Off the clock: James Clark

Staff Writer James Clark, left, helped raise his twin sons, Ben and Alex, with an appreciation for both their English and American heritages — and the sports of those countries as well. The Clarks especially have bonded over their love for English Premier League soccer.

My 20-year-old twin sons, Alex and Ben, have England in their blood.

Their “mum,” Victoria — who is also my long-suffering wife of 23 years — was born in Felixstowe, on the eastern coast of the mother country.

And when it came time to raise our sons, we determined they would embrace their English and American identities equally.

As far as sports were concerned, Alex and Ben were ingrained with the long-term loyalties of a Philadelphia sports fan: to the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Flyers and, eventually, the Union.

But something happened well before that, and the acquisition of a Comcast cable box in early summer 1999 was pivotal.

When Alex and Ben — who will play soccer under coach Shane Rineer at NCAA Divison III Haverford College as juniors this fall — were approaching 2 years old, my wife and I decided to rent some additional equipment to catch Wimbledon on HBO.

While watching the tennis, I was bombarded with constant advertisements for a new TV channel called Fox Sports World — which would be showing English Premier League soccer.

The commercial that was on a perpetual loop showed Arsenal midfielder Ray Parlour running against a sideways snow with some majestic music playing.

I was absolutely hooked.

A little less than two decades later, the Premier League has joined the NFL and the NBA as some of the most-watched sports leagues in the world.

The 2017-18 edition of the Premier League begins Friday, when Arsenal hosts Leicester City, at 2:45 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.

Almost all Premier League games are televised or streamed online in the United States.

I always had a soft spot for the sport of soccer, and my interest reached a new level when the United States hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1994.

Through some of my soccer-related media work, I befriended John Harkes — a Kearny native who served as the United States Men’s National Team captain for many years.

“Harkesy” helped Alex and Ben meet some of the greats of the modern game in person at various locales — Lionel Messi, David Beckham, Javier Mascherano, Tim Howard, Landon Donovan and others.

But it was the weekly televised soccer in the late 1990s and early 2000s in our Northfield home that helped the game take permanent roots in our family.

As Alex and Ben grew older, we all settled on teams to support, and we have never wavered.

I picked West Ham United, the “people’s club” of London’s East End, after I saw them play in person in the fall of 1999.

As youngsters, the lads chose their squads based on the color of the jerseys.

Ben went for the black-and-white stripes of Newcastle United, while Alex preferred the deep blue of Everton.

As the years went by, the boys’ fandom obviously became more nuanced.

Ben worshipped legendary Newcastle striker Alan Shearer, while Alex is happy to see superstar Wayne Rooney make his way back to Everton this season after a long spell at Manchester United.

Their early exposure to the game of soccer paid huge dividends. The twins were senior captains for a St. Augustine Prep team that went 15-6-0 and won the Cape-Atlantic League.

At the club level, with the Hammonton-based South Jersey Elite Barons under current Ocean City Nor’easters coach John Thompson, Alex and Ben helped deconstruct the myth that South Jersey teams can’t compete with their counterparts from the northern part of the state.

“The Clark lads were absolute ‘twin towers’ in defense when we got past Newark Ironbound 1-0 in a State Cup semifinal a few years ago,” Thompson said. “They’re the real deal.”

Alex and Ben, after a full summer of working at Manco & Manco Pizza shops on the Ocean City Boardwalk, will be heading back to Haverford College just outside Philadelphia soon to start practice.

I will miss them.

That’s a father’s lament. However, we speak every weekend. After all, there’s a ton of Eagles and Premier League news to catch up on.

Incidentally, the boys and I did attend one game in England together — at West Ham’s old Boleyn Ground, which has since been demolished.

If only they had been able to come with me to an Eagles game in the 700 level at the Vet, too.

Oh, well. I would never trade the relationship built around sports that we’ve had over the last 20 years.

Not one single minute of it.

Contact: 609-272-7210 Twitter @ACPressjclark

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