By Ryan J Balfour
4,417 miles away from his family, Harry Nodwell still manages to find his own home away from home in the sport he loves, soccer. Nodwell has played soccer all his life and couldn’t repay the amount of joy that it has given him. ‘The beautiful game’ has been part of his life ever since he could remember.
Harry, age 6, in wet and windy Devon, England. For once, the sun was shining, Wimbledon is right around the corner. His yard is half covered with shade provided by his small and cozy home. This is one of the fondest memories he has of the first time he ever played soccer. As he got older he would get back from elementary school and would sprint upstairs and change into his Paul Gascoigne England shirt and grabbed his soccer ball near the umbrellas and countless of soccer cleats. For hours on end, he and millions of other children would go outside kick the ball against the wall in the alley next to his house. Like most children, Harry grew up but he never left his passion behind.
He has always been able to play all sorts of sports throughout his life but soccer is number one. Similarly, I have been playing the same sport for all my life and also grew up outside of London, England. As he told me about playing soccer during every lunch recess, I was able to relate with him. Especially because as a child in England, everyone plays soccer, it is a way of life, and a way to fit in with all the other kids. It means so much to him because it gave him all of the opportunities he has had to date, including studying/playing abroad here at Christopher Newport University.
Harry currently plays on the Christopher Newport University (CNU) Men’s Soccer team. The number 7 junior midfielder is quite good at his sport too; racking up multiple awards including All-Conference, All-State, and All-Region selections in the last two seasons with the Captains. Even with all of his athletic accomplishments backing him, around the university campus community he is most likely known to be associated with being one of the few British students around. Like most international students, he picked up from his hometown in Devon, England and flew half way across the world to Newport News, Virginia in order to play the sport that he loves. He has always been up for adventure but didn’t realize this adventure to the US, he would miss home much more than he thought and had to find pieces that reminded him of Devon; soccer was his answer.
Harry Nodwell is British and proud. As you can assume, one of the first thing you notice about him is the full and thick Devonshire English accent. Nodwell has been attending college in the US for three years, one of those years he spent at Averett University, also playing soccer. As he transferred schools for a better chance at playing at a higher level, he also had to transfer his life once again but fortunately, it was only a couple of hours from his next destination, which was CNU.
He regrets nothing about his decision to transfer, he enjoyed making the friends he did at Averett and also the friends he now has at CNU but there was something in the way he said it, as if he dropped his head in sadness. No one looks forward to leaving home and neither does Harry. He doesn’t like leaving people behind because he already had to do it once with the people he loves most back in England, who would want to say goodbye to the people they care most about multiple times. Of course, Nodwell will be back home in rainy Devon, England but there is something about having your family and friends close enough that you know you could go see them if you wanted to in a matter of hours or minutes but Nodwell can not. He does not have the luxury of going home to wash his clothes or get a freshly homemade meal. Not many people can do this for a part of their lives, only a handful are strong enough, Harry Nodwell is one of them.
Another piece he holds onto in order to feel better if he is ever feeling home sick is the sport that he has given his life to, soccer. It has given him so much that he genuinely sounded grateful to have something that will never leave him. He found a clearing in his thought and told me;
“Football or soccer as Americans like to call it, has given me such amazing opportunities to travel and meet so many great people, especially on my team at CNU which I really like. It is as if I had a family in the US and one in England too”.
It is a revitalizing when you get to talk to someone with such passion for the game, he doesn’t take anything for granted and just wants to play his best.
He also finds his home away from home in the little things that are around him everyday. For instance, Nodwell is quite picky about his chocolate it reminds him of;
“Early Sunday nights watching films, eating galaxy chocolate and prawn crackers in bed before 6 o’clock after stuffing myself earlier at Sunday roast”.
‘Sunday roast’, is very similar to an American Thanksgiving however, it is every Sunday. Like most English families, Harry’s family cooks everything from roast chicken, to roast potatoes and vegetables, which according to Nodwell,
“Americans don’t understand how to properly make roast potatoes like the English do”.
He sounded delighted just to talk about Sunday roast to me; someone who could relate and contribute my own stories. He finds so much joy in talking or imagining things from his hometown, family or friends.
He mentioned the people that he has met over the past 3 years in the US multiple times; at CNU he was fortunate to find another Englishman that was already on the CNU soccer team, which happens to be me. I can relate to his life in England and also the life he has now. I represent a part of home for Harry, which makes us both feel more comfortable around each other. Nodwell enjoys having someone else as a friend that is from his home country. Harry and I now live together and he even joined my families British-themed Thanksgiving over the break last fall with all my immediate family. He jokingly names my parents his American Mum and Dad.
The first time he had ever stepped on the field as a CNU Captain was one of his greatest feelings. It was late in the summer and the humidity and intense sunlight was still torturing the home field of the Captains. By the time the night game came around the thick bermuda grass was cooling itself off. His team marched out from their locker room in two orderly lines ready to go to battle. As they approached, Harry could see the steam from the grass come up, “to say the least, it was nerve-racking and exciting, all at the same time”. He could see the fluorescent red lights from the scoreboard shimmer through the steam as it rose. He then stopped describing and simply stated that at that time he as close as he can get to home.
After some reflection about how much soccer has given him, Nodwell summed up his relationship with the sport in six simple but immensely meaningful words, he said;
“Its the game that gives back”.
When he is on the field it is purely fun for him, he doesn’t have to worry about anything else when he is playing on the field. After meeting with Nodwell, I could see that even though he was a brave and independent man he still is very fond of his real home like anyone in his situation would. To fill that hole he has used soccer to help him through the tough times. The feeling this sport creates within him makes him feel as if he is back in the alley near his house, playing endlessly until his Mum calls him in for dinner. The soccer field, the people along the journey, and the thrill of the night games brings back flashes of happiness, even if its the slightest moment, home is the next game away.