Tag Archives: Mark Noonan

Remembering Pele

Everyone with any connection to soccer over the past 65 years has a Pele story.

I have several.

The Brazilian legend — remembered for his unparalleled athletic talent, grace under pressure, radiant smile and eternal humanity — died Thursday at 82. World leaders, players past and present, and billions of ordinary folks mourned his passing.

Pele transcended time and place. He grew older, but never lost his youthful wonder. He played, lived and traveled around the globe, yet he always held Brazil close to his heart.

Of course — this being Westport — we had a few special connections to The King.

My first encounter came a year after I graduated from Staples High School. My friend and former teammate Neil Brickley heard that Pele’s Santos team was playing an exhibition match in Boston.

We took a road trip to Nickerson Field. In the early 1970s, chances to see high-level matches were rare.

The program from the Santos-Astros game. (Courtesy of Neil Brickley)

It was a meaningless friendly, against an unworthy opponent: the minor league Boston Astros. But we were mesmerized, by Pele and the entire Santos squad.

The crowd was small. (The Boston Globe reported that Santos “awed 1,000 people … 1,000 spectators, and the 11 Astros”).

As we left, we saw the team bus idling on the street. We decided to wait.

Impulsively, we said we’d follow the bus wherever it went. It ended up at the Parker House.

The team filed into the dining room downstairs. Neil and I figured, Why not? 

We sat a few feet away. Food was brought to the team. We ordered our own.

We nervously asked Pele for autographs. I carried his in my wallet for years.

A hotel band played background music. Midway through, the leader stopped. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re honored tonight to have with us the greatest soccer player in the world. Let’s have a big hand for … Paulie.”

Two years after my “dinner with Pele,” he was back in the US. He had retired from soccer, but dogged negotiations by Warner Communications had paid off.

The New York Cosmos — a virtually unknown team in the struggling North American Soccer League — signed the legend to a 3-year contract. The idea was that he would jump-start interest in the sport in this country. (And make Warner Communications a ton of money.)

Many of the contract details were handled by Warner vice president Jay Emmett. He lived on Prospect Road here. And though he dealt regularly with the top entertainers in the world, he knew that Pele was bigger than them all.

His first game in the US was on Sunday, June 15, 1975. I had graduated from Brown University 3 weeks before. I was doing some soccer writing, and wangled a press pass.

The Cosmos played at Randall’s Island. The place was a trash-filled dump. Workers feverishly painted the brown dirt green. After all, the match — an exhibition against the Dallas Tornado — was televised by CBS, an enormous coup.

I have been in a few electrifying moments in my life (several others involving Pele). But nothing compares to being on that field, that day, when he appeared in a Cosmos uniform for the first time.

The sound and the emotion made it seem as if the world was shifting. I was 22, and thought I’d seen and felt everything.

But Pele’s impact on American soccer was just beginning.

Mark Brickley — Neil’s older brother, and a former Staples soccer player who graduated in 1970, a year before me — became the Cosmos’ very young director of communications.

Pele and Mark Brickley

He had an incredible workload. The Cosmos acquired a stable of world-renowned players to complement Pele — Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia. And as the team became a worldwide sensation, their visibility in New York skyrocketed.

Henry Kissinger, Mick Jagger — and everyone in between — wanted to see and be seen with the team (especially Pele). I had a front-row seat to it all. Mark hooked me up with press and field passes.

The press box was a madhouse. The field was the place to be. Watching from a few feet away — as a complete hanger-on — the adulation showered on Pele, by ordinary fans and the biggest names in the world, was astonishing.

The locker room was also a madhouse. Reporters who had seen everything jostled for a chance to ask Pele the same questions he’d faced a million times. Without fail he looked journalists in the eye, smiled, and answered in his imperfect, but lilting and lyrical, English.

Yes, that’s me (front row, right, striped shirt) with Pele in the mid-1970s. Also in the photo (from left): Bill Smith’s grandson and Westport Police Lieutenant Detective Bill Smith; Jay Emmett, Warner Communications vice president; Stuart McCarthy, Westport Soccer Association youth player and later Westport’s Parks & Recreation department director.

