For GW men’s soccer coach George Lidster, last season was supposed to be a lot like his previous 10 with the Colonials.
It turned out to be anything but the expected.
Lidster will coach his first Colonial soccer game since November 1996 when GW faces James Madison University Saturday. The men’s soccer coach was unable to return to the United States from his native England from July 1997 to June 1998 when the U.S. consulate in London delayed the renewal of his visa.
“I’m a very small fry in the whole process,” Lidster said. “I am just one applicant of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, and it took a while to sort the whole situation out. It wasn’t a happy situation for me or the team.”
Lidster’s visa was granted by the U.S. immigration office July 1, 1997, but he ran into trouble when he returned to England to get his visa approved by the U.S. consulate there. The consulate would not grant another visa because Lidster had been living in the U.S. on several consecutive visas, he said.
“The first few weeks I was just waiting to come back,” Lidster said. “Everyone said it would work out in a week or a month, but eventually I realized it was going to be a lot longer.”
When that realization hit, Lidster faced some decisions about the GW soccer program and how it would function in his absence. He decided assistant coach John McNamara should be unhindered during his stint as acting head coach.
“The good thing about George was that once he left, he told me to take it like it was my team,” McNamara said. “It was up to me to make decisions and bring in the players to continue the program.”
“I felt it was very important for him to have the full reins and go for it,” Lidster said. “The program comes before me and it has to go on with whoever. It was frustrating, but for me to interfere from 3,000 miles away would have been very difficult. ”
With some spare time on his hands, GW’s head coach tried to turn a bad situation into a positive experience.
“I am thrilled to be back with the University and the players, but it’s been good having the year off to look back at yourself and look at the program and its direction,” Lidster said.
He did a lot more than simply reflect on GW, however. Lidster took a number of soccer coaching courses and worked for a couple of soccer clubs in England – including the Chelsea club of the English Premier League – where he identified talent, ran courses and made presentations in the youth ranks.
Lidster is back on campus and is gearing up for his 11th season coaching the men’s program, with which he has compiled a record of 94-71-24. This year he is walking into a program that is largely foreign to him, though he has only been away for one season. Only five players on this year’s team have ever played under GW’s head coach.
“It was very interesting the first two days of practice,” Lidster said. “I didn’t know any of the names. It was like running a soccer camp where you have a group of kids, and you don’t know any of them.”
But the players said the transition back to Lidster has been a smooth one.
“The spirit in camp has been brilliant,” senior Ben Hatton said. “I think we all respect him, and all the new players have a great attitude.”
Sophomore Jeff Greenspan, one of many players on this year’s squad who has never played for Lidster, agreed with Hatton’s assessment.
“Everything so far has been really good,” Greenspan said. “It really didn’t feel like a new coach was taking over when we started practice.”
While a strong team-coach relationship has its advantages, so does coaching a largely unfamiliar team, Lidster said.
“I came into this season with no preconceived ideas about the players, and they don’t have any preconceived ideas about me.”