The subject line was prophetic: This is the email that will change your life.
“It did,” Alex Lobban says in his crisp English accent, chuckling. The friend’s email triggered a chain of events that led him to Benicia, where he met his wife and now is director of coaching for the local soccer league.
As director of coaching, Alex is responsible for coach education and player development for the league that serves about 1,000 young people. He also runs soccer camps for the league, is the assistant coach for the women’s team at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, teaches coach education classes and is introducing indoor soccer, called futsal, to Benicia. “I do this full-time. This is my profession: training and coaching.”
Alex’s big goal is to build a soccer culture within our community, much like he experienced growing up in Great Britain. “I’d like to see people follow soccer whether they have a kid in the program or not. I’d like to see people wear Arsenal shirts or caps around town,” he says.
Alex’s love of soccer began as a child growing up in a village outside Birmingham. His skills earned him a spot with soccer academies associated with professional clubs from ages 9 to 15. “I got to work with professional coaches and the best players,” he recalls.
At age 16, he was offered a contract with the Bury professional team outside Manchester and moved away from home to live with 10 other soccer players. He played professionally until he was 20.
Alex, 30, landed in Benicia in 2008. He recently joined the local Rotary Club and plans to become more involved in community service with the organization.
Alex married Jessica Waskow of Benicia last month, and the couple lives in town.
How exactly did you end up here in Benicia? When I left university, I set up a futsal training business. … I was doing it from home because that was the only way to do it. But after being independent since I was 16, it was hard to be back home.
So I decided to get a real job, and I was working in financial recruitment, hiring accountants. About 18 months into that, I went away for a weekend to do soccer qualifications and decided to quit my job. A friend had moved to New York and was coaching outside New York City. I talked to him and the idea was that I would travel and do some training.
On the day I quit my job, my boss went upstairs and she was complaining about me quitting to a friend who asked what I planned to do. He told her to have me drop him an email with my plans.
When I told him my plans, he said, “No, no, no – you need to go to the West Coast and work with UK International Soccer Camp.” The next day I got an email from him and the subject line was: “This is the email that will change your life.” It had the contract information for the camp. It turned out the representative was going to be in town for interviews the next week. I interviewed the next Wednesday and was hired. So I came out here.
I worked in Southern California for about a month and then interviewed with Benicia to be a trainer. Things obviously went well with the job, and I met Jessica here.
How is soccer evolving in Benicia? We’re trying to build on foundations that were here when I arrived. I think the biggest change, the biggest evolution, is that now we’ve got more professional coaching experience in the league. We were an all-volunteer coaching staff before, so now we have more professional experience and hopefully that will help children evolve into better soccer players.
We also hope to develop more of a club atmosphere, one that reflects what Benicia is as a community and its community spirit. We’ve got 20 traveling soccer teams but we want them all to feel like they are playing for the same soccer club.
What is the next step for Benicia’s soccer program? I’d like Benicia Arsenal to be recognized as a good family club with good education. It should be an extension of what the schools do. We want players to be good team members, be leaders, learn how to express themselves, be confident. We want to create good young people. All those things are extensions of our education system.
What is your dream for the program? I’d love for Benicia to become a soccer town. My biggest dream is to get a soccer complex someplace downtown. We could host tournaments and bring in people to see our downtown, our waterfront and visit our wonderful restaurants.
We’ve got 1,000 kids playing soccer and no dedicated field. We don’t have 1,000 kids playing baseball but we have dedicated baseball fields. Community Park is a good facility, but I think the kids deserve a place to call home. Clubs always have a place to call home. Where is Benicia Arsenal’s home?
Do you still play soccer? I still play. We have a men’s team in town that started three years ago. We compete in an East Bay league so we play in Berkeley every Sunday. I’m a player/manager. We do it for enjoyment.
Have you ever been injured while playing? I come across a lot of men whose time on the field ends with a sob story. I’ve got no sob stories. I’ve been lucky—no injuries at all.
Who is your role model? I have different ones for different parts of my life. Ryan Giggs as a soccer player, but not as a man. In many ways, I look to my family, my father and my older brother. My father was always there, taking me to soccer. My dad is a good father, a good man.
What’s next for you? I want to coach Division I college someday. But as long as they want me here, I’d like to stay. I’d like to finish that project, the soccer complex. I’m actually proud of where we’re at, but we’re not done yet. We don’t have a place to call home, and I want us to reach where I’d like us to be, where I think we can be.