Life after Borough Briggs

Adam Moffat departed Scottish football after finishing second from bottom in the third division with Elgin City. He went on to rub shoulders with David Beckham, Raul and Barack Obama.

By Chris Tait

This article first appeared in Issue 2 which was published in December 2016.

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“Obviously, I was the one that started it all,” Moffat says with a wry smile. “But then David Beckham came over . . .”
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The Cosmos midfielder left the Scottish game early in his career and his exploits since are not commonly known back across the Atlantic

He has just helped solve one of the mysteries of the Cosmos. The question of who is to pay for lunch has been the day’s great imponderable at the American club. It has been answered decisively courtesy of an impromptu kickabout on the training ground. Among the group of winning players soon to be treated to a meal courtesy of their less fortunate team-mates is an unheralded Scottish midfielder once told he was not good enough to make it as a professional. His lunch order is about to be taken by an established internationalist.

Adam Moffat has been given a taste of victory served New York-style, a reward for his part in the sort of episode which will be repeated at clubs the world over but which draws particular attention at the Cosmos given the stellar names synonymous with the franchise. Players such as World Cup winners Carlos Alberto and Franz Beckenbauer, and mercurial Italy forward Giorgio Chinaglia all turned out for the original Cosmos before the team folded in 1985. Another former player, Pele, was on hand six years ago when it was announced the New York Cosmos would compete in the North American Soccer League.

It was not an easy rebirth. The Cosmos laboured over which league was most suitable, and ownership of the franchise changed hands twice before there was an accord. There is no opportunity for promotion or relegation between U.S. leagues and so a club must negotiate a place in one of the leagues with the resurrected Cosmos expected to petition immediately for a spot in Major League Soccer, North America’s premier competition.

An approach was made in 2010 but that was later aborted by the Cosmos, as the club bridled at a franchise entry fee which rose from $40 million to $70 million after Cosmos announced an intention to join MLS. It was a dispute which precipitated the formation of New York City FC, a team affiliated to Manchester City and which has made its mark on soccer in the U.S. by combining the talents of David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo.

Such an A-list team is a dream for American soccer fans. And yet the Cosmos have not been caught napping in the city that never sleeps.

Their heritage is invaluable – both Pele and the late Chinaglia represented the franchise off the field following their playing careers, the Brazilian still acts as honorary president. Competing in the NASL has also allowed the Cosmos to eschew the salary cap imposed on franchises in MLS and so retain impressive pulling power.

“They’re probably still the most famous name in American soccer,” says Moffat, who started his career at Ross County before being discarded by the Highland club. “It’s still a strong brand name, even though they were gone for 25 years. But this is about more than just a name now. They’ve done well already since they came back into the league set-up three years ago but this time they’re doing things the right way.

“They’re building, they’re ambitious, and they’re looking years ahead, not the short-term, the Cosmos are exactly the kind of team you want to be with. As a player over here, you hear a lot about all the teams, about how things are run, how players are treated, and their reputation is great.”

Moffat signed in January last year, agreeing a move which appealed to him, not only as a player but a fan, too. After finalising the deal he found himself placed immediately into the orbit of one of football’s biggest stars, with former Real Madrid and Spain talisman Raul having also agreed to play in New York. It is an experience which the Scot, once a midfielder with part-time Third Division side Elgin City, knows is unlikely to be eclipsed. Raul became preeminent during a storied career at the Bernabeu: he won six league titles with Real and was the club’s all-time leading goalscorer until Cristiano Ronaldo surpassed him last season.

The 38-year-old Spaniard established himself immediately as an avuncular figure to his team-mates and a willing ambassador for the club, acceding to a variety of sponsorship events around Manhattan. That proclivity to further the sport in the city led to a decision by the New York state assembly to declare October 31 “Raul Appreciation Day” in the Spaniard’s honour.

“Raul hung out with the guys and had a joke about; there was no sort of celebrity to him,” says Moffat, who also counted erstwhile Spain internationalist and European Championship winner Marcos Senna as a team-mate last term. “He didn’t have that stand-offishness about him and I know he enjoyed it over here as well. He didn’t get bombarded the same way he would if he lived pretty much anywhere else in the world.

“He was so down to earth, he really was. He spoke to every single person in the team and he listened to every single person in the team; he didn’t think he was above it. I was a big Man United fan growing up so he broke my heart a few times, and I was sure to bring that up with him. But he was such a gifted player. In our generation, he’s one of the greats. It was fantastic to play with him.

