On September 30, 1983, Chris Greatwich kicked his way out of his mother’s womb, and the world was blessed with a remarkable footballer. A dynamic midfielder who would one day grow up to play a pivotal role in putting the Philippines back on the football map. While his heroic performance in 2010 helped change the landscape of Philippine football and probably defined his career, the Kaya and Azkals midfielder is ready to retell his story and maybe even redefine himself.
Born in London, but raised in a town called Lewes, Christopher Greatwich, or Chris, the oldest of the Greatwich brothers, started playing football at the age of three. With a father who’s into football and a town where everyone just plays football, it comes as no surprise that he still remembers the first time he kicked a ball … and lost it.
“My dad is football crazy. That’s where my brothers and I get our passion for football. The first time I probably kicked the ball around was with my dad in my hometown in England. I can remember kicking the football around in the parking garage in front of my house. I kicked the ball over a small wall, and my dad was playing goal. I took a shot, and it went over the wall and landed in the river, so we lost the ball. I was three.”
It was all about football from three onward for Chris. With football everywhere, it was as if his football career was predestined from birth. Sure, he might not have a football memory he is most fond of, but his life revolved around the sport, whether he was at home or at school or with family or friends.
“The best times I had when I was a kid [were] playing with my friends or playing football in the garden with my brothers and dad. That’s pretty much how most of my summers were played out—staying out late, playing football in the park, playing football in the garden, playing football in school, playing football in the playground. That’s pretty much what we used to do growing up.”
Chris might have established a long-lasting and faithful relationship with football over the years, but he dabbled in other sports too. He wasn’t being disloyal to football. He just happens to be sporty, and he reaped the rewards.
“I guess my brothers and I are quite fortunate that we pick up other sports quite easily. My mum is really into basketball. In fact, she coached my two brothers’ elementary school teams, and they used to kill everyone. She never coached for me—maybe I was too difficult—but I played a lot of basketball as a kid. A lot. I was pretty good at basketball. I played a lot of cricket and was pretty good at cricket. What else did I play? Um, I’m pretty good at Ping-Pong. I’m definitely the best player in the national team at Ping-Pong. Everyone tries to beat me at Ping-Pong, but no one can beat me.”
Chris, nobody likes a braggart! But maybe he does have bragging rights considering that nobody taught him how to play these sports. Just like other talented athletic kids, he learned to excel in them naturally without a proper coach, and that is worth bragging to the world.
“No one ever taught me [how to play these sports]. We had a Ping-Pong table at home. When I was younger, my dad built a recreation room in our house, so we put a Ping-Pong table inside, and then in the winters, we would go in there, and we would just practice and play. But I have no professional coaching. In essence, I played everything, but football was my main passion.”
Despite his inclination to other sports, he knew that they were just for fun, and his heart has always belonged to football from the get-go. Football is his main passion, and playing other sports wasn’t really for bragging—yes, we were just kidding! There’s no such thing as picking one sport to play. The more sports you play, the better. You discover new skills and improve in areas that other sports may require. The skills you learn in one sport can actually be applied to other sports, and we can learn from Chris himself.
“I always encourage other kids to play other sports. I think it’s a myth that young kids should focus on one particular sport. You know, I think what I learned on the football field, I was able to translate when I would play basketball, when I played cricket, and it helped with my coordination. Same with Ping-Pong. There are a lot of things that you learn in others sports that are transferrable skills. A lot of kids you will see who are good at football are also good at basketball or good at rugby.”
Competitive Midfielder Chris
In sports, as in life, things are very competitive, and competing in sports teaches us important skills and lessons in life that prepare us for the future. And competition is one thing that Chris loves about football. Gary Neville once said, “Any squad needs competition to keep the players fresh.” When all is said and done, the first lesson of football is that you compete, and playing sports is the best way to introduce competition.
“I like the competition. I like the fact that is you against an opponent or you and your team against another team. I like that kind of competitive environment. I’m in the wrong sport if I wasn’t competitive.”
For a player primarily billed as a center midfielder, he has actually played everywhere, and considering his knack for sports and competition, this should no longer take us by surprise.
“I’ve played everywhere. I was a striker when I was a kid, left-winger, sweeper. I stayed with my current position because I’ve always wanted to be involved in the game—involved in getting forward and with the defensive side.”
Speaking of his current position, the midfield is his area of expertise. The Tottenham fan shares with us what he thinks is key to playing the role.
