John Curtis was a defender/defensive midfielder once touted as a future star of the game and came through the ranks at Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson.
He finished his playing career in Australia for Gold Coast United.
John now lives in the United States of America with his wife and children where he founded and runs the National Centre of Excellence (NCE Soccer).
However, that’s enough spoilers… rather than listen to me ramble on, let’s get started with the interview and let John introduce himself.
The interview took the form of a series of written questions and answers via email and this is the transcript of that process.
“Find a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.”~Confucius
Hoppers Guide: For those that know nothing about John Curtis, tell us a little about yourself and your career up to this point.
John Curtis: I’m originally from Nuneaton and played most of my youth football in the Midlands. I went to the FA National School at Lilleshall to finish my schooling and then moved straight up to Manchester once I left school at sixteen.
Hoppers Guide: Which people have been your biggest inspirations in football?
John Curtis: My Dad and my Grandad, who were and are, huge football fans. I can’t remember many games where they weren’t present. Keith Blunt and the staff at the FA National School, then Sir Alex and the staff at Manchester United, particularly Eric Harrison.
Hoppers Guide: Which people have been your biggest inspirations in life?
John Curtis: My Immediate family had the most significant impact. My parents and grandparents, initially. Then I was moulded more by the environments I found myself in. I was fortunate that during my teens when we tend to be very impressionable, I was in arguably the two best environments to develop as a player and as a person. The FA National School and Manchester United. Later on, my wife Claire has had a massive positive influence on me.
Hoppers Guide: What are your passions away from football?
John Curtis: My family and my three sons, in particular. Our business and football organisations in the USA. Away from football, I love golf and fishing.
Hoppers Guide: What have you done since retiring as a player and what do you do now?
John Curtis: I started coaching towards the end of my career and I set up a coaching organisation in the United States that aims to help players fulfil their potential. NCE Soccer works with players across the US and aims to provide opportunities for players that the current system just doesn’t provide them.
Hoppers Guide: What does a typical week in the life of John Curtis entail?
John Curtis: There’s a quote that says something like, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.” I think that’s definitely the case with me. That being said, my weeks are pretty packed!!
I like to try and get into the office as early as possible from Monday to Friday. 7 am is my aim, but I’m normally a little late. I get most of my work done by lunchtime and typically spend afternoons on the phone. I find that beyond 3 pm I’m normally tired and definitely not as productive as I am in the morning.
I’m normally home by 4:45 pm most days and take the boys to football or tennis practice. Wednesday is my golf day and I typically tee off around 2 pm.
Weekends are family time, but running our organisations means I’m on the clock 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
I also travel a lot, heading up to New York or Los Angeles four or five times a year and I normally travel internationally to Europe or South America five to ten times a year.
Hoppers Guide: How are you enjoying life in the USA and what do you miss about ‘home’?
John Curtis: Life in the US is great. I liken it to the film The Shawshank Redemption, where Tim Robbins has to endure prison and then crawl through a tunnel of shit to reach the promised land. Most football coaches who come here don’t last, but those who can take the three years of strife come out smelling of roses.
In terms of what I miss, aside from my family who are all still back in England, there isn’t much.
Proper football, the BBC and the NHS. Private health insurance in the US is a racket and the TV is just propaganda!
Hoppers Guide: Do you see yourself ever moving back to the UK?
John Curtis: Not if I can help it!
Silverware at Blackburn Rovers
Hoppers Guide: Since you first moved to the USA, what changes have you seen in ‘soccer’ over there?
John Curtis: Unfortunately, very little. The biggest change is the MLS (Major League Soccer) clubs now have free academy programs. That’s really helping the early developers and those lucky enough to live close to a club (Sorry, franchise).
US soccer tried to start a similar program on the girls’ side but it was beaten back by the status quo.
Hoppers Guide: Do you think football can ever compete with the other big sports like basketball, baseball, American football or hockey?
John Curtis: If it does it will take generations, as it can’t compete with sports built for marketing. The change is so slow because of the money involved in sports over here and the college culture which is so damaging for football.