“He was a bit older but he is one of a kind and a class act. He never was the quickest or the strongest, he was just a clever, clever player and he still had that when he played here. Some of the things I saw him doing and the composure he had was remarkable. I learned a lot, for sure.”

Moffat has been on a voyage of discovery since first landing in the United States in 2007. It is a remarkable transatlantic odyssey which has so far given him an audience with football royalty, a U.S. president, and Brand Beckham.

Moffat has treated each celebrity encounter with a dry and distinctly Caledonian humour, moments of self-deprecation which suggest modesty in a player who has come to achieve so much. Since departing Elgin’s Borough Briggs, the 30-year-old Scot has also won the MLS Eastern Conference Championship three times, first at Colombus Crew then twice more at Houston Dynamo, and celebrated victory in the MLS Cup. During his final season with the Dynamo, he earned a basic salary of $150,000 (£112,697) per annum, and that figure rose to $165,000 (£123,966) when he joined FC Dallas a year later.

He continues to make a good living in soccer, settling into a lifestyle for which his compatriots have often appeared ill-suited. Scotland internationalists Kenny Miller and Barry Robson each aborted their spells with Vancouver Whitecaps, with Kris Boyd and Shaun Maloney bringing to a premature end their short, lucrative stints at Portland Timbers and Chicago Fire, respectively. Steven Smith, formerly of Rangers, also declined to return to MLS after spending just eight months playing across the Atlantic.

And yet North America continues to be the land of opportunity for players from Scotland and the rest of the UK. James McFadden spent time on trial at Philadelphia Union last October. Former West Bromwich Albion defender Liam Ridgewell captained Portland Timbers to a 2015 MLS Cup triumph, while former England team-mates Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole were reunited at LA Galaxy.

“Obviously, I was the one that started it all,” Moffat says with a wry smile. “But then David Beckham came over . . .”

The Scot describes his own arrival in the U.S. nine years ago as the consequence of a “random” phone call after his Elgin side had finished the season second from bottom in the third division, and he agreed to play for Cleveland City Stars in the United Soccer Leagues First Division. It was a signing made without fanfare but one that would allow Moffat to become a witness to the arrival of America’s first modern soccer superstar, as Beckham swapped the Galacticos of Madrid for the Galaxy of LA. The column inches devoted to his acquisition helped raise soccer above the traditional American sporting canopy, the arrival of such a celebrated player generating an unprecedented PR campaign which included advertisements and sponsorship deals. There was also a prime-time reality TV series for his wife, Victoria, before Beckham was introduced officially to both fans and LA’s high society, making his debut in front of names such as Tom Cruise, Eva Longoria and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Another public appearance would conclude with Beckham and Moffat sharing a few words in the centre of a pitch in southern California, after the Englishman had come out on top in the 2011 MLS Cup. Moffat had performed manfully that night as part of Houston Dynamo’s midfield and went close with a header in the second half. But moments later Beckham was allowed the space to flick the ball into the path of Robbie Keane, whose clever pass into the penalty area was prodded into the net by Landon Donovan. The two sides contested the trophy again a year later, with Keane and Donovan scoring in a 3-1 triumph for the Galaxy.

Moffat focused on defeat immediately after each game but he has since expanded his view to acknowledge the pride of facing up to such an accomplished opponent. “I don’t know . . . probably messing his hair up,” he says of the best means he found of unsettling the former England captain. “Playing against David Beckham was not something that had ever popped into my mind. Looking back at it now, it’s remarkable. When I was younger, I thought there might be a good chance of coming up against him. But I would not have dreamed of it happening in LA, in an MLS Cup final.

“He was just a quality player; he was smart, he got to those spots where he could get in space and whip the ball in. He liked to drop off, get guys to lay it back and look for that ball in. So I think it was about being switched on to where he was at all times. He was probably not going to do hundreds of miles of running in those games but he was still a smart player and, given time on the ball, you knew that he could find anyone.”

The initial meeting, in 2011, might appear to have been the best opportunity for Moffat to claim a remarkable personal victory over a player who had made more than 100 appearances for his country. But the Scot remains satisfied that his side were simply outshone by a Galaxy of star players. “LA were the better team,” Moffat says of a side which would clinch a third MLS Cup in 2014 when they defeated New England Revolution. “It wasn’t one of those games after which I felt: ‘We should have done this, we should have done that’. I felt like we had given everything we had.”