But there was more.

Mark Brickley also arranged for Westport Soccer Association youth teams that I was coaching to play several preliminary games, before the Cosmos took the field.

The summer of 1977 was one New York will never forget. The Son of Sam killer stalked the streets. A major blackout led to looting and violence.

But across the Hudson River at Giants Stadium, the Cosmos were magic.

Crowds grew steadily: 35,000, 50,000, then 75,000-seat sellouts. My 12-year-old team took the field before those packed stands, vibrating with energy and anticipation.

One of those matches took place in a downpour. Still, the stadium was packed. As we left the field, and the Cosmos massed in the tunnel ready to run on, I looked up. The bright lights magnified the raindrops; every seat was filled.

“Look at this!” I said to the players. “Don’t ever forget it.”

They did not. (One of them — Mark Noonan — went on to a long career in the sport. He is now commissioner of the Canadian Premier League.)

The NASL included other Westport connections. A league rule mandated that at least 3 North Americans be on the field for every team. The star-studded Cosmos’ lineup included defender Paul Hunter. A 1973 Staples graduate (and recent University of Connecticut alum), he did the dirty work so that Pele, Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and others could shine.

Paul Hunter (front row, far right), one player away from Pele in a 1977 Cosmos pre-game photo. The top row includes Franz Beckenbauer (2nd from left), Giorgio Chinaglia (4th from left) and Werner Roth (6th from left). (Photo courtesy of Fred Cantor)

Pele played against other Westporters, including Hunter’s brother Tim (Staples ’71, UConn ’75) of the Connecticut Bicentennials, and Steve Baumann (Staples ’70, University of Pennsylvania ’74) of the Miami Toros.

Steve Baumann and Pele.

Like so many opponents, Baumann was both excited and awed by the chance to play against Pele.

Today — retired, after a long career as a college and high school coach, and museum director — Baumann ruefully recalls the day in 1976 Pele scored on a bicycle kick over his head, at Yankee Stadium.

That moment was immortalized on film. It lives today on YouTube, below.

But my Westport Soccer Association connections with Pele were not over.

On October 1, 1977 he was set to play his final match ever. The tribute game would include his first half in a Cosmos jersey. Then he’d switch to his beloved Santos club.

Thanks again to Mark Brickley, our WSA club was invited to participate in the on-field ceremony. Eight teams would ring the field, demonstrating soccer skills and then honoring Pele.

That morning was a whirlwind of activity. We “rehearsed” on a practice field adjacent to Giants Stadium, then were escorted into the tunnel.

A gaggle of celebrities were driven in golf carts past us. Our 12-year-olds did not care about Frank Gifford or President Carter’s son Chip. But when Muhammad Ali stopped by us — that was something.

The Greatest had come to pay tribute to The King.

Out on the field, our team had the premier spot among all 8: directly in front of the podium. (Thanks again, Mark!).

Speeches were made. Tributes were offered. Then came the time for each team’s captain to walk to midfield, and hand Pele a bouquet of flowers.

I told our captain, Peter Scala, to stay after he gave the flowers. After all, he’d be the first one there. Who knew what might happen?

Peter gave the bouquet. Pele pulled him close, and whispered something in his ear. Massed behind us, held back by dozens of security people, 700 photographers clicked their cameras. Across the globe, people in 42 countries watched.

Youth players give Pele flowers at his last match. (Westport captain Peter Scala cannot be seen.) Looking on are (from left) Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Muhammad Ali. (Photo courtesy of Mark Bieler)

Peter walked back to me, grinning from ear to ear.

“What did he say?” I asked.

Peter looked stricken. “I forget!” he said.

The ceremony moved quickly. Pele’s graceful speech was all about children, and how important they were.

Love was important too, he noted. “Join with me 3 times: Love! Love! Love!” he said.

Click below for that video clip. (And note another local connection: It’s narrated by Jim McKay. The “ABC Wide World of Sports” host was a longtime Westport resident.)

We headed to our seats in the stands. The game ended. As Pele was hoisted on the shoulders of Cosmos and Santos teammates, it began to rain. A Brazilian newspaper said, “Even the sky was crying.”

