Interview with AC Glen Cove President John Thelian

AC Glen Cove President John Thelian on the club and it's history, soccer on Long Island, and Soccergate! Read more

Article originally appeared in Soccer Long Island Magazine

By David Harris

AC Glen Cove team picture from LISFL 2013 Joe Goldberg tournament. John Thelian standing in back row, all the way to the right. Photo by Michael Anderer

I've been corresponding with John Thelian, president of the LISFL club AC Glen Cove over the last few months and I've found his history in the game and the history of AC Glen Cove to be fascinating. From Tony Meola to Tony Cangero, John has seen and done a lot in soccer here on Long Island. John's a feisty guy, but he's passionate about soccer and especially AC Glen Cove. He's been an important part of the LISFL for many years and recently took the time to share his experiences in his own words. I followed up at the end to get his thoughts about soccer on Long Island and to share some advice for young people who are learning about the game. Here is John's story in his own words. 

I grew up in Baldwin and spent my weekends watching my Dad play soccer. My Dad played on Saturdays for Pan AM, and on Sundays for Lynbrook. He is really my main influence and why soccer is so much a part of my life. With Lynbrook they were the dominant force in soccer throughout the 70's. With Pan Am he got to see the world, as every summer they would travel overseas to play in tournaments.

Pan Am team photo, John Thelian Sr seated in the middle row, 1st from the left. Photo provided by John Thelian Jr.

My dad took over coaching our Long Island junior team when I was about 15 or 16 years old. We were the Baldwin Eagles and had players including Jimmy Walther and Peter Lynn. When we were 18 we beat Oceanside 1-0 in a national cup, but Oceanside protested the game (claiming it started late) and the score line was overturned giving them a forfeit win. This allowed Oceanside to go to Texas where they competed for the national title. Tony Meola played goal for them, and as you know, the rest is history. My Dad called it "Soccergate", and printed 600 T-shirts (with his own money) with a picture of a crying soccer ball from Doss Soccer.

Soccergate T-shirt. Photo provided by John Thelian

My last two years of high school I spent at St. Paul's and that didn't really help me too much in terms of recognition for college soccer. I was accepted at Hofstra, and obviously wanted to play soccer, so I asked about tryouts, having missed preseason. I made the team as a freshman walk-on in the Fall of '86, and ended up playing for Ian Collins, in his first season. The next season Ian offered 7 incoming freshman partial scholarships, and I was the last player to be cut my sophomore year. Two of the freshman later dropped out and he asked me if I'd like to rejoin, but I was young and emotional and said I wouldn't play for him as long as he coached. Luckily in my (first) senior year Richie Nuttall came in as head coach. I played for him for 2 seasons (spending much of them injured), but the contacts and friendships that I made were invaluable. It's where I got the nickname "Huckleberry".

In the early 80's my father had started the Baldwin soccer club in the LISFL. I played with them occasionally in spring seasons. We had moved to Garden City in '85 and a few years after that my Dad started Garden City as another LISFL team. Both clubs had to work their way up from D3 to D1. I played for them on and off for 2-3 seasons in between college team commitments. My father and Garden City parted ways as they decided that they wanted to be more recreational, as opposed to his competitive style of coaching. He ended up coaching my sister (who became an All-American at William Smith) and girls U-16 ODP. I, of course left the Garden City club too.

Through Hofstra, I had contacts with Glen Cove, so I played on the U-23 for Armand one summer. I always teased him that he never called me to play in the fall so I had signed for another team. This began my long journey through the LISFL. To sum it up quickly, I played for Baldwin, Garden City, Glen Cove, Forest Park, Mineola, Integral, and then back to Glen Cove.

When I was about 24 and a little disillusioned, I took a couple years off. Upon getting back into it I heard Pete and Jimmy were playing with Integral so I signed and played with them for two years, under Bunny Byfield. This was a great experience even though Jimmy and Peter barely came to play. I enjoyed those guys, but friends from Glen Cove including Fabio Berlingieri and Shawn Cassidy kept asking me to come over and play with them. I eventually gave in and have been with Glen Cove ever since.

As for coaching around this time, I spent 2 years coaching Garden City JV, and another 2 years coaching at Waldorf Academy in Garden City when I was in my mid to late 20's. I lived in Brooklyn at the time, so it just got harder and harder to make my way out east to coach, and still find a way to pay my rent.

