Soccer giant's goal is the Northeast

European soc­cer club, the Celt­ic Foot­ball Club of Glas­glow, hopes to make North­east Phil­adelphia its for­eign home.

Scot­land’s Celt­ic FC team coach Neil Len­non posses with Jose Ibarra and a photo of what the Phil­adelphia SportsZone pro­ject looks like. The pro­ject in­volves the even­tu­al con­struc­tion of a multi-sport arena in the North­east, Fri­day, Au­gust 10, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

A European soc­cer power­house in­tends to make North­east Phil­adelphia its first-ever for­eign home.

Celt­ic Foot­ball Club of Glas­gow, Scot­land, on Fri­day an­nounced plans to team with Phil­adelphia Sports Zone to cre­ate a youth soc­cer academy at a yet-to-be built multi-sport ven­ue. The an­nounce­ment came ahead of Sat­urday’s ex­hib­i­tion match at Lin­coln Fin­an­cial Field between the reign­ing Scot­tish cham­pi­ons and their Span­ish coun­ter­parts Real Mad­rid.

May­fair res­id­ent and St. Hubert High School gradu­ate Mag­gie Cough­lan and her busi­ness part­ner, Phil­adelphia Soc­cer Club coach Jose Ibarra, plan to build the Sports Zone in the North­east, al­though they have yet to con­firm a site for the pro­posed in­door/out­door com­plex.

The duo lost out to a con­sor­ti­um in­clud­ing Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity in a re­cent bid­ding pro­cess for the former Lid­don­field Homes pub­lic hous­ing com­plex in Up­per Holmes­burg, but they re­main con­fid­ent that they will open the new youth academy in 2012.

“On the land ac­quis­i­tion, we’re work­ing with sev­er­al people now,” Cough­lan said dur­ing Fri­day’s news con­fer­ence at a Penn’s Land­ing hotel. “The Celt­ic academy will be star­ted here in this coun­try by the end of this year.”

Celt­ic man­ager Neil Len­non, along with cur­rent first-team play­ers Charlie Mul­grew and Thomas Ro­gne, at­ten­ded Fri­day’s me­dia event, as did their club’s youth academy coach and de­vel­op­ment of­ficer, Greig Robertson, and young­sters rep­res­ent­ing sev­er­al North­east-based teams in­clud­ing Danu­bia Soc­cer Club, Park­wood Ath­let­ic As­so­ci­ation and Academy Sabres.

“All teams, all events, all soc­cer pro­grams out of the fa­cil­ity will be un­der the guise of Celt­ic Foot­ball Club,” said Robertson.

Fin­an­cial terms of the Sports Zone/Celt­ic FC part­ner­ship were not dis­closed.

Early last year, Cough­lan and Ibarra re­vealed their plans to de­vel­op a $10 mil­lion, 20-acre sports, re­cre­ation and re­tail com­plex in Up­per Holmes­burg. At the time, they said they were in dis­cus­sions with an­oth­er high-pro­file European soc­cer club, Italy’s AC Mil­an, to serve as its U.S.-based youth academy. The ar­chi­tec­tur­al design firm Ewing Cole sup­plied de­tailed schem­at­ic draw­ings.

But even then, the de­velopers had not found and con­firmed a site for the pro­ject. Cough­lan and Ibarra showed the plans pub­licly dur­ing a meet­ing of the Up­per Holmes­burg Civic As­so­ci­ation, which en­dorsed the concept, even without a spe­cif­ic loc­a­tion for it. Cough­lan said they wanted to build it along Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue near Tol­but Street, but they had no agree­ment with a spe­cif­ic landown­er. 

Later in 2011, the Phil­adelphia Hous­ing Au­thor­ity placed the 32-acre former Lid­don­field Homes site, at Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue and Megar­gee Street, up for bid. The Sports Zone pro­pos­al was one of three fi­nal­ists con­sidered by PHA, which ul­ti­mately se­lec­ted the one in­volving Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity.

“Through this whole [time], there have been plenty of doors slammed, but Jose and I be­lieved that we should keep go­ing,” Cough­lan said. “It’s a great concept — the Phil­adelphia Sports Zone — and we want to bring this to the North­east. We want kids to be able to come and have a place to play.”

Sports Zone’s part­ner­ship with Celt­ic de­veloped from a simple “cold call.”

Cough­lan, whose fath­er was born and raised in Glas­gow, grew up in a house­hold of Celt­ic FC sup­port­ers.

“The unique­ness and strange­ness is as simple as Mag­gie pick­ing up a phone and call­ing Celt­ic Park,” Robertson said. “And a year to the day from that phone call, we’re launch­ing something ex­cit­ing.”

State Rep. Kev­in Boyle (D-172nd dist.) hopes the Sports Zone will come to his dis­trict. Like Celt­ic FC, Boyle has Ir­ish roots. Boyle’s fath­er was born in Ire­land. Mean­while, Celt­ic traces its roots to 1888, when an Ir­ish-born Mar­ist priest, Broth­er Wal­fred, cre­ated the club to raise money for the poor in Glas­gow’s East End.

“We’re try­ing to do all we can and try­ing to work out how we can get this in the 172nd dis­trict,” Boyle said. “But if we don’t, I want it to be some­where in North­east Phil­adelphia. This would put North­east Phil­adelphia on the map be­cause Celt­ic is an in­ter­na­tion­al soc­cer club.”

Though already con­sidered a glob­al club with sup­port­er groups in North Amer­ica, the Far East, Africa, Aus­tralia and else­where in Europe, Celt­ic ex­pects the youth academy to broaden its pro­file in the United States.

“It’s something that’s been needed as far as foot­ball and Celt­ic. We want to push the brand as far as we can,” said Neil Len­non, the club’s first-team man­ager.

Sat­urday’s game was Celt­ic’s third pre­season “friendly” match in the Phil­adelphia re­gion in re­cent years. Len­non was a play­er when Celt­ic de­feated Manchester United 2-1 at Lin­coln Fin­an­cial Field in Ju­ly 2004. In Ju­ly 2010, Len­non man­aged Celt­ic’s 1-0 loss to the host Phil­adelphia Uni­on.

“I love com­ing here,” said the Ir­ish-born Len­non. “It’s a won­der­ful sport­ing city and the fa­cil­it­ies are ex­cel­lent as well. There’s a huge Ir­ish-Amer­ic­an pop­u­la­tion here, and look­ing at the kids in Celt­ic tops, it’s really amaz­ing.”

Celt­ic hopes the Philly-based youth academy will help it de­vel­op tal­ent for the fu­ture. The club would have first crack at sign­ing elite-level play­ers pro­duced there to pro­fes­sion­al con­tracts. In Scot­land, the club com­petes at sev­er­al youth levels and in wo­men’s leagues in ad­di­tion to the men’s seni­or level. Fur­ther, the club could profit by selling the con­tracts of its young play­ers to oth­er clubs.

The vast ma­jor­ity of play­ers at the youth academy will nev­er see the pro­fes­sion­al levels, but they will be­ne­fit in oth­er ways.

“It keeps them act­ive and fit and keeps them busy, off the streets,” said Sta­cey Shoe­maker, whose chil­dren play soc­cer in the North­east. “And you could get them a col­lege schol­ar­ship, you nev­er know — maybe even high school.”

“There are only a very small per­cent­age of youth play­ers in our academy in Glas­gow who make the pro­fes­sion­al ranks,” Robertson said. “(But) we will as­sist their so­cial de­vel­op­ment, their phys­ic­al de­vel­op­ment and they will be bet­ter soc­cer play­ers.” ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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