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Bernie Turner is longtime soccer legend PHOTOS

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There he was in the stands in Dearborn Heights Crestwood for a district soccer game between the Chargers and Garden City. There he was the next day helping coach the Southgate Anderson team against Garden City. And there he was a few days later when Trenton knocked out Carlson in a district final.

Wherever there is a soccer game downriver, Bernie Turner is either there or knows about it. And in some cases, he’s the reason the game is going on because the longtime and successful coach helped create plenty of interest in the great game over the last few decades.

It was a familiar sight for years – Turner pacing along the sidelines, watching intently from start to finish. That voice with the Scottish accent yelling – both encouragement and constructive criticism to his players.

He still loves to teach and wants to coach again. He still isn't afraid to speak his mind - and we will get to that soon enough. But when talking about Bernie the best place to start - the only place to start - is his love for the great game of soccer.

"Soccer is my passion and it has been all my life," said Turner, who was born and raised in Scotland and came to the United States in 1968. "I have been around the sport for many years and I feel very fortunate that I can teach young athletes the finer points of the game.  

"Coaching is about relationships and it seems that no matter where I travel, I will meet soccer people that know me and that is a heartwarming feeling.”

His love of soccer goes beyond coaching. He also is a member of the Windsor Glasgow Celtic Supporters Club and goes over there to watch games when he can.

“If I don’t see it over there, I stream all the Celtic games on my computer,” he said.

Turner, now 68, was working in Toronto when Ford Motor Co. was hiring skilled tradesmen for their Woodhaven Stamping Plant.

"Being a Tool & Diemaker, I accepted their offer and came to America," Turner said. "There was virtually no soccer being played at that time around here. We had some amateur teams around the Detroit area way back then but no youth soccer."

Turner set out to change that. His first involvement with the younger generation was in 1976 when he helped start the Downriver American Youth Soccer Organization. The AYSO-Region 205 had 500 boys and girls register that first season.

"The organization has always been a volunteer group," Turner said. "We had a lot of very qualified coaches at that time, with about 18 from the UK, some from Germany and Italy."

It was hard to tell who was having more fun, the players or the coaches.

"Yeah, I think we were more excited than the kids," Turner said. "When we first discussed starting a soccer program in this area and as we made some insight towards our target, we were so thrilled that as foreigners in this country, we were given the opportunity to teach these youngsters the art of football.”  

The emphasis of the program was teaching the American adults on how to coach and the youth how to enjoy the game.

“We made some great headway over the next few years and some youngsters were getting to be very exceptional quality players,” Turner said.

After five years with AYSO, Turner broke away to help form the Downriver Youth Soccer Club. The DYSC already had one team in place but to become a club, they needed another team.

"I took a group of volunteer boys from AYSO who desired to play travel soccer," Turner said. "This was very exciting for the players and I had a terrific group of parents who all worked hard to make the new system work. The next season, the City of Canton started their now very familiar tournament. We entered the tournament in its inaugural year and were champions for our age group. This created a lot of excitement."

After five years of travel soccer, Turner was "excited" when soccer began to show up at local high schools. It was the next big step in the growth of the sport.  

"Along with many parents, we had been pushing to get this into the local schools but the biggest obstacle was the football programs,” Turner said. “These coaches admitted that they had nothing against soccer but feared that they would lose quality athletes if it was a varsity sport. Riverview Gabriel Richard was the leader in this area and thanks to the persistence of many parents, pressuring their local school boards, Woodhaven and Trenton agreed to create this beautiful new sport the same season.”

Turner was named the first head varsity soccer coach at Trenton High School.

“One thing that I remember very well was the athletic director, Eric Federico, telling me one thing,” Turner said. “He told me that he did not care if we won only one game, just run a good program for the kids. We seemed to do quite well.”

Now there is a Bernie understatement.

In his first 10 years at Trenton, the Trojans were ranked in the state top 10 seven times and were a very competitive team. It doesn’t take long to kick start some of those early memories for the coach who helped make it happen.

“My fondest memory was when we participated in a tournament up in the Lansing area,” he said. “We were Division 1 at that time but one team that we played was Mason High school. They were a Division 2 school and won the state championship that year, yet we beat them 3-1.”

Turner was the head varsity boys' coach at Trenton for 13 seasons, from 1986 to 1999. He finished with an impressive 160-71-27 record with the Trojans, which included five league titles and four district championships.

He coached the Woodhaven High School boys’ team for 11 seasons starting in 2002. His teams posted a combined 158-60-16 record, won two league titles, finished second in the league four times and won three district titles.