Playing with my Hofstra click, we eventually moved to the O-30's, and at one point had an 'A' and a 'B' team. When Tony Cangero got sick in 2004, many of us would go to visit him. At one point he asked me to have my father come to see him. My Dad had served as 3rd VP for Tony on the LISFL BOD and they respected each other. My Dad went to see him, but Tony went very fast. He was looking for someone to take over the reigns for him, and they never got to that point.

AC Glen Cove O-30 team photo. Provided by John Thelian.

Around the same time Glen Cove got into some trouble. While Armand Alpian (then D1 coach) was recovering from hip surgery, players covered his coaching duties and played a player who was not registered. They got caught and Bruce Friedman (then the President) threw the book at them, blaming it on Armand. He said that Armand could not be associated with Glen Cove if we wanted to stay in the league, and we were automatically dropped to D2. The O-30 players were not as familiar with the D1 team, but felt a duty to Tony to do what we could. Fabio Berlingieri took over as acting President and we met to decide what to do. I argued that we had to put the D2 team in and try to save what Tony had built. We had lost all of our players, and the only one to show for the meeting was Sean Sedacca. That night Fabio told him sorry, but the team was folding. Fabio slept on it, called me in the morning, and told me that he changed his mind.

I called on my Dad to help fulfill Tony's request, and he reluctantly took over as coach. We also asked the league to allow us to change our name to AC Glen Cove to honor Tony. Within one season my Dad took the team back into the first division. He coached for one more season finishing in 2nd place that year. He was approached by Terry Uellendahl (then Reserve coach) saying that players were unhappy with his coaching philosophy, so he resigned. Player commitment just wasn't the there, and to him it wasn't worth it, so he passed his duties on to Terry. He felt that he had fulfilled what he'd been asked to do.

During that time there were transitions in the O-30 too. Fabio left, as his focus was on his young children who began to play. The 'B' team absorbed the 'A', and I took over managing the O-30. After his brother passed, Syl Cangero reluctantly managed the books from the money that was left in the club for a while. He would run checks to the field to pay referees, and when Fabio left he took over as acting President. He was very involved in helping to raise money, and helping organize and run the golf outing we threw every year. Without his help the club could not have survived. Seeing that there was a need to solidify our leadership in the club we eventually held an election at which time I was appointed Club President in 2008.

About 3 years ago Armand and I started a dialogue about bringing him back to the club. In the meantime Terry told me that he was leaving our club to go to Mineola, which left me to coach and manage 3 teams all by myself. It was a tough year, but through further discussions with Armand we got him back for the 2012-13 season. With him came Tony Bolbolian to manage the Reserve team. Armand has brought some renewed energy, and with our newly established board of directors, I feel like we are on the right track.

While this gives you a good history, it doesn't even begin to get into all the fundraising, wonderful sponsors, dinner dances, and golf outings we've thrown in that time. So it's been a labor of love, and sense of duty to fulfill a great man's legacy, Anthony Cangero.

DH: What do you think about soccer on Long Island in terms of the good aspects and the areas where it can be improved?

JT: The youth programs are terrific. There are a lot of options for the kids to grow their skills and learn. There are also tons of teams, programs, and camps. The biggest disconnect is their relationship with the adult leagues. In any other country throughout the world a club consists of a youth program connected to the adult. Children learn best through imitation, and a 2-dimensional picture can only offer so much information. Seeing the game played at a high level, live, where you can see the whole field is one of the best ways to learn. In the current environment the youth programs compete with the adult programs to secure fields to play on, at similar times. An effort should be made to establish a mutually beneficial system. Adults coach the youth on a Saturday while the youth come to watch the adults play on a Sunday for instance. This may be over simplifying it, but if we ever intend to compete on the world stage we need to iron out that wrinkle. Barcelona offers the best modern example. The youth comes through their program and eventually play on their Adult side. Today 10 of Barcelona's 11 starters came through their youth system.

DH: What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in playing the game and wants to become a better player?

JT: Juggle when you are alone. Play give-and-go off a wall to yourself. Practice with BOTH feet. If you run, run with the ball, and practice keeping your head up so you can see the field. If you can get friends together play 2v2, or 3v3 on a short field. Concentrate on playing give-and-goes, keeping your head up, and changing pace. Change of pace is important to beat your opponent. It's what keeps them guessing as the game goes on, and helps you create opportunity. Shooting comes later. You need to develop control, a first touch, and your skills first.

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