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From The Football League to the NASL – Paul Black enjoying life stateside

9 November 2015

More than 2,500 minutes of action, five Team of the Week inclusions, a candidate for the 2015 Most Valuable Player, not to mention being named in the 2015 top 50 most beautiful Atlantans.

It's fair to say it's been quite a year for Paul Black.

The former Football League player, who started out at Oldham Athletic, was in and out of Cheltenham Town's team in January earlier this year when he opted to relocate Stateside.

That decision has certainly paid dividends, with Black enjoying a hugely successful year – on the pitch for the Atlanta Silverbacks, who play in the North American Soccer League, and off the pitch in the States.

“It was a huge decision to move but it felt like the right thing to do,” Black, who has also played for Tranmere Rovers, Mansfield Town and Carlisle United, reflected to football-league.co.uk. “I had a difficult couple of years with injuries, which restricted me from playing.

“I wasn't a regular at Cheltenham when Paul Buckle came in as the new boss. He had a favoured left-back, and there was another young left-back.

“I didn't want to just sit down and pick up my wages and knew I was in the best condition of my life. All I wanted to do was to play football.

“The thought of playing in the USA had always appealed to me, and Paul Buckle was great in helping me get over here. He knew my current boss Gary Smith.

“Atlanta gave me an opportunity that I am very grateful for. I have loved every minute of my time here.”



Under Smith – the former Stevenage manager – the Silverbacks finished eighth in the 11-team NASL. Not great, perhaps, but Black is enjoying his football once more, under the tutelage of Smith and his assistant, the well-known former Leicester City winger Steve Guppy.

Black has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Real Madrid legend Raul and Marcos Senna, who play for the New York Cosmos, and has also come across some familiar faces from his time in The Football League.

“I have had some great experiences,” the 25-year-old added. “I even caught a foul ball at my first game at the Atlanta Braves. I have also met a girlfriend, so all in all it's been amazing.

“On the football side, I'm lucky to have a great manager in Gary, and his assistant Steve. They've helped me improve and have given me an opportunity. I made 29 appearances and it was nice to be nominated for the league's best player.

“My former team-mate at Oldham Athletic, Ritchie Jones, plays in the league along with Tomi Ameobi – brother of Shola. There's a few more former League boys, too.

“I've had some amazing moments playing against Senna and Raul for the NY Cosmos. We also played the New York Red Bulls in the cup so it was nice to play there and go up against Bradley Wright-Phillips, who I knew from my time in The Football League.”

Wright-Phillips is a shining example of how successful former League players can be overseas, with the striker hitting 66 goals in 73 Major League soccer appearances for the Red Bulls.

Black believes The Football League gives players a vital education in the game, and he hailed his former employers Oldham for the work they played in his upbringing.

“It's different here, but there are similarities of course. It is a lot more physical back in England, and there is also a bigger contrast in styles of play. I would say it's more technical in North America.

“I think due to there being a better youth structure in England, we have more game knowledge. The players are new in the game at 21 in the States as they stay in school longer.

“My education at Oldham was great. Tony Philliskirk is a top coach and I have a lot to thank him for. Tommy Wright was my manager at under-16 level and was also essential for my development.

“We also had a very good team at youth level with a lot of us all going on to play in The Football League - Neal Eardley, Lewis Alessandra, Deane Smalley, Shaun Beeley, Marcus Holness to mention a few.
 
“I have great memories of my time at Oldham and The League in general. I played the majority of my football with the Latics under Paul Dickov and it's a club that will always be in my heart. I went to school in Oldham and would go and watch the club as a kid when Joe Royle was manager.”

From those days at Boundary Park, to flying to matches every week and sunbathing after training – football, or soccer, holds different journeys for all players.

After his whirlwind 2015, Black is now looking ahead to what the future holds.

“My number one goal coming to the United States was to play in MLS – and that's still my ambition.

“I had a tough couple of years in the game but the key thing is to never lose track, and constantly be working to improve.

“There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and this has proved the case for me.”

Last day saying goodbyes to the team. It's been a great year playing for @ATLSilverbacks Thanks to everyone 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 pic.twitter.com/h8CTzhJGBp

— Paul Black (@paul_black3) November 1, 2015

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