Clive Charles: 'I Owe Everything to this Game'

The following article appeared in the Jan. 20, 2003 issue of Soccer America. Clive Charles died on Aug. 26, 2003

Clive Charles, an Englishman who came to America to play in the NASL and stayed when his playing career finished, has won nearly 450 games as coach of Portland's men's (since 1986) and women's (since 1989) teams, guiding them to a combined nine final four appearances and capturing the school's first NCAA title in any sport with a victory in last month's women's final over West Coast Conference rival Santa Clara.

Charles, 51, has battled prostate cancer since he was diagnosed in August 2000, as he prepared the U.S. U-23 team for the Sydney Olympics. He was on hormonal therapy until a year ago, when things took a turn for the worse. Radiation treatments sapped his strength, but a switch last spring to chemotherapy awarded a new lease on life, and he was back on the field by August.

Charles sat down with Soccer America during the College Cup in Austin, Texas, to talk about cancer, coaching and the things that matter.

SOCCER AMERICA: What has this season been like for you?

CLIVE CHARLES: I've enjoyed it. Emotionally, it's been no different, I suppose, than any other year aside from the fact that I've been tired. The treatments have been rough. Other than that, it's been fine.

SA: A lot of us suspected you'd step into a director-of-soccer role and not have as much involvement with the teams. It sounds like you've been out there pretty much every day.

CC: I coach two teams. I'm out there for training. I travel. Last spring, I didn't think I'd be able to, but I've been able to do pretty much what I normally do.

SA: Is that because the treatments have gone well?

CC: I think so. Some days I feel better than others. It's knowing what to do, learning how to live with that, knowing when to take your breaks. And I've got a good staff, and they've done a good job of making me stay away sometimes when I should.

SA: You first learned you had prostate cancer while preparing for the 2000 Olympics. Did you at any point think, 'Maybe I shouldn't go through with this'?

CC: Yeah. I talked with [U.S. national team general manager] Tom King and [U.S. Soccer Secretary General] Dan Flynn. I told them I'd just been diagnosed with cancer, and we kind of sat on it for a week or so, and they said, you know, how do you feel, and I felt OK.

My only concern at that point was I didn't want to go to the Olympics with people thinking I had cancer because whatever press we were going to get, I wanted it to be about soccer. I didn't want my illness to get in the way of that.

And I'm a private person anyway. I wanted to keep it to myself. I think it was Aug. 11 [2000] that I knew exactly what I had.

SA: They told you ...

CC: I had advanced prostate cancer. Going home that day and sitting with my family [wife Clarena, son, Michael and daughter Sarah], we were all numb. Australia helped me. It gave me another focus.

Probably the worst time was coming back [from the Olympics], just sitting there in the doctor's office after I'd had my CT scan. The results came in, and it had gone from the soft tissue and was in the bones.

SA: You were on hormonal therapy at this time?

CC: Yeah. And [the cancer] stopped growing in the bones, so it was somewhat working. And it continued to work for a year. And then it came back in the bones in January [2002].

SA: That's when they put you on radiation?

CC: And I was in a lot of pain then. I was struggling. I couldn't get out of bed. And then they put me on chemo, and within a week, I was feeling better. I was puking every day, but literally within a week I felt super. Touch wood, the last CT scan I had, it seems to be shrinking in the bones.

SA: What prognosis do they give you?

CC: They have no cure for what I have.

Chris Brown: 'Clive takes you almost as his son or daughter'

''When you go to Portland,'' says Kansas City Wizards forward Chris Brown (1995-98), ''Clive is pretty much a father figure to the girls and the boys. He takes you almost as his son or daughter.''

''He cares about all of us as people,'' says San Diego Spirit forward Wynne McIntosh (1994-97). ''He cares about what's going on in your life, about how your mom's doing, about how your dog is doing.''

''[Charles provides] everything you'd want from a family, to feel respected and understood and trusted,'' adds U.S. women's national team star Tiffeny Milbrett (1990-92, 94). ''There's a real, real close bond, very tight-knit, very special. If you didn't go to Portland, you'd never understand it.''

Charles doesn't separate his men's and women's teams. They hang out together - ''every night, every day,'' Brown says - and, reports Chicago Fire midfielder Kelly Gray (1999-2001), ''there's always a few couples from the teams.''

Paradis Ariazand joined the women's team during Brown's senior season. Their relationship bloomed that fall, and they were married a year later. Ariazand played one season for Charles, then joined Brown in Kansas City with her coach's blessing.

''She had a long talk with Clive,'' Brown says, ''and he told her to do what she needed to do. I owe a lot to him.''

SA: How often do you go in for chemotherapy?

CC: Every week. You just sit there with a drip 'til you're done. I sit there a couple hours, and sometimes I'm sick, and sometimes I'm not. With radiation, I was sick every single day.

SA: Have there been times you felt things weren't going right? That it would be difficult to survive this?