Major League sports (Not soccer/football) are woven into the culture. March madness, Thanksgiving Football, the Super Bowl and World Series. MLS is a poor product so most US football fans watch European competitions early in the morning or afternoon. It’s just squeezed out by the NFL and NBA marketing machines.
People say immigrants from South America and Europe will ensure football’s popularity grows, but in reality, immigrants are Americanised and become NFL and NBA fans!
Hoppers Guide: Would you do anything differently in your footballing career if you had your time over again?
John Curtis: Of course. I’d be here all day telling you of all the poor decisions I made.
Hoppers Guide: What have been the weirdest or funniest moments you have encountered in your football career?
John Curtis: A funny story is me missing the 1999 Champions League final goals against Bayern Munich.
I was in the stands with Jordi Cruyff as we didn’t make the bench for the final. With two minutes to go, we looked at each other and said ‘Let’s go down to the dressing room and commiserate with the boys’.
On our way down we heard a roar and poked our heads up to see that we had equalised. We looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s run down and watch extra time from the tunnel’. As we were running down we heard another roar! We ended up running onto the pitch to celebrate with the boys!
Football, bloody football!
Hoppers Guide: Which ex-teammate do you wish you could have living next door to you now and why?
John Curtis: David Beckham. Only because I’m pretty sure his neighbour’s house is very nice!
Hoppers Guide: You had a brief spell at Wrexham towards the end of your playing career. What do you make of Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds’ takeover there and the Hollywood influence? Do you see any positive impact of the TV show on people in the USA?
John Curtis: Americans know how to market. Those guys have done an amazing job. It’s incredible the level of exposure they’ve received. It’s great for Wrexham.
Hoppers Guide: Do you, or did you ever, consider football management?
John Curtis: Yes for about thirty seconds. I don’t like putting my destiny in the hands of others. As a manager, you’re totally reliant on the opinions of other people, the players to perform for you and the directors to believe in you.
Hoppers Guide: Which of your opponents would you say was the best or hardest player to play against?
John Curtis: Marc Overmars. In his prime, he was almost impossible to stop.
Hoppers Guide: Tell us what it was like to be a young player bursting into football under the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson.
John Curtis: Looking back, it was amazing but at the time I considered it very normal.
Hoppers Guide: In a similar vein, what was Graeme Souness like to play for during your time at Blackburn Rovers?
John Curtis: I had a great time at Blackburn and probably played my best football there. Graeme was great. Old school in his ways but I really enjoyed working with him.
Hoppers Guide: Your Twitter bio states “A first half of unfulfilled potential, a second ensuring others fulfil theirs”. What do you think is the biggest reason for this perceived unfulfilment of your potential and do you use this to fuel your desire to teach others?
John Curtis: One hundred per cent! When I was a teenager I was considered one of the best players in Europe. That early success came too easy, without any hiccups or hurdles that help build the character traits and coping strategies you need to overcome adversity.
It also bred a fear of failure which meant I wouldn’t give a hundred per cent effort to achieve something because if I did and I didn’t achieve it, that golden boy image would be tainted.
This, along with some bad luck and bad decisions along the way, I believe, stopped me from fulfilling my potential as a player.
I learned so much from my personal experience and watching others progress through the ranks. Those who had it easy as youth players often struggled, whereas players who really had to struggle, built the resilience necessary to succeed in later years.
Hoppers Guide: How would you like to be remembered as a player and also as a coach to so many kids?
John Curtis: As a player. As a good teammate, a good professional who always gave a hundred per cent.
As a coach. As someone who was always honest and straight with the players. As someone who has experienced a great deal and can prepare them well for the challenges ahead.
Hoppers Guide: Any final comments, future aspirations etc?
John Curtis: NCE Soccer is all about providing opportunities and pathways for players. In Europe, the players have endless opportunities, that promote youth development.
In the US, the system is so messed up and the players and parents are subsequently exploited.
I’m constantly looking for good people on both sides of the pond who can help our mission to help players.
End of Interview
I would like to give John my sincere thanks for taking time out of his busy schedule to do this interview for Hoppers Guide.
All the photographs used in this article were provided by John, for which I thank him again.
Please give John a follow if you are on Twitter @JCurtisSoccer.
You can also visit his National Centre of Excellence website and follow them on social media.