“I think if you play center midfield, you have to be good at most things. You have to be quite comfortable on the ball. You have to read the game well. You need to be combative. You need to be able to do most things because, in any given game, you’re gonna find yourself in situations where you’re gonna be called upon to do a number of different things. To be a good central midfield player, you need to have good stamina, obviously. You have to be efficient in a number of different areas.”
The midfield is clearly Chris’s department, and he has proven on important occasions that every time he was involved, he seemed to have a match-winning impact. It was a role Chris took on with pleasure and passion, and it coincided with a run of goal-scoring opportunities for him with the national team and Kaya. Let’s not forget that his involvement, along with his teammates’, once caused a shock that landed in Sports Illustrated’s “Top 10 Soccer Stories of 2010.”
Committed Chris and Committed Parents
While it seems that being skilled and competitive will get you to the top, it will take more than that to keep you there—you need commitment and a solid adult support system while growing up. Character—a strong will and resolve—is also conducive to one’s achievements.
When Chris was young, he was haunted by moments when he thought to himself that he wouldn’t make it as a player, but he learned how to cope with these situations. Some situations in life can change you if you’re ready for them.
“I remember my very first game for the professional club I played for, Brighton, and we played Chelsea. I was maybe 11 years old and I was terrible. I thought, ‘I’m never going to make it. Football is just not for me,’ and I remember going home after the game thinking, ‘What am I going to do? I need to really improve to become a professional footballer.’ The next season, I came back and worked really hard. We played Chelsea on our first game, and we won, 6–2, and I managed to score two goals.”
“Another time, I was dropped from my age-group, 14-year-old, and I was made to play in the age-group below. I remember before the game thinking I was being insulted and I just remember I had a really good game. We played against Wimbledon, actually Rob [Gier]’s club. I got a little bit of confidence from playing in that game, and then the rest of that season, I kept that confidence up, and I had a good finish for the season. Soon after, I managed to force my way into the U-19 team, which is the older group. These are two examples when I had a lot of doubts whether football was going to be a career for me, but as long as you keep working hard, you keep your passion and desire to be a professional player, you persevere, you believe in your own ability, and you’re willing not to let those knocks affect you so much, then you can always overcome those obstacles.”
From those two examples, he gained hunger and determination. Evidently, Chris is a professional footballer at heart, and he did what a pro would do—accept the manager’s decision, go back to learning his trade, and work on his game. After all, he is a dedicated student of the game, a work in progress who is always adapting and reworking himself and his ideas.
Chris showed resilience and even Kaya’s “never say die” spirit early on in his career, but the values that helped him surpass these obstacles weren’t born out of the situation alone. His parents, who have always been there for him since his formative childhood years, instilled in him certain values through their presence.
Without being constantly on him like a shadow, his parents raised him to have his own identity. A young man of substance, Chris acknowledges them as part and parcel of his success.
“When I was younger, especially, you need your family. I needed my dad to drive me to practice. I needed to make sure that my mum fed us well. But mostly just being there at your games and practices because I can’t remember many games that my mum and dad missed of any of us. They would always be there at every game. Just being there and sharing those experiences, that’s really all the support that you need. You don’t need your parents shouting or screaming on the sidelines. You don’t need your parents to be buying you all the best shoes or whatever. The most important thing is that my parents were there at my games and practices. When I played bad, they said, ‘All right, you weren’t that bad. You could’ve played better.’ Or if I had a really amazing game, they said, ‘What about this mistake and that mistake?’ They were always really good at keeping us grounded. I think just the parental support is very important in any young aspiring athlete’s life, but mostly just having them being there was the most important thing.”
There is no instruction manual on how to parent or be a parent, but the presence of parents during one’s childhood should never be underestimated. They say that presence is more than just being there, and it’s true. A parent’s presence can create childhood memories that are carried into adulthood, and it can shape a growing child’s worldview.
Children are impressionable, and his parents set a good example. Driving Chris to school, watching his training and games, and keeping him grounded, for instance, helped sculpt his development. They were specific ways of how parents give their support to their children without impeding or damaging their growth—they raise you up and keep you at your best. He was taught that wealth is not the same as worth and that you carve your own path to success.
His parents, through their presence, encouraged him to develop a genuine human identity, flaws and all, complete with the imperfections that make people unique. Supportive parents will watch their children march through life triumphantly in the same way that Chris’s parents did.
