I’ve changed so much as I’ve gotten older. My feelings have changed too. More than anything these days, I feel grateful.
I’m ever so grateful to you. For the chance to help our kids play a sport they love. To see them grow up. To teach them a little, and to learn so much more from them.
I’m grateful for this game, you know.
One way or another, I’ve been involved in football — or soccer, as you Americans call it — for nearly 80 years. It has always been a part of me, and always will.
I played as a boy in Manchester, with friends I’ve not seen in half a century. Living in the city during the war we didn’t always have a proper football or a pitch, so we’d use a tennis ball, and kick it against a wall. Anything for a chance to play.
I got to see Georgie Best play. He lived around the corner from me in Manchester. He once asked my girlfriend out for a date, actually. But I don’t hold it against him. He was my hero, of course. He was the greatest player I ever saw. I’m grateful for that too.
When my family moved to Ellicottville, there was no boys’ team. No one cared about soccer but a handful of coaches and kids. And now America has won a World Cup, in the American way. I meet people on the street in Ellicottville who want to talk about FIFA! That’s extraordinary.
I’m grateful to have lived to see a change like that. And to have played my small part in it.
One more thing, if you don’t mind. I’d like to honour two friends of mine.
There would be no soccer in Ellicottville without Joe and Adam Delity. They started up the summer league, they officiated and helped run the league for decades. They gave so much time and energy to our kids, and to the game we love. And to me.
Joe passed away a couple of years ago, and Adam turned in his whistle last year. I miss working and playing with them. We stayed young together.
As I understand it, I’m now the oldest soccer official in New York State. I’m proud to have lasted this long. (Honestly, I’m a little surprised.) But most of all, I’m grateful. I think of the kids in town, the parents who come out and support them, the coaches, and all of you — I think of Joe and Adam. And of my own sons, and my grandsons, who are learning to play the game too.
And I can’t tell you how grateful I am that we’ve all had the chance to be part of something beautiful.
Thank you very much for this. Thank you.
-Wally Holland Sr.