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Brits abroad - But have you even heard of Herbert Kilpin?

Since its debut season in 1992/93, the English Premier League has attracted many of the world’s best footballers.

Many players will tell the press they have joined a Premier League side as ‘it’s the best league in the world’ but it’s often the big money moves and the lure of often astronomical pay packets that brings them here.

There are, however, a select few who ignore the call of the professional game in Britain, some for the benefit of their career, but some just out of desire to play in a foreign land.

These few are the British footballers plying their trade abroad. The chances are the average football fan will not have heard of Herbert Kilpin (pictured). Kilpin went down in history as the first British footballer to play abroad professionally.

In 1891 Kiplin began his foray into the foreign leagues by turning out for FC Torinense of Italy. This was a whole seven years before the Italian FA had even devised Serie A.

Founding member of AC Milan

Not only did Kilpin play professionaly in Italy until 1907, he also was a founding member of one of the most famous clubs the world has ever seen.

In 1899, with the assistance of two friends, Kilpin founded Milan Cricket and Football Club, known today as AC Milan.

The Italian league, until recently, has seen some of the best footballers produced by the British Isles grace it. Many of the prewar players who played in Italy would turn out for the teams founded by Britons living in Italy, teams like Genoa CFC and Calcio Padova.

The post war period saw John Charles become a cult hero at Juventus during the 1960s.

In 1997 Charles was voted Juventus’ best ever foreign player, beating stars such as Zinedine Zidane and Michel Platini.

The 1980s saw Trevor Francis, the first ever £1million player, featuring for Sampdoria and Atalanta.

Household names in Serie A

In the 1990s players like David Platt and Paul Ince became household names in Serie A. A sign of changing times is the number of Brits recently playing professionally in Italy.

The total is one. Kris Thackray was released by boyhood heroes Newcastle United when he was 16. After two years of playing part time he was picked up by second division Italian side Reggina after impressing during a tournament featuring an England Colleges XI.

After a loan spell at fourth tier club Monopoli in 2008/09 and featuring in 10 games for Serie B club Ancona last season, Thackray was sold in a co-ownership deal to third division club Andria before being loaned out to Cosenza of the same league.

After making a number of appearances in the 2010/11 season, Thackray was released from his contract. A lot of players who take up the offer of playing in a foreign league will not last as long as they hoped. Homesickness can be a key factor in their decision to return to the British Isles.

The different style of play can also cause their return.

'Change of culture'

Although Thackray suffered from this at first he did learn to adapt. He admitted: “Leaving home and settling in was difficult, the complete change of culture from food, people, climate and mainly the language was challenging.

"The language is the most important, not knowing it isolates you and stops you from expressing your personality and prevents you from understanding simple messages on and off the pitch.”

The most famous British export at present is Joe Cole. The Liverpool winger moved to the current French champions Lille on loan after a fairly unsuccessful season at Anfield.

He soon endeared himself to the fans with a series of impressive performances and goals in Ligue 1 and the Champions League.

Cole’s popularity is similar to that of Glenn Hoddle’s in the late 1980s, when the England midfielder starred at AS Monaco.

Honing his skills in France

There is also another British footballer currently honing his skills in the French league system. Birmingham born Edwin Pindi plays centre back for USL Dunkerque in the fourth tier.

Although this level is classed as amateur, Pindi enjoyed promotion last season and his side currently sit fourth in the Championnat de France amateur.

Not all players have the opportunity to play in the European leagues - often the most lucrative for salaries apart from some Arab states - but instead they will venture further afield, often to the USA or Australia and in some cases even lesser known leagues.

The MLS in the USA and A League in Australia are both reasonably young leagues. The MLS was founded in 1993 as part of the USA’s bid to host the World Cup in 1994, which ultimately was successful. The actual league itself did not begin until 1996.

A host of British names have played in the USA, with David Beckham being the most high profile. Over the last few years more young British players who have found themselves without a club at the end of the season have gone to the USA in search of a contract.

More lucrative

Many are successful and have gone on to establish a decent career. Financial changes to the salary caps has also made the MLS a more lucrative league than before. The A League is a lot younger than the MLS.

Founded in 2004, it is based in a country with a fairly small population and where there are four sports more popular than football.