CC: I knew I was in trouble [at the 2001 women's] final four. I started to lose my appetite. I started to get some back pain and some hip pain that [hormonal therapy] wasn't getting rid of anymore. Deep down, I knew I was in a battle.

I knew I was sick. I couldn't eat, I was sleeping a lot, the pain was intense. They put me on radiation that dealt with hot spots [in my right shoulder and left hip], but it wasn't killing the cancer. It was just helping with the pain.

And then I started puking. I was spending 20 hours a day in bed, and I couldn't get out. My wife was trying to get biscuits in me, and I couldn't eat or drink. I knew I was in trouble.

So I made myself get up. Some days I'd just get up, walk around the living room, and go back to bed.

I didn't talk to anybody; I couldn't take any phone calls. I just was with my family. All the cards and e-mails, they helped a lot. I got cards from all over the world, from people I didn't even know I knew. That helped. And then, in the spring, they changed my treatment, and within a week or so, it was like a light at the end of the tunnel. I started to get up, walk around the garden, walk up and down the street, walk in the park.

I hadn't laughed for so long. And then in June something happened and I had a big belly laugh. I can't remember what it was, but I laughed. I knew I was on my way back.

SA: Were there other victories?

CC: I went into school, the first day I'd gone in. I was a little scared meeting people again. They didn't know what to say; I didn't know what to say. ... I started to go in once a week, then twice a week. I suppose the first day I spent all day at school was the next big - I actually went in and did a day's work.

And then, you know, preseason training. I didn't know what I would be able to do. I sat and watched training the first day. Within a week, I was coaching. And I've been coaching every day.

SA: Going through all of this, have you learned things about yourself?

CC: Oh, yeah. A real deep love of family, more than anything. I thought I loved my family, but my goodness.

Shannon MacMillan: 'Clive turned my life around'

U.S. national-teamer Shannon MacMillan (1992-95) left an abusive homelife to join Charles at Portland. ''He basically turned my life around,'' she says. ''When I took that Greyhound bus [from San Diego] to Portland, I got off a weak, timid, unconfident little girl who didn't know her potential or how to achieve it. Really, through his teaching, friendship and love, he became the father figure I'd never had.''

MacMillan treated Charles like a father, going to him with her troubles, ''always bawling my head off.'' He kept a box of tissues in his desk, he told her, just for her.

''He's truly an incredible and special man,'' she says. ''I am where I am as a person and a player because of Clive. I love him.''

SA: What first spurred you to get into coaching?

CC: I found a long time ago that I had something to say, and I knew people would listen. I knew I had the ability to teach. And I didn't know much about much other than soccer, so soccer was the obvious. When I was playing, even at 20 and 21, I was coaching in the [English soccer] schools, in clinics, stuff like that.

I look at myself probably more as a teacher than I do a coach. I think I have the ability to get information across to somebody, to make some sense. I enjoy sharing that.

SA: What is the difference coaching men vs. women?

CC: To me, there isn't any. You just have to approach it differently.

SA: In what ways would you deal with men that you wouldn't deal with women?

CC: Good question. ... How does a guy act in front of women, and how does he act when he's with the guys? You know? Whether we like it or not, we act differently. We just do. And that's as close as I can get to it.

SA: Do you have a preference?

CC: No.

SA: When you think back on your years at Portland, what do you dwell on?

CC: My second year there, we had our tournament, and I turn around, and all of a sudden there was like a thousand people there. And the year before, there were like 40. We went from 8-8-3 the first year to [13-7-1], but our schedule was crap.

Then the third year, we brought in Kasey [Keller], and - I don't know how it happened - we were playing Santa Clara at home, and there were 3,000 people there. All paid. Looking over a fence that's [3 feet] high. And I went, ''You know what? We've got something.''

And I come back the next week, and the carpenters are building this little press box. And then we're talking about needing to build a stadium. Two years earlier, we're trying to keep our heads above .500, and it's free to get in. Now there's a stadium being built.

And then they asked me if I would [take over] our women's program. I didn't know much about the women - they played at home when we were on the road and vice-versa. I said I'd do it, but you've got to bring [the program] up to the same standards that we had with the men. I remember we played UC Santa Barbara, and we couldn't get the ball. I thought, ''My goodness, how are we going to get this off the ground?''

In the second year, I managed to sign Tiffeny [Milbrett]. She single-handedly turned the program around. There's no question about that. She single-handedly turned our women's program, which was so average, into a Top 10 team. She was magnificent. I tell our players all the time: ''The only reason you're here is because of Tiff. Because is she hadn't have come, you wouldn't have wanted to be here. 'Cause we wouldn't have won a game.''

Tiffeny Milbrett:'Clive filled a void'

Tiffeny Milbrett grew up watching the Portland Timbers and attending the team's summer camps. Charles, a defender, was among the players who worked with her, and she joined his FC Portland women's team when she was 15.

Going to Portland was a no-brainer for the future national-team star. She joined the Pilots in Charles' second year as women's coach.

''I never would have thought to go anywhere else,'' she says. ''And I wouldn't have gone there if not for him. I didn't go for the school, I didn't go for the education, I went because Clive asked me to. When he asked, I said yes within a half-second, without any thought.''

