Covid-19 put paid to Ben Allan's American dream, but the Aberchirder las who did a USA soccer scholarship at King University in Bristol, Tennessee is back home in Banffshire and ready for a Highland League football season with Deveronvale
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BEN Allan loved the life of being a full-time sportsman and living the American dream as part of his soccer scholarship.
The Aberchirder lad graduated with a Masters degree in Business Management and started a job with a communications firm in Tennessee, only to see the rug pulled from under his feet by the emergence of Covid-19.
The pandemic denied the young Scot a work visa, and he was forced to head home to Banffshire to begin the next chapter in his career.
Read more: Vale sign Ben Allan on two-year deal
On the footballing front, his local Highland League club Deveronvale were quick to make their move for a player who captained his university team, having attracted the attention of Caley Thistle in his teenage years.
Allan (24) looked back on his US adventure as he awaits the return of lower league football in Scotland, currently under suspension due to the pandemic.
After failing to win a professional contract at Inverness, he was aiming to attract the attention of full-time clubs in Scotland at an exit trial in Glasgow in 2014.
That was when Sporting Futures USA, a company with a range of American scholarships to offer to young Scots, stepped in to take his life on a different path.
"When it fell through at Caley I was still trying to find a team and see if I could get that chance to potentially go pro," he said. "At the same time I knew that my studies were going to be really critical.
"My mum and dad were at the trial and they were approached by David Binnie from Sporting Futures USA.
"He gave me an overview of what was involved, and for me it was a chance to continue playing every day at a good level but also to get my degree."
Allan ended up choosing a scholarship in a small Tennessee town called Bristol, where the climate would not be so hot to handle for a young Banffshire boy used to the chilly North of Scotland.
He began studying Business Management at King University, where he was to emerge with a Bachelors and Masters Degree, with a double Major in Marketing and Economics and a Minor in Psychology after four years.
"We had to meet a certain grade point average with our school work or else we didn't get to play football, so the incentive was to do well at school."
With his parents having to pay a chunk of the cost of his scholarship, Allan was determined to make the most of his opportunity so their money didn't go to waste.
But Tennessee was a long way from his native 'Foggie' and homesickness was always going to be a factor, which is where a former Turriff United team-mate helped him out.
Aaron McKenna, who played many seasons at Turriff and also starred for Buckie Thistle in his career, had made the similar journey to America in his youth as part of a scholarship at Lincoln Memorial University, also in Tennessee.
"He was a great mentor for when I was leaving to go. He helped me with the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) and because he had been at Lincoln, he talked to me about his experience.
"He was a quality player out there and he loved it and wished he could go back out there.
"He told me that however I was feeling, to go back to America after I was home to Christmas and once I did that I would probably settle in and not be as homesick.
"The first semester is from August to December and it's a culture shock when you're away for that four months, the first time you've been away from home for that long.
"When you come home at Christmas, some guys don’t want to leave again after that but Aaron told me how important that was to go back and I'm glad I spoke to him."
The Autumn (Fall) season was for football, while the focus was far more on education during the Spring.
Allan said the college soccer season was short but intense, giving him an insight into what it would be like as a full-time professional footballer.
"During the season we trained every day except a Sunday and we had two games on a Wednesday and Saturday.
"You basically were a full-time footballer.
"We had physios with us every day and we were well looked after. If you got a bump or a niggle you were straight into the training room getting looked after.
"You had your video day where you watched your previous games, all that stuff. It was the closest thing to a professional set-up that I had experienced.
"It was also a very high standard especially the first couple of years. Division I was your bigger schools, I was at a Division II school but the standard was very good.
"Another Scottish guy in our team had been atHamilton, one was in the Guatemalan national team and one guy had played for Montreal Impact growing up.
"The thing that shocked me the most was that in that first year there was only one American player starting, everyone else was international. It was a real opener, guys from Iceland, Canada, Costa Rica, all over the place.
"The main difference was the fitness aspect. You are training every day and going to the gym three days a week so you are going to be fit."
Allan ended up captaining his team, and one summer in 2017 he decided to continue his football right through the summer season by trying to find himself a club.
"They run leagues over the summer and one of them was the NPSL (National Premier Soccer League). I always said I would have loved to stay over and find a team and just play that summer.
"I got an opportunity to go out to Rochester in New York, who had just started a team. I made a video of all my highlights from the seasons and they got in touch and said they would like me to play for them that summer.
" I went up there and stayed with a host family for the summer and pretty much trained and played with the Lancers all summer long.
"As soon as that finished I was pretty much ready to go back to my regular season with Kings University.
"For me it was definitely a good experience because it was almost a step up in level and kept my fitness levels up as well, and kept me going for the season.
"I was flying going into my senior year, my touch and my fitness was really good so it was definitely a good decision."
Allan was about to graduate and find a job in USA - until the coronavirus pandemic swept the world.
Part two of his story - later this week - looks at his postgraduate life in the States and his first job, then his return home to Aberchirder.