March 25, 2023

When a 10-year old Shawn McIlwaine was invited out to his friend’s soccer practice, he never imagined in five years he would be invited by an official FIFA agent to go to a training camp in Italy. But that is what has happened.

“I was hanging out with a friend who was playing for a house league team in Goderich,” McIlwaine said in a phone interview on Nov. 21. “He invited me to go to a training session with him … I thought I would go watch and they let me join in for a bit. I really enjoyed it.”

It was too late to sign up for the season, but he could play in the Strawberry Fest tournament held in Lucknow, Ont.

“At that age he had a lot of athletic potential” Adrian Rau, McIlwaine’s first coach said. “But he wasn’t the best player on the team by any means, because he was just starting out.”

At the end of his second year playing for Goderich, Annie Sparling, the manager of Huron FC, a more competitive indoor team, saw McIlwaine’s team play a game against Blyth in which she thought he really stood out. She invited him to play for Huron FC.

Shawn McIlwaine, of Goderich, has been invited by FIFA to train in Italy in February. (Photo submitted by Shawn McIlwaine)

“The best way to describe it is he only had to play as hard as he had to,” Rau said. “So, when he played in Goderich he was by no means the best player … but each level he’s gone, he has always been getting better and better and stood out more and more as he developed as a player.”

Huron FC trains at Clinton Secondary School in Clinton, Ont., but plays their games in London, Ont. Sparling brought in Edwin Saraccinik to coach the team. Saraccinik runs the Athletic Canadian Football Club, so after the indoor season ended, he invited three Huron FC players to join his outdoor team in London.

Now McIlwaine is 15 years old and he plays soccer year-round in London, which he says keeps him “very busy.”

Saraccinik hosts a training camp in the summer with international coaches. This year the coaches were brought in from Italy. There was also a FIFA agent at the week-long training camp and he invited McIlwaine to Italy for another training session. Although McIlwaine was the only player from the training session to be invited to Italy, a total of six London area players have been asked to attend.

“I was really excited,” he said. “But it’s quite an expensive trip.”

McIlwaine’s father has started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money to fund the week-long trip, which will happen in the second week of February. At the time of writing the campaign has raised $1,875 of the $5,000 goal.

Coach Rau’s son and McIlwaine have been friends since kindergarten, so he has always had an interest in McIlwaine’s progress.

“It is almost like it is too good to be true,” Rau said of the news of the invitation to Italy. “It hasn’t really set in. I don’t know whether it’s because he hasn’t been able to get all the money he needs, as far as fundraising, yet or if it’s just his accomplishment is so big — I just can’t comprehend it myself. It’s just a big wow factor.”

“What I hope happens is when I go over I play well, and they invite me back again for trials,” McIlwaine said. “I just love the sport for how fun it is and all the fans. There is a lot of people who watch it.”

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