Charles was the father in Milbrett's life. ''I don't know if he'd like me saying that,'' she says, ''but it's true. When you talk about guidance, support, trust and love, those are things you get from your parents. I didn't have a father in my life. He filled that void.''

SA: Can you imagine coaching someplace else?

CC: I had the opportunity to coach at big schools. And part of me wanted to do that because it was, well, this is great. Offices far, far bigger than mine, the budget's five times bigger, and the prestige.

When push came to shove, I couldn't leave. I've been offered a lot more money. I've had the opportunity to coach in MLS. I think it's easier to leave a place that was already established when you went there. But to build the place yourself, it's tough to leave.

SA: Put aspiring coaches in front of you, what kind of advice would you give them?

CC: Be as honest as you can with your players.

SA: A lot of people were surprised by how well your team did in the Olympics. Were you surprised?

CC: I was confident we could do well based on when I did have my full team together, we always made a pretty good account of ourselves. And to come fourth - no, I didn't think we would get that far.

I certainly didn't think we'd win our group - that was a tough group to come out of. But as time went on, I was, ''Hey, we can win this group.'' I enjoyed the hell out of that. That was great.

SA: Would you consider taking another national team assignment?

CC: Part of me would like to, and another part of me says keep taking the treatment, wake up in the morning, and keep smelling the roses. I don't know. I enjoy it. ... I don't know. If my health allows me to, maybe.

Steve Cherundolo: 'I don't think winning is on top of his list'

Chris Brown, who had played for Charles at FC Portland during his youth, became a Pilot because ''I knew I'd have my best chance to be a pro with a coach like Clive.''

''He told me,'' Gray says, ''that if I came to Portland, I would leave a better player. If I wanted to be a professional, I would be a professional. And he did just that.''

Former Pilots speak of the intense learning environment under Charles, one that is all business and great fun.

''The amazing thing about Clive,'' says San Jose CyberRays defender Michelle French (1995-98), ''is he makes everything so simple. Throw the ball to someone's feet instead of their chest. Adjust your ankle to change the pass. All these little things you never think about. Soccer-wise, it's incredible, but the atmosphere is ... we're always joking. People felt free to mess around with him.''

Steve Cherundolo (1997-98) quickly gained overseas interest after joining the Pilots. ''He told me, 'When you're ready, I'll send you on your way. Until then, I need all your efforts,' '' Cherundolo says. Charles told him it was time to go following his sophomore season. He's spent four years in Germany. Fellow Pilot Conor Casey, who also departed with Charles' blessings after his sophomore season, is Cherundolo's teammate at Hannover. Dozens of Pilots have gone onto pro careers.

''When Clive wins, it's great for him, but I don't think it's on top of his list,'' Cherundolo says. ''Players becoming complete, living up to their abilities:< That, I think, makes him most happy.''

SA: Ever think what your life would have been like if you'd never left England?

CC: The best thing I ever did was leave England. I'm a better coach [having stayed] in the United States. I would be seeing things this way in England [uses his hands as blinders on his eyes]. I'm here in the United States [opens blinders]. In terms of coaching, if I sat down and talked to people I played with in England, they wouldn't understand what I was talking about.

I'm a way better coach being here, and I think I'm a better coach having coached women. It taught me patience.

SA: How long did it take to learn that?

CC: Not very long. Because I was more teaching-orientated than result-orientated. And you get more frustrated when you lose. Whereas I was more concerned with, ''Did we connect up with that pass?'' The results were kind of secondary. I got my jollies out of getting them to improve as players.

Wynne McIntosh: 'Winning lifted a weight from our shoulders'

Tiffeny Milbrett calls Portland's overtime triumph over Santa Clara in last month's NCAA Division I women's final ''the best day of my life, hands down.''

Shannon MacMillan concurs. ''That was one of the most emotional weekends of my life,'' she says. ''Hands down, it's the highlight of my career. I don't think there's a man, a program or a team more deserving than Clive and Portland.''

''There was nothing better than seeing Clive's face'' after Christine Sinclair's golden goal, Gray says ''His face said it all.''

Wynne McIntosh - one of Charles' assistants in 2002 - lost in three final fours, including the 1995 final, while playing for the Pilots. ''I always felt so bad we didn't win for the school and for Clive,'' she says. ''It felt like the girls winning lifted a weight from our shoulders.''

Portland soccer, Milbrett says, means as much to her today as when she was there. ''It might be more important to me now. I understand things more. I have a better perspective. My blood's purple - I think everyone else would say that, too.''

SA: When you talk to players who have played at Portland, there's an enormous outpouring of love for you. What does that mean to you?

CC: Everything. That's why I'm still here. And I love them. I tell them every day I love them. I can't hide it.

SA: Anything you'd like to add?

CC: I owe so much to this game, I really do. I owe everything to this game. And I'll never be able to repay what it's given me.

by Soccer America Senior Editor Scott French

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