At the age of 23, Chip Sanders decided a change was needed; a change of country, a change of continent and change of luck. The American packed his bags and moved to start his new life in the most unlikeliest of places; Waterford.
The goalkeeper decided on a move to the south east of Ireland and to move to a part of the world he’d never dreamed of being in, never mind starting a football career in. Yet it’s now a reality for the goalkeeper, as he embarks on his first season in the League of Ireland with The Blues.
Sanders describes the sequence of his move as ‘interesting’, with a former Blues coach giving a helping hand after some unsuccessful trial with others American sides.
“I went to USL Combine trials in January but nothing panned out with that, and then I trained with Columbus Crew for a couple of days but that didn’t work out either,” he explains.
“Then my goalkeeping coach Scott Schweitzer, who knows Giles Cheevers very well, said ‘why don’t you go over and have a look at Waterford and see if that might be a good fit for you’ and it kind of all worked out from there. It was kind of a roundabout way of getting here.”
Sanders’ move is certainly on the stranger side of the League of Ireland given that it is a predominantly home-based league. The keeper admitted that he knew little about Waterford, Ireland or the league he was getting involved in.
“I didn’t really know anything about it, but my high school coach was from Ireland, and he’d always say that I ought to take a look at Ireland. I never really thought about it until the opportunity presented itself and now I’m kind of just going with it and it’s worked out pretty well so far.”
“Giles Cheevers contacted the management in Waterford and said ‘I’ve got a goalkeeper who wants to get a chance over here and take a look’. So I got an opportunity to come over on trial in February. I was here for about two and a half weeks, I got a couple of pre season matches in and thankfully everyone, and the manager, liked me and it kind of went from there.
“I signed, went home to collect my visa and came straight back as soon as I could.”
The early stage of the former North Carolina Davidson College’s keeper’s time in Ireland was a tough one, he admits, in new life in a strange country with no friends or family.
“It was a bit daunting at the start, and a bit frustrating. I’d come over here and with the talent that we have for us not to get good early result was a bit disheartening and more difficult for me.
“My family are still in the States, and it’s a bit different being here away from family and friends but I’m making new friends over here.”
For all footballers coming into a new club and a new country it will take time to settle and get used to their surroundings. For Sanders, the Waterford United fans have taken to him straight away, with the Thomasville, Georgia-born keeper seeing his twitter page constantly on the go with fans looking to chat. It amuses Sanders, but he admits he’s honoured that they’ve taken an interest in him.
“It’s funny because stuff like that doesn’t happen at home, we don’t really have supporters as passionate but it’s really cool to be able to interact with supporters.
“I’m glad they like me,” Sanders jokes, thoroughly enjoying his new found fame, even if he still remains a little surprised by it.
“It’d be bad if they didn’t like me.
“It’s nice, it really nice to feel like you’re in a place where you’re wanted. I’m somewhere that I think people want me to be here and want me to do well and that’s always a good thing to be hearing.”
Sanders feels like he belongs in Waterford already and constantly refers to his happiness in his new surroundings and his new life. A contract that runs until the end of the season in November, he already feels an affinity, a startling loyalty, to the club despite his short time in the country.
“This is an historic club from everything I’ve read. We belong in the top flight and if me playing helps us to do that, then great, and I would absolutely love that but if I’m not playing, as long as we’re winning then that’s really all that matters.
“I kind of did a little bit of research, nothing too serious, but seeing that we’ve had six League of Ireland titles is huge, you know that’s big time and for us not to be in the Premier Division where we belong is tough.”
Sanders is now living with one of the other players in Waterford city and is getting used to life away from home. A poor start to their season means that they now play catch up with the teams above, but the 6ft 6in keeper has quickly got to know his new teammates as they look to turn a poor season around.
“Everybody’s been real welcoming and real helpful since I’ve got here. It’s different from home, like the culture, the passion, there’s a lot more over here, but I’m really, really enjoying it so far.”
“I’ve really enjoyed my time in Waterford so far. It’s been quite difficult in getting settled and trying to adjust to a new place but I’m definitely enjoying it and enjoying my football for sure. It was tough at first but I’m finding our feet. We’re going to push on and I feel it’s going to be a good season.”
[Waterford United match programme May 3rd 2013]