Edmonton AC Milan Soccer Club working to develop Free Footie talent into club teams
Written by: Patrick Connolly Photo By: Catherine Page
At the beginning of Andrew Pagnotta’s soccer life, the founder of Edmonton AC Milan Soccer Club played community league soccer. His family simply couldn’t afford club.
“Financially it was difficult,” Andrew said about growing up playing soccer. “I went the community route because it was much cheaper.” In Edmonton, there are two distinct directions a young soccer player can take: community or club. Club is much more expensive than community league soccer, but it comes with the benefits of veteran coaches and guided player development. The son of Italian immigrants, Andrew’s family felt he couldn’t get serious about soccer until he was in his late teens; until he could play club.
Andrew’s experience fuelled a philosophy that he took into the Edmonton AC Milan Soccer Club when it was founded in 1999. That philosophy is one of hard work. It is one of character. It is one that values teaching life skills at the same rate as on technique on the field. When Andrew looks for players now, he looks for the values that he learned in community league soccer. “What kind of character do they have? What kind of drive do they have? What are they going to do in society?” he said.
Andrew’s philosophy extends to the very system in which his club operates. He understands that not affording to play club soccer is not the same as not being talented enough. “There’s a lot of kids who fall through the cracks financially,” Andrew said. He’s been on both sides, and, now a part of a club, Andrew is hoping that his philosophy can do more than just question this system. Maybe his philosophy can change it.
That’s where Free Footie comes in. “Once I saw a couple of things that they were doing, I said we have to get involved in this,” Andrew said. “This is exactly my philosophy in giving back to my community. It’s exactly the type of philosophy I wanted AC Milan to pursue.” Andrew and others in AC Milan are offering club-style support to kids who would have never gotten it when Andrew was coming up. He knows where these kids come from; he’s been there. For Andrew, they’re just as deserving of a coach’s time as someone paying a $750 club fee. “My parents worked very hard,” he said. “I understood the sacrifice.”
Andrew hopes that young soccer players won’t have to sacrifice professional development because of a financial situation any more in the future, even beyond Free Footie. The Edmonton AC Milan Soccer Club is now working to create a youth team for Free Footie players that has little to no registration fee. One that uses the same facilities and coaches as the clubs he couldn’t afford to be in as a kid. “We want to get it to the point where these kids can still get to that high level without breaking the bank,” Andrew said. He’s hoping his club will start a trend that ends the financial barrier between club and community. “I don’t see how it has to be that way,” he said. “It’s something that’s really strong in my heart.”