SEMINOLE — When Jimmy McDonald took over as director of coaching at Gulf Coast United Soccer Club in 2008, he had a goal of one day connecting with his childhood soccer roots. The Glasgow, Scotland, native grew up a fan of the Celtic Football Club.
So when the opportunity arose to be affiliated with the historic Scottish Premier League team, McDonald sprung into action. After 11 months of negotiations, Gulf Coast United will officially become Celtic FC Florida on Aug. 1, the start of the Florida Youth Soccer Association calendar.
GCU will be one of four Celtic-affiliated clubs in the United States, along with Boston, St. Louis and New York/New Jersey. There is also an affiliate in Australia.
“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine and I think it provides endless opportunities for our players,’’ said McDonald, who knew several coaches and administrators at Celtic through his years in soccer.
The agreement is for one year, but McDonald believes it will be extended at least a few more. The Seminole club pays Celtic FC $15,000 annually. In return, it gets to use the Celtic logo and uniforms, run summer camps and clinics with Celtic coaches, use Celtic training manuals, get exclusive television feeds of Celtic games and administrative assistance from the club in Scotland.
McDonald said the investment should pay for itself eventually with increased player registration, camps and clinics, and the sale of Celtic clothing.
“What we’re paying for is use of the badge (logo),’’ McDonald said. “Celtic has about 9 million registered fans. The whole country only has 5 million people. That shows you what a big club it is. It should be a big boost for our club.’’
Celtic FC was established in 1888. The club has won 43 Scottish League championships, including one in the recently completed 2011-12 season.
Gulf Coast United has about 750 registered players, according to McDonald, who hopes registration increases by 10 or 15 percent next year. Most play at the Seminole Jr. Warhawks complex off Walsingham Road, but some of the recreation players are at fields in Belleair.
This week, three Celtic coaches are helping run a camp at the Jr. Warhawk Complex. Next week they will help at another camp for competitive teams and coaches.
The coaches are here to establish the “Celtic way’’ of playing soccer. All competitive teams at Celtic FC Florida are to follow the same playing philosophy.
“We’re all about short passing, high intensity and letting players express themselves,’’ said Celtic coach Stevie Chalmers, who coaches the U13 girls academy in Glasgow. “We don’t like to use the long ball. That’s not something we encourage. We use short passes, we attack and we play creative football. That’s what we’re famous for.’’
Chalmers, John McStay and Jonathan Burns are the coaches in Seminole for the next two weeks. Then they’ll head to Boston for another two-week clinic before returning to Scotland.
All three said they were impressed with the skill of the 75 campers this week. But they also realize they are teaching players who have several options when it comes to sports.
“In Scotland, there’s only one sport,’’ McStay said. “Everyone plays football, and also, everyone watches football. From a young age they are watching these games and they can see what’s going on. They can see how to create space. That’s something we need to bring into the game over here. We need to try and open up their minds to how the game is played.’’
McDonald said he has a five-year plan for the Celtic experiment. It’s his hope that in that time the club will develop players good enough to play in college, or perhaps professional leagues.
“The most important thing for me is player development,’’ McDonald said. “The second most important thing is coaching development. I just think this is going to make us a better club. If we have a problem, we just pick up the phone and they’ll (Celtic) fix it. They’ve done it all and seen it all.
“The goal was to get our kids ready for college. To do that we felt we had to pair with a European club. With my ties to Celtic, we were able to make this happen.’’
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org