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Shane Hill reignites passion for soccer with Rowdies

Shane Hill, right, is in his third season with the Rowdies, playing for father Ricky. Shane walked away from soccer in 2007.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times (2012)

Shane Hill, right, is in his third season with the Rowdies, playing for father Ricky. Shane walked away from soccer in 2007.

TAMPA — Six years ago, Shane Hill fell out of love with soccer.

A native of London, the Rowdies midfielder had just been released by Rushden & Diamonds in England's fifth division after a half-season.

Hill went on trials throughout the country with countless teams trying to find a new home. Promises were made but never materialized.

By age 19, he'd had enough of the game.

"It's a cutthroat business in England," Hill said. "Going on trials, people not taking me seriously, managers not taking me seriously. I just decided I'm not going to play football in England anymore. That was my mind-set. I just fell out."

Hill was a promising young prospect for England's Sheffield United, signing with the Blades as a 17-year-old and training daily with the first team while playing matches with the reserves.

After his contract was up, Hill wanted to play closer to home and went on a monthlong trial at Luton Town FC, where his father, Ricky Hill, had starred, making 436 appearances (1976-89) and leading the team through its most prosperous period, when it earned promotion to the First Division in 1981.

Twice during the trial, Shane was offered a contract to return to Sheffield United but turned it down while holding out for an offer to play at Luton. The offer never came.

With most teams' budgets tapped, Shane was without a place to play, eventually settling for a temporary spot at Rushden & Diamonds before deciding to hang up his cleats in 2007.

"The thing with England, once you're out of the system, it's sometimes very difficult to get back in," Ricky Hill said. "There are limited spaces for so many people. You're sometimes better off in the system even if you're not doing so great or you're not a very good player. But you're in."

It took a move to America, long considered a soccer outpost, for Shane's hunger for the game to return.

Two years after his exit from Rushden & Diamonds, Shane decided to give American soccer a try, going on a trial with then-FC Tampa Bay as the newly formed team hosted an academy in Liverpool. Then-Tampa Bay manager Paul Dalglish liked what he saw in Shane, but the team burned through its budget before it could offer him a contract.

When Dalglish was fired with two games remaining in the team's inaugural season, Ricky Hill accepted the coaching job. Shane again went on a trial with the team and was offered a contract three days before the 2011 season opener.

Given a second chance at soccer, Shane has flourished.

He made his first start of 2011 in a friendly against English Premier League Bolton, which Tampa Bay won 1-0. Hill started the next eight games, and the team went 5-2-1.

In 2012, Shane started most of the season and helped the Rowdies win the NASL championship. At 6 feet 2 and 201 pounds, he is built more like an American football linebacker.

"He's physical, but I can tell you he's probably the best technical player we've got at the Rowdies," said midfielder Stuart Campbell, who spent 15 seasons playing in England before joining the Rowdies in December 2011.

"From my point of view, Shane could easily play in England with his technical ability and stature, if given the opportunity."

Shane, now 25, is firmly entrenched as a starter and team leader in his third season with the Rowdies, a once-derailed career reinvigorated.

. Tonight

Rowdies vs. Fort Lauderdale

When/where: 6:30 p.m., Al Lang Stadium

Records: Rowdies 4-4-3 (15 points, fourth in NASL); Fort Lauderdale 2-7-2 (8 points, seventh)

Tickets: Al Lang box office, which opens at 4:30, rowdiessoccer.com or (813) 287-1539

Last meeting: The Rowdies built a 2-0 lead behind goals from M Luke Mulholland and M Alex Dixon and withstood a late charge to hold on for a 2-1 victory at Lockhart Stadium on April 27. F Georgi Hristov recorded an assist on both goals.

Notes: The Rowdies have won three straight against their rival from South Florida dating to last season. … The Rowdies are still searching for their first league victory at Al Lang this season, having gone 0-3-2 at home. … The Strikers are winless in their past four league matches and have lost three straight. … Rowdies F Carl Cort will miss the match as he serves a one-game suspension for picking up a red card in the Rowdies' 2-1 victory at Atlanta on June 22. … Rowdies D Takuya Yamada (groin) is a game-time decision. … After the match, fans can go on the field to watch the city of St. Petersburg's fireworks.

Shane Hill reignites passion for soccer with Rowdies 07/03/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 10:48pm]

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