Paul Cannell, one of the best and most colorful players for the now-defunct Washington Diplomats, was also the North American Soccer League club's No. 1 ambassador. One of the top scorers in the club's history, the free-spirited Cannell was always the first to volunteer for soccer clinics and to talk to youth groups in the Washington area.
"Soccer was big among the youth here when the Dips were alive," said Cannell, who has retired after 15 years as a professional player. "And even though the team is no longer in existence, we know the kids still love and play the game."
Counting on that being true, Cannell and a partner, Harry Storey, will run the Paul Cannell Soccer Camp this summer at Newcastle University in London. The 10-day camp in mid-July is designed for boys and girls ages 9-15, but older players will also be accepted. The cost is $1,600 and will include the round-trip air fare, lodging, meals, field trips and, of course, soccer training.
"We have a marvelous facility and we will have expert teachers and coaches (players from the professional Division I clubs in London)," Cannell said. "The experience is invaluable for the youth. We know the kids here flock to the basketball camps for a price. What we are offering far exceeds anything the basketball camp can offer. We will have knowledgable coaches to work almost one on one with the athletes and the other features we have scheduled are very educational. For instance, we'll travel to Scotland to see games and the sights. This is a very cheap European holiday."
For an added treat, world class runner Steve Cram, a soccer buff, will talk to the students about stamina and conditioning.
Cannell and Storey, a businessman and self-confessed "frustrated pro player," say they're hoping the recent cancellations in European travel won't prevent American athletes from attending what is being billed as a "soccer vacation."
"We believe people will take advantage of the offer," Storey said. "Everything is definitely first class and will knock the kids for a loop. They will work with the kids from London and meet and work with some of the best soccer players in the world. Them meeting the top English players will be equivalent to our young English basketball players coming to the U.S. to meet the Bullets or Celtics. Many of our top players will be just returning from the World Cup games but will still work with us."
Cannell says the Washington area is the target area this year. Regardless of how successful this first year is, the camp will offer its services to this area again and to other areas around the country in the summer of 1987. In addition, plans call for a group of English youth players to come here in 1987 to conduct clinics and play against some of the area's top teams.
"This type of foreign exchange program will benefit kids from both countries," Cannell said. "This program will be very organized and all of the kids will gain valuable soccer skills and knowledge. What they learn in our camp will surely help them in their high school and college careers. We know this might be late notice, but we finally got all of our commitments in order. Everything is a go."
Jim O'Brien of Travelogue in Washington is handling the trip arrangements. Cannell says he plans to return here from England in June to do some promotional work for the camp.
"If things don't go as well as we hope this year, we'll try again next year," he said. "This is an ongoing commitment with us. We believe in this and we want it to work."