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FEATURE: Former New Zealand International Barron Talks To SMUSA

From competing in college soccer to representing his country at the World Cup, former New Zealand international Andy Barron has never looked back on the decision to go down the scholarship route.

Barron was playing in the National League in his home country, and was all set to head to university in Wellington before hearing about going to the U.S. to become a student-athlete.


Moving to the other side of the world, from New Zealand to William Carey University in Mississippi, it was a brave choice, but one that has been full of rewards for Barron.


After four successful years with William Carey, Barron continued his playing career and moved back to his native New Zealand to sign in for Canterbury United, after a short spell playing in Northern Ireland.


Barron made his international debut against Malaysia in 2006, scoring the winner, and was part of the 25-man Kiwi squad that went to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.


The then-investment banker made all the headlines when he come off the bench late in the game against then-current world champions Italy, as he was the only non-professional footballer to play in the tournament.


No two journeys are the same when it comes to the scholarship route, and whether it was his time at William Carey or playing against Italy at the World Cup, Barron certainly has a story to tell.


SMUSA managed to catch up with the former William Carey and New Zealand international to ask him questions about his scholarship journey and career – both on and off the field.


Q: Firstly Andy, could you just tell us a bit about your background before going to the U.S. and what made you want to go down the scholarship route?


AB: I was playing national league soccer in New Zealand as a 17-year-old and looking to go to university in Wellington, NZ, until someone told me about a seminar about scholarships to the US. I went along with my folks to hear this guy talk about the scholarship pathway and immediately went home to start researching. This was 1999 and at that point there had already been a handful of Kiwi's that had chosen that pathway, including Ryan Nelson and Simon Elliott - who both went on to play for New Zealand national team.


Q: What expectations did you have going to college in America?


AB: I remember it being a mixture of apprehension and excitement. It's a bit of a gamble to pack up and head to the other side of the world by yourself for four years - but I was mostly excited to get amongst it and get stuck into it - both athletically and academically.


Q: Why did you feel going to the U.S. and becoming a student-athlete was right for you?


AB: Personally, I had recently missed out on the NZ Under 17 national team, who went to the World Cup - so that was disappointing. I still felt like I had ambition and wanted to be the best soccer player I could be - but I was realistic that I probably wasn't going to be the next David Beckham! So, I needed a backup plan - and going to the US on a soccer scholarship ticked the two boxes - you're touching a football every day and you get a degree to fall back on if the soccer doesn't work out. Best of both worlds.


Q: Going to William Carey University, how important was it to have the perfect fit both on the field and in the classroom?


AB: So, my research into universities was back in 1999 - and I vividly remember searching on Alta Vista (Google wasn't really well known at that point, ha) for universities. I knew I wanted to study business/finance, so I was really looking for schools with a decent team and that had my major. But when you're a million miles away it can be a little daunting with so many options, but I was lucky to find a school that ticked the boxes and worked for me.


Q: What do you feel the scholarship route can offer players of all levels?


AB: I think for me the scholarship route offers anyone with talent to be in an environment that allows them to develop to the best of their ability - but at the same time provides backstop of a world-class tertiary education. And with so many colleges across different levels, and because of the scholarship/funding limitations at each college, there really is opportunity for talented players across a wide range of divisions.


Q: From when you went to the US, how much do you feel the scholarship route has changed/grown?


AB: It's been over 20 years since I started the scholarship journey! I remember whipping up a soccer resume/CV and emailing it off to colleges that I'd found on the internet (with my slow dial-up connection, ha), and hoping for the best. These days, my understanding is that there is a full industry around the scholarships and placements - with agents being a key broker in the deal. I suspect you'd need a little more than a one-page resume/CV these days - with video footage, etc. Being a must. It's been interesting to see how it's changed over the years to say the least.


Q: After university, you went on to continue your playing career, which led you to being called up to your national team, how much of a proud moment was that?