The number of Brits currently featuring in the A League is six, the biggest name to grace it has been Robbie Fowler, now player manager in Thailand with Muang Thong United.

Like the MLS the A League does not have a second division. Instead there are six state divisions - the cost of travel would be too high had these lower division teams been mixed.

In these divisions there are a number of British players, some playing professionally and some semi. Kyle Joryeff was a youth team player at both Southampton and AFC Bournemouth before he found himself drifting into non-league.

Prefers the style Down Under

In 2010, Joryeff was offered a contract he "couldn’t turn down” by Victorian State League Division One Side Sunshine George Cross.

After a reasonably successful season at Sunshine George Cross he made the move across Melbourne to South Melbourne FC, a club often cited as Australia’s most successful, even though they do not feature in the top league.

After two seasons in Australia, Joryeff has come to realise he prefers the style play down under. “You get more time on the ball but the pace of the game is like Italy, slow at times but the players are of a high quality. I would not move back to England as this game out here suits my game,” he said.

One of the lesser known leagues where a handful of British footballers ply their trade is the S League, Singapore’s top division.

With its maiden season in 1996, the S League has expanded from eight teams to the current 12. British players featuring in the S League have often been in the twilight of their careers, however, a number have also gone to Singapore in their early days, the most famous being current Norwich frontman Grant Holt.

Impressive goalscoring tally

The big forward starred for Senkang Marine in the 2002 season by scoring an impressive 12 goals in 14 appearances.

Graham Tatters began his career in Scotland as part of the Elgin City youth team before moving across the Atlantic to play for the University of North Carolina in Charlotte in 2004. After a successful season Tatters was diagnosed with lymphoma and had to sit the next season out.

After he recovered Tatters continued his college career. In 2009 he turned professional when he signed for Wilmington Hammers of the US third tier.

After returning to Elgin City for the 2009/10 season, Tatters returned to the US and played a season at FC Tampa Bay in the country’s second tier. In early 2011, Tatters made the decision to attend some individual trials in Singapore.

In February he accepted a contract from Woodlands Wellington of the S League. Although he is enjoying life in the S League he has noticed the difference in motivation between there and home.

'They do not have the same drive'

He said: “Since it seems relatively easy for local players to play in the S League (five foreigners limit and only four can dress for the game) they really do not have the same drive that Scottish players do, players in Scotland would give their right arm to play full time but out here it's just expected of you are decent at football then you play in the S League.”

There are a handful of Brits who have gone on to enjoy cult hero status when turning out for a foreign team. One of these players is Kenny Pavey of AIK in the Sweden’s Allsvenskan, the equivalent of the English Premier League.

After a youth career at Millwall, Pavey played two seasons at non-league Sittingbourne. In 1998 with a proposed move to Aston Villa falling through, Pavey signed for Ljungskile SK of the Swedish second division. Pavey went on to play six seasons at Ljungskile SK with a one year hiatus in 2002.

In 2006 Pavey was signed by Swedish giants AIK of Stockholm, one of Sweden’s most successful clubs. After five seasons Pavey has become somewhat of a hero to the AIK fans with his important goals often being met with English terrace style chants, some too rude to be published.

Pavey has no intention of leaving AIK anytime soon and he appreciates the fans, adding “Yeah, they are pretty special,” when asked about their fondness of him.

With the riches of the Premier League as well as the decent living that can be made from lower division football in Britain, it is no surprise there is a lack of British footballers playing abroad.

Whilst Brazil has over 10,000 professional players playing abroad, the British figure is closer to 100th of that.

But until British players feel the need to go abroad to further their careers, it doesn’t seem like that figure will be changing.

Notable moments for Brits abroad:

1891: Herbert Kilpin plays for Internazionale Torino

1899: Kilpin helps found AC Milan

1957: John Charles moves to Juventus

1977: Kevin Keegan joins Hamburger SV

1978 and 1979: Keegan wins European Footballer of the Year

1986: Gary Lineker joins Barcelona

1999: Steve McManaman moves to Real Madrid (and goes on to win 2 Champions League titles)

2003: David Beckham joins Real Madrid

2007: Beckham moves to LA Galaxy

Feature by Nick Ford 


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