Shay Spitz: “I was a third culture child and football helped me”

Photo: Southern District

Southern District have just had one of their best seasons in recent years and fought hard for the title until the last few weeks. One of the mainstays in that title challenging team was Shay Spitz. The robust and fleet-footed left back truly embodies the diverse nature of the Southern FC squad. He is Hong Kong born and holds both American and New Zealand passports, yet grew up in Singapore, Portugal and Australia. He identifies the most with Australia, but does not have an Australian passport.

Spitz is what can be called a global citizen, growing up a as “third culture child” but also considering himself fortunate to have experienced so many different environments as he moved around the world in his youth. The defender has had an interesting journey and football is a huge part of his life, though he admits he does not watch any football on TV. Spitz did not see a single game from the last World Cup in Russia. He loves the game, but literally leaves it all on the pitch.

Football has been a consistent part of his life as he moved around the globe and he constantly made a new football ‘family’ with all the teams he joined. Not many people can say they played football for Hollywood United FC and once even worked out with actor and ex-Wimbledon legend Vinnie Jones.

Shay Spitz of Southern. Photo: Southern FC

In an exclusive interview, Shay Spitz reflected on his ‘nomadic’ life as a youngster, how it shaped his world view and led him to his current stage in life. 

I was a third culture kid and football helped me gain an identity. As I was growing up, my parents told me I used to have a bit of an identity crisis, not knowing where I was really from. Up until I had grown up, I had never lived in America, but I had an United States passport. I also had never lived in New Zealand, but I had a New Zealand passport. At the same time I thought I was Chinese, as I was born in Hong Kong. But I was not.”

Spitz is happy to share his life story with others, as he knows there are many “third culture children” in Hong Kong and across the world and his story could resonate with them. When Spitz moved to Portugal, he first lived on the island of Madeira. This is where Cristiano Ronaldo originally hailed from and it was in Portugal that he began to play football. 

I was born in Hong Kong, as my parents met here. They had both my brother and I. I left the city when I was two to move to Singapore for a year, and after Singapore, we moved to Madeira, and then the mainland of Portugal. We were in Portugal for five years. I did not cross paths with Ronaldo and I think he is two years older then me. I started playing football in Portugal with a club called Estoril who were in the league below the Portuguese Premier League. Then we moved to Sydney and that is where I did a lot of my primary and high school. I went to school at Westfield Sports High School where players like Harry Kewell also came out of. I finished school and went to the United States for university, and that was my schooling done. Hong Kong is renowned for third culture kids so there are a lot of kids who have similar backgrounds.”

Cristiano Ronaldo came from the island of Maderia where Spitz lived for a while. Photo: Wikipedia

“I spent a significant amount of time in Portugal and that’s where I started to play. Football gave me some sense of identity, as you gain a family so to speak, no matter what country you go to. You inherit fifteen friends immediately from playing in a club, which made things somewhat easier when moving around a lot. When I went to university on a football scholarship, some people joined a fraternity, but with football you can gain twenty mates who you go to class and training with and travel together. It is a great way to meet friends and develop relationships from there.”

Spitz reflected that when he was young, he did not see how all the moving around would benefit him. Though in hindsight, he is glad that it happened, as it made him stronger and gave him a global perspective on life and the world around him.

When you are young, you do not realise how fortunate in life you are. You think about your friends and how you have to change schools and move. But in hindsight it gave me freedom and I learnt how to adapt. It was nice to meet people from other parts of the world and it should enrich your life. I still consider myself from Australia, even though I do not have Australian citizenship, as that is where I spent the majority of my childhood. Also my parents still live in Australia, so I am from Australia, but am not Australian, if that makes any sense.”

Spitz had his sights set on being a professional footballer, but he thought he was not ready after high school. He wanted to pursue both academia and his sporting ambitions, so he went onto attend California State University – Fullerton.

After I finished high school, I knew I was not ready to play professionally, especially physically speaking. I am not the biggest guy in the world, so that was kind of my pathway. I was able to get an university degree and kept playing. I think it was great to get the academic side of things, as well as keep playing in that professional environment, as we were training everyday. It really sets you up for the future. In hindsight, if I could do it all again, then I would have not stayed for the whole four years, but it got me on the road to become a professional.”

Making the transition from university to being a full time professional was not easy but life is never supposed to be one straight line. There were some minor obstacles which he had to navigate around.

“University was used as a pathway to playing professionally, but it took longer than I liked too. At one point, I went to Australia to sign a reserve contract with Sydney FC, but I found out that since I had a New Zealand passport, I was considered a foreigner. So I was not able to sign and went back to the US to finish my final year.”

Spitz eventually got his foot into semi-professional and professional football and began his slow journey up the ladder. Before playing for Southern, he played for Rockdale City Suns in the New South Wales Premier League (NSWPL) in Australia, and for several clubs in the United States such as the Los Angeles Blues (see the interview above) and the Richmond Kickers. Famously, he also played for the famed and literally star studded Hollywood United FC. 

“Hollywood United FC was a PDL club, which is considered a professional development league team. It was below the USL and it was a good experience, as there were loads of ex-MLS players in that team. I was there for a season and then I went to Australia before coming back to the United States.”

“Probably the most intimidating person I have ever met in my life!” Vinnie Jones, Wimbledon FC legend and Hollywood actor. Photo: Wikipedia

Living in California brought Spitz into the proximity of several well-known celebrities and once he ended up training with Vinnie Jones.

Anthony M. LaPaglia, Australian-American actor, goalkeeper, and president of Hollywood United. Photo: Wikipedia

Hollywood United has a celebrity team attached to it and the owner of the club was Anthony M. LaPaglia, who was in CSI. Another guy involved was Donal Logue who was one of those guys who has been in every movie. He has been around for a while, but our specific team was younger and had more professional players. Vinnie Jones coached in Santa Monica and I was having a work out there, so he asked me to come in and train with his team. Probably the most intimidating person I have ever met in my life. He has this aura around him and he actually played with us in the training sessions. When he asked for the ball, you gave it to him and no one dared to tackle him.”

A life on the road for Southern’s Shay Spitz, and there is no doubt that he will continue to travel and move with joy and relish.

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