AB: Playing for your country is always the ultimate goal in any sport. At 25 years old I generally had thought that ship had sailed. But after playing for college in the US I went to Northern Ireland to play before heading back to New Zealand. I'd spent five years overseas, so didn't know what to expect coming back to NZ in a newly formatted national league. Luckily, I performed well enough to catch the eye of the national team coach and made my debut against Malaysia in 2005 - a very proud moment indeed.


Q: Going to South Africa for the World Cup in 2010, and coming on against Italy, is that still one of the stand-out moments, not just in your career, but your life?


AB: Absolutely - it's interestingly because soccer isn't the number one sport in NZ (much like the US), so as a national team player you can walk down the road and no one really knows who you are. But making the World Cup was a massive achievement for such a small country - and it had been 30 years since we had made our only World Cup until then. All of a sudden people started to take notice and it was a big deal. So, to be a part of that - reaching the pinnacle of the sport - was an amazing feeling. And then to get on the field against Italy was the icing on the cake. A special moment and one I'll never forget.


Q: What was that whole experience like for you, going to a World Cup, something very few players manage to achieve?


AB: It was an incredible experience, but at the same time an odd one, because at the time I was playing in NZ where the league isn't professional. So here I was at the World Cup technically as an amateur player rubbing shoulders with the best of the best. Quite surreal really. But I enjoyed every moment of it - the camp environment, the media/tv presence, and of course the football. And because we were the only team to remain unbeaten during the entire tournament - we got a decent hero's welcome upon return to New Zealand - such a great moment to be a part of.


Q: Off the field, getting your degree in Business Management, was it always the plan to go back to that after your football career ended?


AB: Absolutely. So, once we returned from the World Cup, I immediately retired from playing. I felt I was never going to reach a higher watermark in the game and as a 30-year-old I felt it was time to concentrate on a career. I had no desire to stay in football - either playing or going down the coaching path route - so it was time to put the degree to use.


Q: For those that don't know, could you tell us what you are currently doing now?


AB: I'm a principal consultant for a Silicon Valley software company. I love my career - it's challenging and rewarding, and provides a great work-life balance.


Q: If you hadn't gone down the scholarship route, making that bold life choice, what would you be doing right now?


AB: It's an interesting question. One thing for sure is that I wouldn't have met so many amazing people from across the world. At college we had US players (of course), as well as Irish, Scottish, South Africans, etc. I'm still close friends with most and we've even caught up a few times on our travels. I think had I not gone to the US - I would've gone to university in NZ, but there's no real sporting side of university in NZ - it's purely academic - so my footballing life would've been confined to national league in NZ. Who knows what would've happened from there?!


Q: Finally, for those players considering going down the scholarship route, what would you say to them?


AB: I'd say do it! College in the US was four amazing years for me. And while I know the experience is different for each person - I think if you're committed and dedicated enough, you have some talent, and you're prepared to do your homework and research to find the best institution for your game and learning - you'll have an incredible experience and lay the foundation for future success.

 

SMUSA director Stephen Murray spoke about Barrow’s journey, having crossed paths with him a few times during their time playing in the US.


Murray said: “Having faced Andy on a number of occasions in the Semi Pro level with New Orleans during the summers, it was obvious Andy had all the qualities to go on and play at the next level.


"Having gone to an NAIA School that was competing for National Championships rather than maybe playing at a middle of the road DI School was perfect for Andy and his development as a technical player with a fantastic work ethic.


"People have a perception that if you are not at the DI Level it's a step down but there is so many cases like Andy, who have gone on to play at the next level. With the NAIA, the majority of squads are made up of international players from all around the world and in this day of age, if you are willing to travel, have a pair of boots there is always somewhere to make a Professional career.


"Andy's story is unique in that not only did he have a Pro Career but he managed to go from a small NAIA school in Mississippi to playing on the World Stage at the 2010 World Cup for New Zealand - you couldn't dream up a story like it."

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