Looking to continue their athletic and academic careers, they left their homes in England and landed in the Finger Lakes region of central New York.
Junior George Pedlow, sophomore Harry Fuller and freshman Charlie Ferguson are essential members of the recently nationally ranked Cornell men’s soccer team and have journeyed over 3,000 miles across the pond to wear the carnelian and white. Leaving a country — and continent — obsessed with soccer, these three young men have found a home in Ithaca under the everwatchful eyes of a fellow Englishman, head coach John Smith.
Pedlow, Fuller and Ferguson have travelled distinct paths to get to where they are today. While Pedlow and Fuller both hail from London, Ferguson is from Brighton. Pedlow and Fuller both root, almost religiously, for Arsenal while Ferguson is a Chelsea supporter. They all differ from their coach Smith, however, whose Evertonian blood runs generations deep in his family.
“I support Everton,” Smith said. “My dad did and my granddad did. So basically I had no choice, that’s how it works in England. My kids support Everton now and they also have no choice. I’m sure they would have much sooner supported [Manchester] City or Man United, but I’ll be an Evertonian until I die. Regardless of how they’re doing and what division they’re in that won’t ever change for me.”
While they may disagree on whose Premier League club is best, the players know better than to rib their coach about his struggling team.
“I’m an Arsenal fan,” Pedlow said proudly. “But we don’t try to make any jokes at [Smith] because he’s a very strong Everton fan. He’s had that in his family for a while.”
Oftentimes international students, much less athletes, struggle immensely with adjustments to collegiate life, academic workload and cultural differences, among many other things. Pedlow, who is actually American but grew up in London, Fuller and Ferguson have been adept at taking these challenges head on.
“It’s fun to see a different culture,” Ferguson said. “The language is the same and everyone is naturally more friendly than home. In a way it’s been easier to fit in here than what it would have been going to university at home.”
Smith agreed with Ferguson, but addressed the challenge of adjusting his accent to untrained American ears.
“Culturally, the transition wasn’t all that hard for me. Having said that, even though we speak the same language, we are different cultures so there’s a lot of different little sayings and words,” Smith said. “Initially my accent was quite strong, it was very much a Mancunian accent, it isn’t that way anymore simply because I had to change the way I spoke so people could understand me. I’d be ordering food at Subway and getting different things on my sandwich because they misunderstood what I was asking for.”
While the cultural differences between the U.S. and U.K. may not be as obvious or prevalent as those between other countries, there are drastic differences in the schooling systems which can prove to be difficult adjustments. England is known for its comprehensive standardized tests which high school students take roughly every two years. In between, grades and schooling hold a lesser importance than doing well on the tests.
“Academically it’s really different,” Pedlow said. “Coming here my first semester or two it was a weird experience. I had to keep on top of my work constantly because of my GPA, and with quizzes and tests, it was all new to me.”
Pedlow is a student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the S.C. Johnson College of Business, Ferguson is in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and Fuller is in the College of Engineering.
As for the change to American collegiate soccer, the three young men are thriving. Fuller, currently dealing with a foot injury, has notched two goals and four assists. Pedlow and Ferguson have both played in each of the team’s 15 games. Pedlow has scored three goals and Ferguson, just a freshman, has a goal and has been a steadying force for the squad.
All three players agree that their experiences playing in England at all levels helped to prepare them for the rigors of Division I soccer and Smith’s demanding expectations. Pedlow emphasized that the higher level of physicality in the English game has given him an important advantage throughout his college career. He also commented on the traditionally English formation that Smith deploys.
“We play a 4-4-2 [formation] which is a very traditional English style of soccer,” Pedlow said. “Barely any teams here play that except for a few teams like Stanford and Duke. We’re playing under an English system in America, so it wasn’t that harsh a transition.”
Pedlow, Fuller and Ferguson have become instrumental parts in one of the great turnarounds in NCAA men’s soccer and possibly Cornell Athletics history. Two years ago the Red ended the year 1-14-2, with an 0-7 Ivy record. Last year the team finished just below .500 with a 7-8-2 record and 2-4-1 Ivy mark.
This season the Red sits at 10-5 — 3-2 in Ivy play — and just recently fell out of the national top 25. For the first time since 2012, the Red has a chance at winning the Ivy League and reaching postseason play.
“This season as a whole has been a huge positive,” Fuller said. “We’ve got quite strong chances of making the postseason for the first time in a long time in this program’s history, which would be incredible. When you’re winning and you start to be a bigger deal as a team, it makes the hard work and the stresses of training and schoolwork all a little bit easier.”
The winning ways haven’t just come out of nowhere. It’s been the product of steady planning and hard work that the players and coaches have forged together.
“The good stuff that we’re doing and that’s making us win is the product of two and a half, nearly three years, of work of John, Drew and Scott this season,” Fuller said. “It’s made the last year of work worthwhile for me seeing it pay off. The trajectory we’re on is really remarkable considering where the program was two years ago.”
Pedlow, Fuller and Ferguson’s success very well could be the linchpin in a new trend in college athletics: recruitment outside the United States. Should the three players continue to succeed in their roles, or even improve, Cornell men’s soccer could be ground zero for college soccer’s next competitive advantage.