Moffat had previously offered a more extensive review of his inaugural MLS Cup triumph. The midfielder provided a commentary for a DVD commissioned by Colombus Crew to document the franchise’s success in 2008, a campaign which began when the Scot scored his first MLS goal against Toronto on the opening day. He would miss the decisive match – a 3-1 victory over New York Red Bulls – after suffering a knee injury but remained a central figure, and helped transport the trophy to the White House when Crew answered an invitation from Barack Obama.

“We won the 2008 MLS Cup with Columbus Crew and got to go to meet the President,” says Moffat. “We won the first year Obama was in charge and that was an experience. He came in, shook some hands, let us take some pictures and then he left. There is a photo of him standing with the secret service guys on his shoulder and me right there next to them.”

That picture is a snapshot of his experiences since leaving Scotland behind, a prominent entry in a scrapbook of remarkable encounters. Among the more recent came at the Cosmos training ground during the summer, when Moffat was cornered by Niko Kranjcar and asked by the Croat to help him decide on an offer tabled by Rangers. The midfielder, who had joined the New York side for the spring season, had agreed to meet Rangers manager Mark Warburton for a meal in Manhattan and had been left to consider the particulars of a two-year contract.

Kranjcar was familiar with British football following spells at Portsmouth, Tottenham Hotspur and Queens Park Rangers, but sought out his Scottish team-mate to learn more about Glasgow and the sort of football he was likely to be faced with in the SPFL Premiership. His subsequent arrival at Ibrox had been affected by indifferent form initially and, more recently, a knee injury suffered in training which has all but ended Krancjar’s season. It is a heavy blow for a player captivated by the chance to move to Rangers.

“When the interest initially came up we spoke, about the city, the team,” says Moffat, who was born in Glasgow. “He had a good impression of the team. For him, it’s different, he’s never played in Scotland so he was asking me a whole host of things about the set up. Before he signed [for Rangers] I knew he was intrigued by it.

“It was very good to play alongside him. He’s a very smart player, technically he’s incredible on the ball, and he’s one of those guys who can make something happen out of nothing. At training, some of the things you’d see him do . . . he’s still got a few years left in him. He’s a quality player, a guy you want on the ball. He can give good service to the forwards and can crack a good shot as well.

“The opportunity [at Ibrox] seemed really good for him. It was a good step for him. If I get over to Scotland, I’ll definitely reach out to him and get to a game.”

It is an account which speaks of the rapport Moffat has enjoyed with more celebrated colleagues, and that also whispers about a lack of any relationship with football in his homeland. The Cosmos midfielder left the Scottish game early in his career and his exploits since are not commonly known back across the Atlantic. Indeed, when he was contacted by a series of British newspapers ahead of Houston Dynamo’s MLS Cup matches with LA Galaxy, it was simply to provide context to the Beckham story.

The demands of family life – Moffat married a Californian, and they reside by the beach with their three children – have also placed a limit on his ability to return to Scotland. Instead his parents are frequent visitors during the summer months, while he has also been contacted by friends eager to arrange a short stay in New York.

“I got an email from a friend of mine the other day asking about coming over for a holiday, but that’s New York for you,” says Moffat. “It’s tougher to get home. When I was first over here and single I’d be home every year, then when I got married it was once every two years, then I have a kid and it’s maybe once every three years.

“But I am blessed. I played in Scotland right through my teens but things never work out the way you expect or hope sometimes; a lot of boys are capable at that age and don’t get the break. Alex [Smith] was keen on me when I was at Ross County, John [Robertson] wasn’t and got rid of me. Then confidence goes, opportunities don’t come, and I was at the point where I was almost done with it. Being at Elgin City and finishing second bottom of the Third Division was never where I saw myself.

“But I was fortunate I got a second chance and I’ve been very conscious of making the most of it. I was given another chance in my career and it was just a random phone call I got one day asking if I wanted to come over and play in Cleveland, Ohio. All of a sudden all these opportunities opened up in front of me. I will probably stay here the rest of my life.

“I’m fortunate that things have worked out the way they have for me. From playing in the third division in Scotland . . . to play at Borough Briggs then eight years later to be lining up alongside Raul . . . yeah, it’s been a pretty good journey. For me to go from where I was to where I am now is hard to believe.”

It is something which the midfielder will continue to chew over. When he is done with his lunch, at least.

This article first appeared in Issue 2 which was published in December 2016.

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