We’ve already mentioned the omnipresence of football in England, so saying you want to be a footballer when you grow up will not take anybody’s breath away unless there’s a catch—is there? As a kid, Chris was just like everybody else in that being a footballer has always been his childhood ambition.
“Yes, I remember when I was little, all my brothers and I always wanted to be footballers. I guess it’s everyone’s dream growing up to play professionally or to make a career out of football. When you watch football on TV, you see superstars, and you want to emulate them or be like them.”
While being a footballer may be the default childhood dream, Chris admitted that pursuing a professional footballer career is not something he planned. Sometimes it’s best when things just happen.
“I never planned it. It just happened. I remember writing down a list of goals or achievements that I wanted to make by the time I’m a certain age or by the time I finish, but you can’t plan a football career. No one ever knows what’s going to happen. You’ll never know when you’re going to get an injury. You’ll never know when a club decides that they want to keep you anymore. The only thing you can plan is training hard every day and trying to improve yourself every day.”
But before we move on, how was Chris at school?
“I was an OK student. I wouldn’t say I excelled. My report card would always say, ‘A lot of potential. Could do better. Talks too much. Too social.’ And I think there’s nothing wrong with that!”
Chris was neither bad nor great at school; sometimes it all boils down to working hard and making the most out of yourself. Extroverted Chris didn’t let his performance at school define him because it’s how you define yourself. He excelled in being himself, and football brought out the best in him. As a result, he has more aptitude and a bigger appetite for success than he had imagined.
But Chris, a friendly man with a gift for comedy, actually has a side that most people probably haven’t heard of, and we’re not talking about his dry humor, which we undoubtedly all love. Well, Chris isn’t always about football; he has a dark—we mean, an enterprising side.
“I did lots of different things. Growing up, I was quite entrepreneurial. I used to clean cars. I used to knock door to door to clean cars. At Christmas, I would do carol singing. I used to sell snacks at school just to my friends. I’ve always been quite entrepreneurial and interested in business.”
Straying away from the typical sports science path in college, Chris gave in to his entrepreneurial tendencies and took up business management.
“My degree was in business. I had a business management degree when I went to school in the States. I was quite into graphic design at school. If I wasn’t a footballer, I wanted to be a kit designer. I can draw. I used to be good at art in school. When I was playing semiprofessional, I worked at recruitment for a while in England, but obviously, my passion has always been playing football as a full-time career.”
Was designing his “plan B” as a child?
“As a kid, if I’m not going to be a footballer, I like to design, but coaching is my plan B. You never know where life is going to take you, but I like being here in the Philippines right now. I enjoy coaching here. I like the projects. I like working with the academy. It’s growing at an incredible rate.”
His business degree didn’t end up building his business empire, but it didn’t go to waste either. Equipped with his football background and business acumen, he focused on a market that he has always been familiar with—by coaching and running an academy. And at the same time, he still plays full-time at Kaya. At the end of the day, Chris always finds himself back in the arms of football, where he belongs.
“Like I said, I think I’m quite entrepreneurial, but starting a business, I’m not too sure. Maybe down the line, but in order to start a business, you need to know a little bit about the market that you’re getting into. Like for me, I’m in the market of coaching kids and managing an academy, which is something that I know a lot about. And I think a lot of those things [you’ve learned in business management] are transferrable, like how you interact with people or your organizational skills and that kind of thing. All of those are transferrable in any business or any other aspect of life.”
Now let’s get down to business and get things straight! How accurate is Chris’s life on Wikipedia? Without further ado, we’ll summarize his football career in England and in America in Chris fashion.
The first club Chris joined—Wikipedia got it correctly—was Brighton and Hove Albion. How he became part of the Seagulls wasn’t a family decision, but a matter of recommendation.
“My PE teacher at school, Richard Lacey, was close with the academy director, and he recommended me to him at that time, and I went on trial with a few of my other friends from my school, and I was lucky to be offered a contract.”
Having spent eight years at the club, it is safe to say that everything started at Brighton. He practically grew up there, and with so many memories, he considers Brighton—excluding Kaya and the national team, of course—one of the best teams he’s played for.
“My youth team at Brighton was really good. We reached the last 16 of the FA Youth Cup, which is a big deal in England, and we lost to Aston Villa, who ended up winning the competition. So that was a really big deal for us, and our youth team was really strong. I think, from that team, four or five went on to make careers out of football professionally. It was really a fun team to be part of. I signed there when I was 11 years old. I was there for eight years, 1995–2003.”