Pele in the rain, after his last game.

I had a few more encounters with Pele after that. In 1988 — then a longtime writer for Soccer America Magazine — I was invited to Brazil, to cover the first-ever Pele Cup Youth Tournament.

It was a memorable 2 weeks, for many reasons. (Including the 48-hour, trip-from-hell route there: New York to Orlando, Miami, Jamaica, Manaus and, finally, São Paulo).

There were plenty of highlights, including a trip to Belo Horizonte — the site of a spectacular World Cup upset in 1950, when the US beat England 1-0 (we traveled there with players from both teams).

But the crowning moment was a trip to Pele’s home in Santos. Seeing his trophies, his birds, his pool — his life — was a day I have always treasured.

My path crossed with Pele a couple of times afterward. He was a guest at conventions of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, our professional organization.

As always, he was generous with his time, and graceful with whomever he was with.

And he never stopped smiling.

Pele at a National Soccer Coaches Association of America reception. (Photo/Dan Woog)

One year, our convention was in Cincinnati. President Bush stayed at the same hotel. His handlers wanted him to meet Pele.

Pele’s people said he had no time. He needed to meet with the players and coaches.

They were not kidding. The All-American banquet is a long affair. There are many honorees — NCAA Division I, II and III; NAIA; junior college; high school. All have men’s and women’s teams.

The celebrity each year poses with each group. But Pele made each team seem like it was the only one in the world. And that meeting them was the most exciting day of his life.

One more presidential story. In the mid-’80s, one man’s introduction went this way: “I’m Ronald Reagan. I’m President of the United States. But you don’t need to introduce yourself. Everyone knows Pele.”

I did not know Pele. He certainly did not know me.

But ever since I was a young soccer player at Staples High School, my life was enriched by sharing space with him.

(I can’t resist two final Pele stories — neither of which I could fit in above. On a road trip to Toronto with the Cosmos, I was in the hotel lobby as the team was getting ready for their bus. An older couple approached Pele, and asked for a picture.

(The man posed with him. His wife nervously fumbled with the camera. Pele stopped, and walked over to her. Very gently, he said, “You must first remove the lens cap.”

(And this, as told to me by a reporter friend who was there. A crew filmed Pele with a Special Olympics team. He got in goal; a young girl took a penalty kick. She stubbed it; the ball rolled slowly toward the line. Pele dove high; it skittered in underneath him.

(“I scored on Pele! I scored on Pele!” the girl yelled with joy. “There was not a dry eye anywhere,” the reporter said.)

Roundup: Bay Street, Housing Prices, Lynsey Addario …

While “06880” readers were debating the (un)safety of the Post Road crosswalk by Design Within Reach yesterday, this happened a few yards away, on Bay Street:

(Photo via Facebook/Claudia Besen)

Incredibly, no one was hurt.

But inquiring minds want to know:

  • How on earth did that car get there?
  • What was the driver doing, besides paying attention to the road?
  • Will anyone ever use that crosswalk — or the sidewalk on Bay Street — again?


Every Friday, a local realtor emails me a list of homes for sale.

Yesterday’s included several eye-popping asking prices: $8,795,000 (2 Owenoke Park), $6,985,000 (6 Clifford Lane), $5,500,000 (3 Kensington Place) and $4,995,000 (4 Ferry Lane East).

But what really grabbed my attention were these:

  • $3,999,999 (37 Bermuda Road)
  • $3,999,000 (13 Caccamo Lane)
  • $3,999,000 (4 Authors Way)
  • $3,999,000 (121 Imperial Avenue)

I understand why McDonald’s sells its spicy deluxe crispy chicken sandwich for $6.96: You think you’re paying $6, not $7.

But if you’re smart enough to be able to afford a home like those above, are you really stupid enough to think you’re paying $3 million, not $4 million?

Anyway: Hurry! At these prices, they won’t be on the market long.

This house at 37 Bermuda Road can be yours for just $3,999,999. (Photo courtesy of Zillow)


Since graduating from Staples High School in 1991 Lynsey Addario has earned international renown as a photojournalist. She documents war zones, countries in crises, refugees, and — a special focus — the plight of women and girls.

