Football, well it’s soccer in this country, changed Mick Rooney’s life. It’s no wonder then for the last couple of weeks, Rooney’s life has revolved around the World Cup. He …
Football, well it’s soccer in this country, changed Mick Rooney’s life. It’s no wonder then for the last couple of weeks, Rooney’s life has revolved around the World Cup. He tunes in for the 10 a.m. game and once that’s over fits in some errands before going back to the “tellie” for the 2 p.m. match. He hasn’t missed a single game and has an idea what will happen when his motherland team, England plays.
“I’m sure England will break my heart,” he said standing back from the TV in the final minutes of Saturday’s matchup between Argentina and Australia. Argentina came away with the 2-1 win. That morning Netherlands beat USA, eliminating them from the competition.
“It would have been really nice if they won,” he said, “but they really didn’t have a very good game.”
Rooney knows. He’s a seasoned soccer player.
He grew up in Slough, a city of about 91,000, midway between Winsor Castle and Heathrow Airport. The family lived in government housing with four units per building. His father worked as a mechanic in a textile mill.
“We were poor, definitely poor,” said Rooney.
Rooney’s room was as far away from the chimney and the kitchen stove, the only sources of heat, as it could be. He remembers ice on the inside of the windows and dressing as quickly as possible on winter mornings. And with a smile he recalls discovering a thermostat in his room when he came to this country. At first he didn’t know what it was. He soon learned to crank it up as high as it would go and being delighted to walk about the room in the middle of winter in his shorts.
It was soccer that got him here.
The earliest he could play organized soccer in England was at the age of eight. Each class had a team, or club. There were years when he played for more than one club. He was playing four and five games a week and sometimes more. While in high school, SUNY Oneonta (State University of New York College at Oneonta) brought over a team. During the visit the team played a couple of games and then Rooney’s club was invited to play in this country. It turned out to be a ticket to an education. College scouts recognized Rooney’s potential and he was offered a scholarship at Oneonta. As it turned out, Keene State College in New Hampshire even had a better scholarship and, besides, Rooney’s “club hero” would be at Keene, too. He picked Keene.
“My parents bought me a one way ticket,” he says. The one-way ticket, he explains, was a motivator as he couldn’t just take off and go home with the slightest of problems.
“It was a good thing that they did,” he said.
During his four years at Keene, Rooney scored 68 goals to set a record that remains unbroken. He was named to the All-American team — one of 11 players selected nationwide for the team. On graduating, the Chicago Sting and the Boston Astros actively recruited Rooney. He ended up playing with the Tacoma Tides, a short-lived American Soccer League team. He played for the Tides on the weekends, often catching a flight on Friday after leaving his PE teaching job at Charlestown Junior High in New Hampshire.
It was at Keene State College that Rooney met Susan Manning, of Warwick, who became his wife and the mother of Vanessa and Michael P. Rooney. Vanessa, a teacher at Cedar Hill School, is the wife of City Council President Steve McAllister. Michael works in the city’s Board of Canvassers.
The Rooneys moved to Warwick shortly after Susan’s father died.
“Sue wanted to be closer to her mum,” Rooney said. He applied for teaching jobs in Rhode Island but there was nothing and Rooney went to work for a freight moving company in Boston. He then learned that Lincoln Chafee, who had served as the Ward 9 councilman and won for mayor, was looking for a director of parks and recreation. Rooney applied and after a couple of meetings with Chafee, Chafee called to say he had the job.
Rooney recalled getting a call from a Providence Journal reporter inquiring what role he had played in Chafee’s campaign. Rooney hadn’t followed local politics. In fact, he hadn’t done anything for the campaign.
The reporter was incredulous.
Rooney held the director’s job for 26 years. He retired to become his wife’s caretaker, who had cancer. Susan died in 2017.
Rooney has also been the head soccer coach at Bishop Hendricken and recently guided the team to the Division I Semifinals. Rooney is the state’s winningest high school coach with over four decades of work with the Hawks.
Reflecting on his years as the Director of Parks and Recreation, Rooney says there were more youth soccer teams than there are today. He attributes this in part to a decline in young families living in Warwick. Total Warwick school enrollment has fallen from a high of about 19,000 in the late 1980s and early 90s to 8,300 today. He also thinks parental influence has a significant impact on youth sports.
“Parents haven’t played soccer,” he said. Baseball, softball, basketball, hockey and football remain popular, although because of potential injuries, especially concussions, parents are not signing their children up to play football. He notes the increasing popularity of lacrosse.
Watching a soccer game with Rooney is a course in strategy and a commentary on the players, many of whom he knows by name.
“The worst score is 2-0,” he said of the Argentina/Australia game broadcast from Qatar. With about 15 minutes to play, Argentina had two goals and was in just that position. If Australia was to score, which they did, the Argentines would feel the win slipping away while the Australians would get a shot of adrenaline. The options for the Argentines was to keep the ball away from the Australians by passing it back and forth and out of reach of the Australians or to go for a third goal that would clinch the game but be risker as it would open up the field.
Playing into this is the stamina of the players. Rooney said studies have shown that players run about eight miles within the 90 minutes of a game, so this also factors into the strategy. If after regulation play the game is tied, it goes into a 15-minute overtime. A second 15-minute overtime is played if the tie hasn’t been broken, to be followed by a shootout — one player facing the goal keeper. Rooney is no fan of shootouts.
Now 71, Rooney regularly played soccer up until two years ago, when he became sick. It benched him for a couple of months, and when he finally felt well enough to return to the field, he found he had lost the strength to play. He has since put on some weight but entertains the expectation of once again playing the game.
He loves the game. “It’s definitely a contact sport,” he says. He cites the requirement to make quick decisions and endurance and yet is not dependent on “being the fastest,” although that’s great, too.
To him personally, “soccer is everything … the opportunity to come over here; to play, to meet my wife. My whole life is put down to soccer.”
Steve McAllister knows exactly what the family will be giving Rooney for Christmas … an even larger television to watch the game that transformed him.
Rooney, on the other hand, anticipates going through withdrawal when the World Cup comes to a close on Dec. 18.
“I may have to go to rehab,” he said.