Gooch plays before thousands in Italy
sentinel staff writer
Ever since he was 6, Anthony Gooch has wanted to be a professional soccer player. After training most of his life toward that goal and establishing himself as one of the most coveted players in the area, he got a big break late last August.
That’s when a scout for the Italian soccer club A.C. Milan spotted him playing at a tournament. Soon after, the scout invited Anthony to practice and play in an exhibition game with an international team at the club’s 85,700-seat San Siro Stadium.
“He said, ‘Would he be able to go at a moment’s notice?’” Anthony’s father, Paul Gooch, recalled the scout saying. “I said, ‘Are you kidding? He sleeps with his boots on.’”
A few weeks later, Anthony boarded a plane bound for Milan. There he met his multi-national teammates and his Italian-speaking coaches. A few days later, he scored a goal to help his international team win in front of thousands of noisy, banner-waving, horn-sounding fans.
“Just to play on the full-sized field and see what it’s like because I might become a professional some day,” sighed Anthony. “It’s cool.”
Wait a second, you might be thinking. What kind of high-caliber soccer player isn’t used to playing on a full-sized field?
The kind that’s 10 years old.
Anthony was spotted playing for his Class I, under-12 Lionhearts team by an A.C. Milan scout at one of many U.S. Youth Soccer Association tournaments sponsored by the Italian club. Neither he nor his father, who also happens to be his coach, thought Anthony would be selected for the team, especially since the boy was quite a bit younger than most of the other players.
Paul fielded the call from the scout, but kept the news a secret until he was sure Anthony would be allowed to go. When the affirmation came, it kicked off an amazing adventure for the Capitola Elementary School fifth- grader.
Flying overseas was no problem for the boy who had made several trips to his father’s homeland of England. Adjusting to the language barrier, however, proved to throw a few kinks into the trip. Especially after Anthony discovered his coaches only spoke Italian.
“The only word they knew was up,” Anthony said. “So when they said ‘Up,’ I knew I was a forward. I adjusted to it.”
After his game, Anthony and his teammates were pampered with lunch and a medal ceremony. Then his family stayed for the main event — a match between A.C. Milan and Perugia that drew a full house in the huge stadium. The home team won, 3-0.
But the adventure didn’t end there. Anthony also received special permission to train a few days with the A.C. Milan Academy, where the team’s up-and-coming players sprout.
The trip also included a voyage to the Swiss border to watch an A.C. Milan practice and get autographs, including one from soccer legend Pele’s son Dida, who is a goalkeeper for the Milan team. And before the Gooches left, they were fortunate enough to get tickets for another full-house Premiere League game where they saw A.C. Milan’s rival Inter Milan battle the Ajax team of Holland in a packed San Siro Stadium.
The trip opened Anthony’s eyes to the frenzy that often surrounds soccer in Europe and that his father had attempted to describe to his son many times.
“His eyes were as big as flying saucers, just in awe of what he was seeing,” Paul Gooch said. “He’d never seen such a big game before live.”
The experience only went toward solidifying the 10-year-old’s determination that some day all those fans would be cheering him on. But if he had his way, his fans would be the followers of the English club Manchester United.
“With all the crowd and then playing on a full-sized field where the professionals play, and we were treated like professionals,” Anthony said. “I think it was fun.”