He coached the Woodhaven girls’ team from 2008 to 2013 and went 103-21-10. The Lady Warriors won four league titles in Turner’s six years and one district championship.

When you add up all the numbers for Turner, they are quite impressive. He is the sixth winningest coach in Michigan with 318 victories. Turner also has been named News-Herald Coach of the Year 11 times (eight with the boys, three with the girls).

But Turner is more than about numbers. He is and always has been about soccer.

“The quality of play was far better back then,” Turner said of the early days. “I think there were a lot of foreign coaches involved in the early stages of high school soccer who had a great influence on the game. The skills might not have been as articulate or sharp but the players kept themselves better conditioned and were taught to read the games better.”

Turner says “something that is missing today.”

“Only a handful of prime players made travel teams at that time, so if you were one of them, you had to be good,” Turner said. “Today, we have many different travel clubs, so the system has been watered down and it seems that if you can afford the high fees to gain entry into one of the clubs, you are now considered an elite player. Downriver has never been known as a hotbed for soccer and there are still programs struggling to get enough players on high school teams to field a varsity and junior varsity squads.”

It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of dwindling numbers in high school soccer but one cause has to be the cost to participate in some of the club teams.

“I have been coaching for 38 years and 28 of those in high school varsity boys,” Turner said. “From time to time I meet former players and when we discuss their own kid’s participation in the sport, some of them just tell me that it is just too expensive to be part of that level soccer. The cost varies quite a bit by club.”

At one time, soccer was the envy of other sports because of the low cost involved. All the player needed was a pair of soccer cleats, shin-guards and pay a minimal fee to participate in a club.

But that has all changed.

“Soccer has been turned into a business and many people are capitalizing on the business opportunity,” Turner said. “Anybody can coach soccer. They can go online and find the right web site and it will show you how to run soccer drills and much more. They can also join a club that will provide you with the necessary tools to coach. They will create any type of drill that you want, any age group, can be animated as well…..but if you did not play the game, you cannot teach it as well.”

Turner also has seen the disconnect between the parents, players and coach increase over the years.

“Players see themselves one way, the parent sees the player another way and the coach sees the player in yet another way,” he said. “The mindset of the parent has changed a lot over the years. It appears that some of today’s parents are really trying to buy themselves a scholarship without being realistic as to the real level of their soccer player. Some feel that if a coach has an accent, he must be a good coach. Others feel that if their player makes a club team, he/she has a good chance of a scholarship. Actually, in high school athletics, for every one athletic scholarship, there are 83 academic scholarships. Maybe education is where they should be focusing.”

Turner’s personal life has always been a mirror to who he is and how he coaches soccer.

From a blue collar environment, serving a five-year apprenticeship in engineering, graduating as a tool and diemaker, Turner decided to break with tradition and join the salaried group at Ford Motor Co. and continue his education. He earned his Master’s Degree from Central Michigan University.

Continuing education is a lifelong pursuit, on and off the field, for Turner.

“I am a firm believer in furthering education in all areas,” he says. “This includes coaching athletics. Even today, if there is a soccer clinic or class that is available, I will join it. I have attended classes in PACE (Program for Athletic Coaches in Education) and CAP (Coaches Advancement Program). I have completed all levels and reached the Master Elite level. I received my USSF C license over 30 years ago.”

Turner has seen a shift in the quality of play over the years and certainly is proud of the fact that most high schools now field boys and girls soccer teams.

“Some areas have improved,” he said. “The finesse of the player, the equipment quality and some headway in the fundamentals of the game has gotten better.

“What has been lost include things such as running off the ball, reading the game, the vision of play. There are many ingredients in the makeup of a soccer player and few coaches have the experience to understand or see what they are. This is the disadvantage of living in a country where soccer is not passion. The American version is hype but actually soccer is a thinker’s game.”

Coaching also has changed over the years.

“The coach of today has to learn more psychology,” Turner said. “He has to be more in depth regarding health and safety, liabilities, working with parents, forms of communication and be ahead of the curve regarding teaching skills and organizing schedules and events. As a representative of their school, he or she must be part of other activities and lead by example. As a teacher, the coach must provide the necessary tools in order to better the squad, never forgetting that these are young people who want to enjoy their sport while being competitive.”

While Turner is currently not a head coach at the varsity level, he did help out with the Southgate program this spring. And the Titans had a great run this past spring. Of course, Turner wants to coach – it’s in his DNA.

“Soccer is my passion and it has been all my life,” he said. “I have been around the sport for many years and I feel very fortunate that I can teach young athletes the finer points of the game.”

And Downriver has been very fortunate to have Turner on their sideline teaching the great game of soccer.

Last Updated: 7/6/2014 12:53:36 PM EST