Davey on the touchline. Photo courtesy Simon Davey.
Southern Soccer Academy may be one of League Two’s newest clubs, but its leader is anything but inexperienced. Before Simon Davey became the executive director of one of the largest youth soccer organizations in America, he spent 25 years involved with the professional game in his native United Kingdom as a player, coach, and manager.
The Welshman made his professional debut with his hometown club Swansea City when he was just 16, at the time becoming the second youngest player to ever appear for the Swans. He would go on to make over 250 appearances for Swansea, Carlisle United and Preston North End before retiring in 1998.
His most successful stint as a manager came with English Championship side Barnsley. When Davey took over in 2006, the club was threatened with relegation to England's third tier, but he quickly reversed the team’s fortunes and led them to safety. The following season, Davey oversaw a miraculous FA Cup run for Barnsley, in which his side defeated Liverpool at Anfield and Chelsea to reach the semi-finals at Wembley Stadium. In Davey’s eyes, those experiences helped prepare him for the task of running SSA.
“Managing SSA’s ten locations spanning across Georgia is a breeze after managing professional clubs in England,” said Davey, who will also serve as the General Manager of the organization’s League Two team, the Southern Soccer Academy Kings. “Management of a professional club in the U.K. is a 24/7 job. At all the clubs I managed, I had no chief executive, no chief scout, no player liaison officer, and no sporting director. It was all me and my coaching staff.”
“Taking a club like Barnsley to an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, and beating Liverpool and Chelsea on the way, are memories that will stay with me forever.”
While with Barnsley, Davey regularly visited the U.S. to conduct presentations at various events, opening a network of contacts within American soccer. In 2011, three Georgia youth clubs were merging in the Atlanta metro area to form Southern Soccer Academy, and the nascent organization offered Davey the director’s role.
Eight years on, SSA now comprises ten locations and around 8,000 players. For Davey, adding a League Two team to the top of the club’s development pyramid offers massive value for everyone involved with SSA.
“As a youth club, SSA has always strived to provide the best possible programs and pathways for our members,” said Davey. “We want all our players and families to be proud SSA supporters, and what better way than to have a first team to cheer for.”
But Davey doesn’t just see the Kings as a chance to further connect with SSA members. The team also represents tremendous additional development opportunities for players.
“Family for us is key. We want the heart of our roster to be SSA alumni,” said Davey. “We enjoy watching their careers blossom at the collegiate and higher levels when they leave SSA, but now we have a program where we can even further celebrate them in the country’s best pre-professional league.”
Ahead of his club’s inaugural season in League Two, Davey knows that he and his staff face a tall task in forming a new team in a highly competitive division. But with his wealth of experience in just about every facet of professional soccer, Davey isn’t worried.
“We are so excited to compete and we’re in the process of putting our roster together,” said Davey. “We know that League Two is going to be very challenging, and our staff is looking forward to getting started.”