On September 8 (6 to 8 p.m., SVA Chelsea Gallery), New York’s School of Visual Arts will honor Addario with its 32nd annual Masters Series Award. The next day, she’ll give an artist talk, with Times director of photography Kathy Ryan.

A retrospective  (September 2 through October 29, SVA Chelsea Gallery) looks at her career — including her long work with the New York Times, and her 2 best-selling books. Click here and also click here for details. (Hat tip: Kathie Motes Bennewitz) 

Lynsey Addario was pregnant while photographing a child dying from malnutrition in Mogadishu, in August 2011. (Photo/New York Times)


Tomorrow night’s Levitt Pavilion show is special.

Rock-harpist Erin Hill‘s “The Music of Kate Bush: Night Scented Harp” is a full band show, with cool video projections.

Hill’s Celtic album reached #1 on the Billboard World Music Chart. She has performed with Moby, Sinéad O’Connor, Enya, a-ha, Randy Newman, Jewel, Josh Groban …

… and Cyndi Lauper. Who, of course, will also come to the Levitt, on September 30.

(Erin Hill performs at 7 p.m. on Sunday, August 28. Click here for more information.)


Mark Noonan has an impressive sports resume.

After winning 2 state championships as a Staples High School soccer player, he helped propel Duke University to its 1st-ever national title — in any sport — in 1986.

The founder of FocalSport, an international sports and entertainment agency, Noonan has worked in high positions with US Soccer, MLS, the New York Mets, Gatorade, the Professional Bull Riders tour, and the World Surf League. He recently served as CEO of Hearts of Oaks, Ghana’s biggest soccer club.

His new gig: commissioner of the Canadian Premier Soccer League.

With its women’s team as reigning Olympic champs, its men’s team set to begin play in the World Cup this November, and Canada joining the US and Mexico as World Cup hosts in 2026, soccer in Canada is now on the world stage.

Noonan’s new position also makes him CEO of Canada Soccer Business. He will be based in Toronto. (Click here for the full Toronto Sun story.)

Mark Noonan: commissioner of the Canadian Premier League.


Chip Young — a 3-sport athlete in Staples High School’s Class of 1968, and a soccer All-American at Brown University — died Thursday in Rhode Island. He was 72.

The former soccer, basketball and baseball Wrecker legend was known for many things: journalism, environmental activism, rabble-rousing, and a larger-than-life personality.

A lifelong Ocean Stater after Brown, he served as head of public relations for Save the (Narragansett) Bay, and as a senior fellow for communications at the University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute.

He spent over 40 years as a columnist — one-half of the “Phillipe & Jorge’s Cool, Cool World” duo — for the Providence Phoenix and Motif Magazine. Motif said: “Chip’s commentary, often incendiary, generally wry and barbed, helped shape RI’s cultural and political landscape….he was a wise source of advice and support, a greatly valued contributor and a friend.”

Chip played semi-pro soccer in New England after graduation, and served as public relations director of the American Soccer League. He had also been sports editor of the Providence Eagle, controller of Bear Wear Company of Providence, a member of the Professional Soccer Reporters Association, and New England correspondent for Soccer America magazine.

Chip’s stellar athletic career may never have happened, though. Born with a hole the size of a half-dollar in his heart, he had open heart surgery in 1959. He was 9 years old — one of the first children to undergo the procedure.

“Without the operation,” he said, “I would not have been able to even participate in gym class by my teens, and probably wouldn’t have lived past my 20s.”




Chip Young


Longtime Westporter and Staples High School 1964 graduate Jeff Simon died suddenly.

He was a standout swimmer, pole vaulter, cameraman and photographer, He adored nature, and photographed it adeptly.

Jeff is survived by sons Forest and Sean, brother Steve, former wife Sheryl, and companion Arline Gertzoff.

An informal memorial service is set for today (Saturday, August 27, 5 p.m., at the Burying Hill Beach picnic tables.


Staples High School Class of 2021 graduate Alan Fiore continues to drop great tunes.

