you watch enough games you’ll come across someone who you think you’ve got something in your game that reminds of that player and say 'Jeez I could maybe learn something off that guy.'
I’m not going to watch Henry and try to learn because I can’t run like Henry. I’m going to watch someone like Dennis Bergkamp who is slower but controls the ball and has great vision. His brain is four or five steps ahead of guys like Henry believe it or not and Henry is at some level."
365- Is that the problem in this country?
Spencer -"For me it maybe stems from the kids that are coming through. Their parents are not passionate about the game. It’s a case of let’s take my son and drop him off at soccer for 2 hours and get him out of the house. That’s something with the kids we coach we try to install that as soon as you step on the soccer field out of your mom’s car don’t think about Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera think soccer. Don’t come with the mentality that 'I’m here for two hours and I’m gonna muck around with my friends.' Yeah you are going to be with your friends but you’re not going to muck around. We’re here to get better.
There’s so many different sports here and distractions in this country that it’s very difficult for kids to stay focused. If the parents are not passionate about soccer then after 4 weeks the kid maybe gets shouted at by the coach and thinks 'I don’t like that coach. Dad I don’t want to do soccer anymore.'
'Ah that’s good son what would you like to do now?'
If I’d have said that to my mom I’d have got kicked right between the legs told to go back there and shut my mouth dry my eyes and go and play."
365 (M.Greene from Boulder)- What things have you saying goodbye to MLS and heading back to the UK?
Spencer- "I believe my situation has all came down to the Green Card. The visa that I’m on I can’t do anything else. Maybe if I had a Green Card my outlook would be totally different. I could say to the organization I don’t want to travel I’m going to retire is there any coaching here for me? Not as a first team coach but could I come in every day and interact with the guys and still be involved? That would be a possibility if I had a Green Card. But the visa dictates everything.
I’ve been here for three and a half years now and I’m nowhere near a Green Card. If I had (one) then you’re almost an American citizen and I could get involved in other things-maybe tv coaching. But I’m restricted here because my visa is sponsored by MLS and all I can really do is P1 entertainment-you can’t do nothing else. For the first time in my life my hands are tied. It’s like 'this is what you can do and you can’t branch off'. The visa that I’m on at any given time the league or franchise can say we don’t want you or we’re going to trade you. I’ve always said I won’t play anywhere else. If I turn down the trade you could get cut from the league and you get 3 months to leave the country. To me it’s tying me down too much.
Back home and it is home I’ve got a lot of contacts in the game family and television. Career-wise I’ve got a lot more contacts.
But I’ve said before if the opportunity comes and someone pulls a Green Card out of the sky then who knows. I would never say no. I’ve had a great time here. I came here coming off of two and a half years of unhappiness at Motherwell. It gave me a shot in the arm confidence-wise and I’ve loved playing here. I can’t thank the people of Denver enough for cheering me on and giving me the confidence to go and enjoy myself."
365 (Philipe from Denver)- Coaching is obviously in your future is there any chance of coming back here to coach?
Spencer- "You know Sean Connery said he’d never make another Bond (movie) then they called the movie 'Never Say Never Again’ so I can never say never to coming back. Like I’ve said I had such a great time here and still having a great time. I’d have loved to done a lot more like going to see the mountains more but soccer just overtakes your whole life. But closing the door to Colorado-never. I’d never close the door.
365- People don’t realize you don’t have a lot of vacation time.
Spencer - "You can’t go snowboarding skiing you’re so restricted. People think the life must be so exciting but I’m not complaining because I’ve had 18 years of this. It’s served me well and I’ve enjoyed the roller coaster ride."
365- Who are some of the best players you’ve faced all-time?
Spencer- "Mark Hughes Dan Petrescu Dennis Wise. I didn’t get the pleasure of playing with Zola but I’d seen him for a month in practice and Gianfranco Zola is unbelievable. I used to watch him when he was playing for Parma in Italy and thought 'wow that guy’s a good player'. When I saw him play in real life multiply that by 100 because I’ve never seen anybody play like this man in my life. He’s small like me and just breathtaking.
Guys like (David) Beckham (Ryan) Giggs Steve Bruce-to be fair everybody in the Premier League I played against were all good players. But the guys like Beckham (Roy) Keane (Paul) Scholes-you thought you were a good player yourself until you play against these guys and you’re like 'jeez man!'. You go and you think 'I’m gonna kick Paul Scholes here and you go to kick him before you know it he’s 5 yards further.' It was a pleasure to be on the field playing alongside of them. Great players-Steve McManaman John Barnes-just legends. I’ll look back at the end of my career and go 'it was a pleasure'."
365- After this season what are you going to miss most about Colorado?
Spencer- "When I go back to London it will probably be the weather. I just think it’s such a beautiful place when you look about. What the kids have here-the type of life. Definitely on the football front I’ll miss the interaction with the guys every day. Guys like John Ireland Theron Enns Rick Dressel-the team administrator staff. Guys I’ve gotten really close to over the last 4 seasons and good people I’ve worked with.
I’ll have fond memories of playing here- scoring the hat-trick against DC in my first July 4th game being voted Best 11 being up for MVP.
My wife’s had a great time but she’s obviously a parent and she’s thinking the same as me 'what are we going to do if….'. You’ve always got to think if because you’re in professional sports and at any one time things can change.
We’ve explained to (the kids) the situation with the visa but it’s hard to tell an 8 year old about a visa when he thinks it’s a credit card.
When I leave it definitely won’t be the last time I come back. I want to come back and see the new stadium opened and see the team."
365- What’s your favorite vacation spot?
Spencer- "I’d say Dubai. I went there a few times when I was back in the UK. We ended up going 4 times in one year. It’s an amazing place-beautiful beaches beautiful food lots of sunshine-a real nice vacation spot. There’s a place called Jumera beach that goes for like 20-30 miles or so it’s amazing."
365- MLS-What do you think needs to be improved upon? Salary number of players etc.
Spencer- "I think raising the salary but you’ve got to make sure you’re raising at the right end not necessarily the top end. I would say the bottom has got to be raised. There’s also traveling.
This may sound ludicrous but they need to start chartering their own planes. If you’re playing on a Saturday in Boston then a Wednesday somewhere else you’re sitting in airports for 2-3 hours. If you’re going to attract the top players in the world they’re not going to want to travel that way. To become a major sport they’ve got to start traveling the ways the other teams travel and that’s chartering their own planes."