When we moved to Granada a year ago, one of the things Jackson was most excited about was the opportunity to play soccer (futbol here) in Spain. After a trial period last fall, Jackson was offered a spot on the younger Cadete team of the CD WE Futbol Club, one the top clubs in Granada. CD WE FC is a really fine club. They have an association with a number of La Liga teams and even sent players to Malaga FC, Real Betis, and Real Sociedad throughout the year. Pretty impressive, and Jackson was excited to be a part of this club.
But Jackson also knew that there were no guarantees he would ever have the chance to play in a federated match in Spain. FIFA had recently changed the rules, making it very difficult for foreign kids under the age of 18 to play youth futbol abroad. Although the motivation was to keep young kids from being exploited in the big money world of professional futbol and duplicitous agents, FIFA article 19 affects all foreign players under the age of 18. And over the past two years, other expat kids had not been able to play in federated matches here in Granada. The club explained the situation to us in detail once Jackson was offered a spot. However, based upon the stipulations and our motivations for moving to Spain, it seemed (at least on paper) that Jackson should have been able to qualify to play without much trouble. The club said they would do everything they could to assist and provided us with all of the materials we needed to submit to FIFA.
When I tell you that the request was extensive, there is simply no way I can do it justice. But let me say simply that it was easier to obtain our residence visas to live in Spain than it was for Jackson to obtain the necessary documents to play futbol here. Still, we said we would put our best foot forward and do what we could.
All the while, Jackson continued to train 4 days a week with his team, participated in all the team’s gym sessions and pool sessions, and attended every game home and away. This was, of course, his choice, but this is who he is. He never let up. He never gave up hope. He trained constantly in the Plaza in front of the church below our apartment. He ran the hills above the Alhambra. He never wavered, and he just tried to enjoy the game he loves so much and get better hoping his chance would come. I likely sound like a boastful parent, but he really is a fierce competitor, and he earned a ton of respect from his teammates and coaches along the way.
We initially submitted paperwork three times–with FIFA asking for new documents each time we submitted what they had requested. There were roadblocks everywhere, and it seemed hopeless. I told Jackson it didn’t look likely, but I promised him I wouldn’t give up. I called the FIFA headquarters in Zurich. I spoke to the office of legal inquiries. We submitted a 4th time. And then club then informed us that Jackson was requested to get a full medical. And when I say a full medical, I mean a full medical–with his body hooked up to leeds and his heart undergoing every test imaginable. The doctor provided him with an official certificate, and we submitted again only to be rejected once more.
Now the season was winding down. Jackson understood the chances were slim, but he wouldn’t give up. And he sat down in the office of the Director, looked him in the eye and said, “I love this team, and it would be worth it for me if I only got to play for one minute.” We added the most recent papers FIFA had requested, and the Director of the Club submitted again and even urged FIFA and the Spanish Federation for an expedition of the process. With the season nearing its conclusion, the coaches spoke to the team and said we have two goals–1) Win the League Championship and 2) Get Jackson on the pitch.
At long last, the call came. His approval was granted, player card arrived, and Jackson was able to take the field with his team. After 8 months of training 4-6 days a week, he now had the green light to play in matches. Jackson was understandably elated. He had worked so hard, and we were really happy for him.
As a parent there are some moments that are difficult to explain and others that you simply never forget. When Jackson was brought on to the field for the first time in a match, he received the most thunderous ovation of the season from all of the parents. Their support of him, for him, was overwhelming and the moment really caught Karen and I off guard. To see other people show that level of emotional support for Jackson, and all his hard work and dedication, was one of the most moving experiences we have had in Spain. Karen was crying. I was choked up, and we will never forget their kindness.
Jackson went on to play in all of the remaining games. He played hard and he played well. His team won the Championship and earned promotion to the next division based on their success throughout the season. Jackson was a part of it, and the players and coaches were genuinely happy for him. They expressed his value to the team throughout the year (even when he wasn’t playing in matches), and they embraced him as one of their own. It’s hard to tell the story of these interpersonal relationships, but I think these photos do a pretty good job. Moving 6,000 miles across the world isn’t easy, but being a part of this team and playing for this club made Jackson feel like he was already home.