His latest — “dreamerboi” — shows off the singer/songwriter/producer/Berklee College of Music’s many talents. Click below to enjoy:


As our summer-long drought continues to dry out our lawns and shrubs, the importance of water comes into sharp focus.

How sharp? Jo Shields Sherman sent 2 photos along. They were taken just one day apart.

Here is the scene before watering …

… and after:

(Photos/Jo Shields Sherman)


Speaking of living things:

Tracy Porosoff spotted this Living Wall at Studio Café, in The Tailored Home at Sconset Square.

We’ve highlighted plenty of living things in our “Westport … Naturally” feature.

But never a living wall.

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)


And finally … speaking of drought (story above): alert (and parched) “06880” reader Gary Shure suggests:

(“06880” is your hyper-local, reader-supported blog. Please click here to donate. Thank you!)

At 52, Kat Noon’s Music Career Takes Off

Kat Noon is living proof that — despite a major illness, and turning 50 — life goes on.

Actually, it gets even better. Kat is just hitting her stride.

In her native Washington, DC, she was Katie Feffer. After marrying Mark Noonan — a Staples High School and Duke University soccer star, now a very successful sports marketer — she became Katie Noonan.

But there’s already an Australian singer/songwriter with that name. So now — after releasing her first EP, at 52 — the world is getting to know Kat Noon.

Kat Noon

Her long road to recording began when she was 16. Picking up the classical guitar her mother carried from Madrid to America in the 1950s, Kat strummed songs by Jim Croce, Carole King, the Stones and Fleetwood Mac.

At night Kat enjoyed live music at jazz, reggae and dance clubs. She went to concerts too: The Who, Kinks, David Bowie, U2, Madonna, Toots and the Maytals.

At Duke she performed West African and modern dance — and met Mark.

After college, Kat went on to earn a Ph.D. in industrial/organizational psychology. Based in Chicago, she worked for a data analytics team at HR consulting firm Mercer. After work, she headed to blues clubs.

When Mark became chief marketing officer of Major League Soccer, the Noonans moved to Greenfield Hill. They had 2 girls. While they were in preschool, Kat found time to take guitar and voice lessons at Westport Music Center.

She started writing songs. With native Westporters John Porio and Chris Myers, she hit local stages and back patios with the garage band The Hollow.

Then came KNB — Katie Noonan Band — covering tunes by Suzanne Vega, Steely Dan and Blind Faith.

Kat Noon, in concert.

She was hooked. But her fulltime job was managing the back office and keeping books for Mark’s marketing firm, FocalSport.

In 2008, the economy tanked. KNB’s keyboardist moved away. The next year, Kat was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The family had already lost Katie’s mother and Mark’s sister Clare to the disease. Yet despite 2 surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, Kat never broke stride.

She was inspired by her doctor, Richard Zelkowitz, who encouraged her to “live your life.”

With her girls in middle school, she realized the best way to keep fear of a recurrence at bay was to take on a new challenge. She helped launch a new R&D group: Mercer’s Workforce Sciences Institute. Music fell by the wayside.

But when Mark was traveling 200,000 miles a year as a senior executive with the World Surf League, Kat decided to focus on family, and find stimulation in music.

In 2015 Mark and her girls gave her a Mother’s Day gift: a spot at the Crown of the Continent Guitar Workshop and Festival in Montana. She performed in the mainstage tent, and met and learned from international artists like Jon Herington of Steely Dan.

Kat Noon and Jon Herington.

Kat returned twice more over the next 3 years. She took workshops and master classes taught by Jim Messina, one half of Loggins and Messina. (He suggested her stage name.)

The opportunity to step out as a solo artist finally came when Mark was hired as CEO of the Hearts of Oak soccer club in Accra, Ghana. With their daughters in college, it was a perfect opportunity for an empty nest adventure.

The music scene in the African capital was lively. Kat landed a string of gigs — embassy events, opening for popular artist Broni, guest sets with an indie band.

Her fresh, unusual experiences inspired new songs. Turning 50, she decided to venture into the recording studio.

A sprawling Makola Market inspired Kat to write “Accra Blues.”

