As his 24-year tenure as George Washington University men’s soccer coach nears the end, George Lidster is being flooded by memories: three NCAA tournament appearances, two Atlantic 10 titles, nearly 200 victories, seven different home fields, the season he missed because of a visa issue, his semipro playing days during summer break ... and the pick-up game against Rod Stewart.
The Rod Stewart? Yes. Some guys have all the luck.
It was the early 1990s, as Lidster recalls. He received a phone call from old friend John Kerr Sr., a fellow Englishman and fixture in the Washington soccer community.
Kerr: “George, can I use the field for a couple hours?”
Lidster: “Of course, you cannot.”
Kerr: “Well, that’s a shame, because Rod Stewart wanted to get a game going while he’s in town for a show.....”
Lidster: “Maybe I could change my position.”
So Stewart, his band and road crew arrived at Francis Field, at 25th and M streets NW, for a pick-up game against Lidster, Kerr and some of the players from the Washington Stars (American Soccer League).
“He wore a GW shirt,” Lidster said. “My team won, of course.”
Lidster, who turns 58 in January, decided last winter to retire. Athletic Director Jack Kvancz persuaded him to stay one more season. It’s been worth the wait: The Colonials have rebounded from a 3-15-0 campaign last year to a 7-6-2 mark this fall, and with a 5-2-0 league record, they’re on the brink of qualifying for the six-team Atlantic 10 tournament for the first time in seven years.
GW might need only one point from its final regular season games against St. Bonaventure on Friday and Duquesne on Sunday, both at home on the leafy Mount Vernon campus.
Two victories would raise Lidster’s career total to 200. (He is 198-196-51.)
“It’s turning into a good season” after a 2-4-2 start, he said. “We’re playing well now [three straight wins]. It’s wonderful for the players.”
The emotions of leaving the job first surfaced in August, when his decision was made public. Those feelings were dormant until this week, when former players and fellow coaches began to reach out again.
“The reality — or the finality, really — is creeping in,” he said.
Lidster began his coaching career as a George Mason assistant under Gordon Bradley in the mid-1980s. Bradley, who once coached the New York Cosmos and Washington Diplomats in the NASL, and Kerr served as Lidster’s mentors. The trio remained close through the decades. Bradley and Kerr passed away in recent years.
In the late ‘80s, Lidster played on a Washington Stars team coached by Kerr and part-owned by Bradley.
In his first season piloting GW, Lidster was named 1987 South Atlantic Region coach of the year. Two years later, the Colonials earned their first-ever NCAA tournament victory, defeating Bradley and George Mason.
They returned to the NCAAs in 2002 and again in 2004, when they upset North Carolina in the first round. Since then, GW has struggled to just three winning seasons, including this year.
Lidster’s strangest season wasn’t a season at all. In 1997, he was forced to return to England to straighten out work visa problems. His assistants ran the team in his absence. While overseas, he worked for Millwall and Chelsea; the latter relationship facilitated Chelsea camps in the Washington area. Chris Jones played one year at GW and is now a Chelsea fitness coach and former Lidster assistant Jorge Alvial is a North American scout for the Premier League club.
When the season ends, Lidster plans to move into a house he had built on Pawleys Island in South Carolina.
“I’m going to do a lot of fishing,” said Lidster, whose eldest son Matthew has served in Iraq and other son Daniel is a senior forward at Old Dominion. “I’ll get involved in soccer again, but it will be nice to take a break. The time is right.”
For GW’s video and photo tribute, click here.