You might encounter a team named Ringmer on Chris’s Wikipedia profile, and while he did play for the club, he was actually on loan and only played for one game. “It’s not even worth mentioning,” clarified Chris. Now we know!
After eight years at Brighton, it was time for Chris to start anew and move on to the next chapter of his football life. In 2003, Chris, full of promise and adventure, set foot on American soil to find his version of the American dream or something like it.
“I moved there in 2003. I just got released from my professional club, Brighton, and I just needed a fresh start. I decided to pursue a footballing and an academic career in the States. In 2003, I was in Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. A friend of mine was an assistant coach at Drury University in the Midwest, so I joined him and played there for two years, and then he moved to a school in New York, so I followed him to New York to Hartwick College. It was a move to a better program, and the team was really good. I graduated in January 2007 from Hartwick in New York.”
Chris studied at Drury University first and moved to Hartwick College to finish university while playing for the school teams, the Drury Panthers and the Hartwick Hawks, respectively. Despite the transition from England to America and then from Missouri to New York, Chris admitted that adjusting has never been a problem. Football (or soccer) is a tried-and-tested social leveler because it allows people from around the world to connect or communicate.
“It was easy, and football is always an easy way to make friends. Adjusting is not a problem. People always talk about culture shock, but I’ve never had that. I’m quite adaptable to the environment.”
Even in terms of playing style, transition didn’t become a setback for Chris at all. In fact, it was the opposite. Even though England’s standards were better overall, the American playing style was more suitable for Chris.
“The style of play is very different. England is a lot more physical—more tackles, a lot quicker—and pace is a lot faster. The standard overall was better when I played in England compared to the States. In the States, it was a little more direct. The game was more based on athleticism. It was also a little easier because you’d always play on really good pitches. The game was a bit different. You had a little more time on the ball compared to England. Like in England, it’s a hundred miles an hour—you never have time on the ball. In the States, you always had a little more time on the ball, so for me, it suited my style a little bit more.”
And contrary to popular belief, football is quite popular in the States.
“I think football is big now in the States. It’s incredibly well back in 2002. It’s always been football. It’s a huge thing. Maybe not compared to NFL or basketball, but probably the fourth most popular sport in the States. Football just has more sports to compete with that have been longer established. It’s huge in the kids level and girls level. And they’ve got a lot of good infrastructure in place for them to be successful in the future. Football has always been popular in the States.”
Back to England
After graduating from Hartwick College, however, things took a turn back to England …
“I wanted to be back in England. I went back to play professionally again. I went to Scotland to try out for little bit. I tried out for Kilmarnock in the Scottish Premier League, and then I ended up playing for my hometown team, Lewes, for about three months, then I played for Bognor Regis Town [2007–2008] for a year.
“From 2008 to 2009, I stopped playing football. I was working at Graduate Recruitment Bureau. I left them at the end of 2008 and went traveling for three months around the world with Sam, then after that, I went back to the States to coach for SONESOCCER in August 2009.”
After playing football and his brief adventure around the globe, he was back in the States again. Just a quick recap: Chris went back to England and worked for Graduate Recruitment Bureau in 2007 and simultaneously played football in England with a little coaching on the side. “Around the World with Chris Greatwich” is another story for another time.
Back to America
Now it raises this question: why did Chris go back to the States?
“I had nothing to do in England,” admitted Chris.
So come 2009, Chris flew back to America but stayed in a different state—New Jersey. As nomadic as Chris seems, it’s all about pursuing the football track wherever it takes him, and New Jersey served as an avenue for his skills and interests. He worked for SONESOCCER and played for Morris County Colonials.
“Morris County is an amateur team, which is part of the SONESOCCER organization, but they only play in the summer. Their summer season is like May, June, and July. I would play for them, and I would also coach for them.”
Regardless of his short-lived return to England, the whole Western saga was a fruitful and memorable experience for Chris.
“I think it was a good experience for me. I wouldn’t say I particularly improved by playing in the States. I think aspects of my game improved, but I wouldn’t say I greatly improved as a player. For me, the reason I went to the States was because I wanted a fresh start, and the States offered that opportunity. The teams that I played for had a system, a style of play, which was built around my strengths, so it was nice that those teams were able to facilitate me as a player, which in turn enabled me to play at a good level.”
Even though they say that America is a glittering symbol of promise, nothing beats the feeling of being home in the Philippines. Armed with his incredible experience from the Western world, he decided to move to the Philippines to start another epic journey.
To be continued …