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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Newcastle native Carl Craig brings experience and eccentricity to Madison's pro soccer team.

New coach Carl Craig brings soccer savvy, charisma, punk rock to Forward Madison

Carl Craig’s road to Forward Madison head coach has been anything but straightforward. Hailing from Newcastle, England, a historically fertile haven for soccer, Craig possesses the wide-ranging knowledge and experience of a renaissance man. Newcastle enculturated him with soccer, but also with the ideals of punk and veganism.

Coming to the United States in 1994 to Minnesota, Craig worked as a high school coach in the Twin Cities area before eventually commanding enough attention to coach for the now-MLS team Minnesota Stars. He “learned an awful lot from being there” and carries with him “loads and loads of experience, not always positive.” Minnesota would eventually let him go during their transition to the highest echelon of soccer in the United States.  

Craig dropped off the national grid after parting ways with Minnesota, but he comes to Madison with renewed energy. Having only been to Madison twice before his hiring, he maintains that he is “well-connected to Wisconsin.”

“My wife’s family is from Wisconsin, so I’ve got a sense of what it’s like,” Craig stated.

In the 1980s, Craig was a member of two punk bands from Newcastle, The Abductors and Reality Control. On The Abductors 1983 tape, “Suburban Unrest”, Craig plays bass and also provides vocals. The EP displays classic, abrasive brit-punk, but also takes a more melodic approach at times on tracks like “Another Hero” and “Your Decision.” 

While both these bands were primarily underground acts (neither are found on streaming services), music has clearly shaped a large portion of Craig’s identity.  He is credited with starting the Minnesota United FC victory song tradition, Oasis’s “Wonderwall.” Despite this undeniably pop-oriented choice, Craig’s musical inspiration comes from a wide variety of sources. From a punk rock standpoint, you can catch him listening to British bands like The Damned and Poison Girls. But his rebellious spirit also carries over to other genres, such as protest-oriented reggae.  

Charismatic is almost not a strong enough word to describe Carl Craig’s personality. In his short comedy skit with his ex-team “Tea Time with Carl Craig,” the Minnesota United FC YouTube describes him as “possibly insane.” He is driven by his desire to create purpose in the community, and while unsure what’s available regionally, he feels that “If we could attract the local talent to come play for us that would be wonderful.” He relishes in the “anarchic and free-flowing” nature of USL league one soccer, as opposed to the “stringent” and “conformist” environment of the “big leagues." The pillars of punk rock also translate into his personality, as he says he still listens to “anti-establishment lyrics” and that “[his] feathers are still ruffled by politics.”

Craig plans to utilize his full skillset to carry the Flamingos back to contention. He trained highly-renowned English soccer player Michael Carrick, who has five Premier League titles and captained Manchester United in his playing days. Craig carries a reputation as a fantastic mentor, which should excite young Madison Forward players like Micheal Vang. “[I’m] excited to work with him and play him higher up,” he said of the 20 year-old midfielder.

Madison Forward will enter the 2021 season with lots of uncertainty, even regarding where they will practice and play. One thing that can be certain, however, is the Flamingos will chase a more offensive style of play.  Craig understands that offense is an area that needs to be addressed.  He says his team will have to “play a little more dynamic ... recruit a little more speed” on that side of the ball.

“We want fellas...who can really show us the fine arts of attacking football. That’s the kind of player I want,” Craig said regarding building his team and his offense.

Despite this aggressive mentality, “People who know me know I’m not really the drill sergeant type of coach,” said Craig. “I want to empower players to play football ... want good players to be able to excel.”

Carl Craig is ecstatic to be the coach of Forward Madison, where he hopes to win games, develop players, and develop community. The timeline of his contract is unclear, but Forward Madison owner Conor Caloia said the signing “isn’t a short term decision.” Until the start of the 2021 season, Craig will familiarize himself with his team, his community, and the city of Madison. He’ll also celebrate his new job, but he knows bigger things lie ahead: “I’ll probably have a light-hearted ale with half of a San Pellegrino poured in it. I’ve got work to do.” 

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