The Noonans returned to the US after corruption in the Ghana Football Association upended soccer in that country. Working with Westporter Danny Fishman — who she first met when he walked into a doctor’s waiting room carrying a guitar — Kat recently recorded a self-titled EP.

Songs include “Here I Come” (inspired by Africa); “Shadowed (written after her mother’s death), “Accra Blues” (a humorous acknowledgment of life in unfamiliar surroundings) and “You Belong Here With Me” (an ode to her husband).

With her husband Mark Noonan, at a rooftop bar in Ghana’s capital. Kat’s friends from India henna-ed her hand.

“Kat Noon” has already earned over 40,000 streams on Spotify.

Landing in Denver, she again picked up some projects with Mercer — this time on gender equity and experienced worker inclusion issues — for Westport resident and global business head Pat Milligan.

“I’m prioritizing balance, a healthful lifestyle, and music that feeds my soul,” Kat says.

She’s also trying to set up performances in this area.

It’s been a long, strange trip for Kat Noon.

But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

FUN FACT: Kat’s retro-flavored logo awas designed by Connecticut musician friend and renowned illustrator Gerard Huerta. He’s done logos and album artwork for AC/DC, Blue Oyster Cult, Ted Nugent, HBO, Arista and HBO.

(“Kat Noon” is available on Spotify [click here], YouTube, Apple and most major music platforms. Her social media tag is @katnoonmusic.)

Kat Noon’s new EP.

Mark Noonan: Ghana’s Head Phobian Returns

A lifetime of playing and working in the sports world taught Mark Noonan to embrace every new challenge, and work hard to achieve each new goal.

He’s got quite a resume. In 1981 and ’82, he helped lead the Staples High School soccer team to a pair of undefeated seasons and state championships. In 1986, he was a key part of Duke University’s national soccer title — the first for the school in any sport.

Noonan served as director of integrated marketing for Gatorade, chief marketing officer for US Soccer, executive vice president of Major League Soccer, and chief commercial officer for the World Surf League.

Last year, Noonan took on a new title: CEO of Accra’s Hearts of Oak. With 10 million fans — 1/3 of Ghana’s entire population — and a history dating back to 1911, they’re one of Africa’s top teams.

Mark Noonan, with Hearts of Oak players and staff.

Ghana is one of the top producers of soccer talent in the world. Noonan believes they can win a World Cup, if properly developed and supported.

But, like many African clubs, Hearts of Oak were not getting top dollars in transfer fees for their players. Their youth academies and training facilities were not on the level of European and South American clubs. Shady agents and managers poached players long before they were physically, mentally or emotionally ready to leave the country and their families.

Noonan was hired to help remedy that.

He also had a vision: for Hearts to make a difference in the lives of its players and supporters, making them proud and happy in the face of challenging circumstances.

He and his wife Katie — an accomplished musician — headed overseas. They were excited by Ghana’s unique culture, tropical climate and thriving highlife music scene.

Katie Noonan (left) and friend at a Ghana market.

Growing up in Westport helped prepare Noonan for the move. As a community that “valued diversity, creativity and had a real soccer culture,” he felt prepared to understand and respect his very different new home.

But nothing prepared him for the big egos and massive corruption he found. Or the entrenched ways of doing things, unlike anything he’d ever seen in the sports or business world.

Just a week after he arrived, the government shut down Hearts’ 40,000-seat stadium, for renovations. There had been no warning, or planning.

Noonan scrambled to find alternatives. The Phobians — that’s the team’s nickname, a legacy of the fear they were said to inspire in opponents’ hearts — played 7 “home” games in facilities up to 3 hours away.

Mark Noonan, with Phobian supporters.

But that was minor, compared to a corruption scandal that rocked Ghanaian soccer. An investigation showed dozens of people, from top administrators and team executives to referees, accepting bribes.

The president of Ghana dismantled the country’s Football Association. Its head was banned by FIFA for life. All professional matches were canceled.

Then one of the key journalists who produced the undercover documentary was shot dead. (Noonan stresses that gun violence in Ghana is very rare, compared to the US. He, his wife and daughters always felt very safe.)

