Living in Florida had always seemed like a faraway dream for him, he said. A place he had only ever seen on television or in the movies. Now, that dream has become his reality.
Gavin Carlin, 30, moved to Jacksonville 10 years ago on a soccer scholarship from Jacksonville University.
“I’ll never forget when they reached out to me, the email said ‘come play in Florida?’” he said. “I was already agreeing to it before I got to the end of the email. It was like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket.”
Growing up, Carlin always dreamed of moving to America and living in Florida, California or New York. The large cities and beaches are like a dream to those living in Northern Ireland, he said.
Carlin‘s family had a strong sports background. His father had qualified for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles where he was set to compete in the Decathlon, however, a pulled hamstring one week before competition set him back, he said.
Sports are very important over in Ireland and are highly regarded. However, everything is divided by the area in which one lives or by religion, Carlin said. For example, Gaelic football is very popular in Ireland because it is predominantly a Catholic sport.
Luckily for Carllin, soccer was a popularly accepted sport to compete in, in Northwest Ireland where he grew up.
“Thank goodness we lived where we did because I wasn’t very good at any other sports,” he laughed.
At the young age of 15, Carlin was recruited to play professionally in England, he said. At 16-years-old he signed a contract with the West Bromwich Albion Football Club and began his professional sports career.
“It was crazy you know at age 12 or 13 you have posters of these guys in your room and now here I was , 16-years-old having lunch with them or competing against them,” he said.
Leaving high school and moving to Birmingham, England, was the best thing Carlin has ever done, he said. He moved up quickly, landing himself the status of third-choice goalkeeper at the club, he said.
An injury to the kneecap ended his professional career earlier than he anticipated. He would have bet all of his money that his contract would get resigned, but, to his surprise, it was not, he said.
Around this time, Carlin was 19-years-old and was motivated by his father to actively look into moving to the United States. It was during this time that JU offered him a full-ride scholarship for their soccer program.
Carlin’s major was sociology, though, he does not know that he will ever have a use for the degree, he said.
“I graduated and worked two jobs but hated them both,” he said. “I was making grocery money on the side by giving soccer lessons when I realized there may be a real necessity for the training that I was offering.”
His thought proved to be correct.
During the 2014-2015 soccer season he set a goal to work with 15 clients. He easily gained notoriety and, slowly, the numbers began to climb to 20, then 30 clients—increasing each year.
This year, Carlin already has 480 clients signed up for training with him through his business, Good Lad Soccer.
“I saw a need and it worked out,” he said. “I could easily be back in Ireland looking at sheep and them looking back at me, but luckily I am coaching soccer in Florida and it doesn’t even feel like work.”
Carlin also hosts a beach soccer tournament that is separated into three age groups—youth ages 10-12, teen, ages 13-15 and a 16 and older division. The tournament proved to be a huge success even despite setbacks like the Covid-19 pandemic, he said. The tournament, which takes place on Jacksonville Beach, sold out this year.
“I am not one of those people to usually pat myself on the back,” Carlin said. “But it selling out was one of those moments that it was like, wow I am an Irish man in Jacksonville, Florida, running a beach tournament of my favorite sport. That’s pretty cool.”
Carlin has goals to expand the beach tournament to the Daytona Beach area before expanding it farther to the eastern coast on Florida, he said. He is currently at maximum capacity for his training sessions as well, and hopes he continues to see more growth.