It’s been 9 months since the league was shut down. To keep the team going, Noonan arranged friendly matches.

He also sold players. He is proud that — unlike nearly every other club — Hearts never missed a payroll. Nearly 100 people rely on Hearts for their livelihoods.

Hearts of Oak players and coaches at training.

Noonan is proud of bringing “stability, credibility, transparency and professional management” to the club. He revamped the technical department, re-branded the club, engaged supporters, brought Umbro in as a world-class supplier, moved the team to a new training facility, and began to build a youth academy.

He learned a lot about a different part of the world. Accra is a city of 8 million people, with 5-star hotels sitting not far from third-world infrastructure.

“Living in a developing country is hard,” Noonan admits. “I had a nice apartment, a car, a driver, a chef and housekeeping — and still it was not easy.

“Travel was difficult. The roads are bad. There’s a lot of pollution.”

For the first time, Noonan experienced life as a minority. He went days without seeing another white person.

Mark and Katie Noonan, with Phobian supporters.

He says that while he was respected for his credentials, and his work to help change lives, there was an undercurrent that a white person (“obroni,” in local lingo) could not understand Ghana’s culture.

English is the national language. But whenever people did not want Noonan to know something, they switched into a local dialect.

Yet Noonan is grateful for the “amazing” experience. Africa is a place of stunning beauty. He calls the mountains, plains and beaches “breathtaking.”

Ghanaians truly like Americans, Noonan says. Many have relatives in the US, or want to come here. He was often stunned by gifts of homemade clothes, or invitations into homes. He will never forget those kindnesses.

Praise for Mark Noonan, on social media (from Obama!).

“I’ve never been in a job before that could change people’s lives,” he says. He points with pride to What’sApp messages he continues to receive. “Father, we miss you,” his players and club supporters say.

They miss him because, this month — facing so much greed, corruption, and the continued lack of a league — Noonan reluctantly returned to the US. He’s still advising Hearts of Oak. But he’s reopening Focal Sport — the consulting business through which he once worked with MLS, the British Open, the US Tennis Open and the international basketball association FIBA, and helped negotiate Citi Field naming rights — and is looking for more opportunities.

In other words: Mark Noonan is once again setting up new goals.

Remembering Nelson Mandela

As founder and president of FocalSport, a Southport-based sports and entertainment marketing company, Mark Noonan works with clients like the New York Mets, FIBA (the world governing body of basketball) and Major League Soccer.

But several years ago, while at US Soccer, the 1983 Staples High School graduate traveled to South Africa. The organization’s executive team was invited by their counterparts to visit and exchange best practices, as that nation sought to win the right to host the FIFA World Cup.

In Cape Town their hosts gave Noonan’s group a private tour of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27  years.

This weekend, Noonan vividly pictures the cell Mandela was forced to live in. “How a man could endure such injustice without breaking, losing his dignity, or developing a deep bitterness for so long was, and is, truly humbling,” Noonan says.

Nelson Mandela, with the World Cup trophy. Partly in recognition of his efforts at uniting the country, South Africa was named host  of the 2010 tournament.

Nelson Mandela, with the World Cup trophy. Partly in recognition of his efforts at uniting the country, South Africa was named host of the 2010 tournament.

He also recalls “the attitude of the people I met toward race, especially when juxtaposed against the very real tensions that were prevalent in our country at the time (and sadly still exist today).”

Whether speaking with a black, white, Indian or mixed race person — and across varying economic backgrounds — the prevailing attitude was “we are now one and it is good. What was done in the past has been forgiven. We now live in a harmonious new South Africa,” Noonan says.

Importantly, he adds, “I didn’t get the sense that this was being said just to be politically correct with their American guests. It was real. There was not just pride in how they described their country, but also an ease and a really warm contentment. Like the movement’s leader, it lacked any kind of bitterness or hatred.

“I was simply awestruck how Mandela could have such a profound effect on the psyche of the nation, given our country’s long struggle with our own race issues.”

As the world mourns a truly inspirational leader, Westporters must have many stories of their own experiences with South Africa, or people they know from there. Please click “Comments” to share.