WHEN Hugh Kinnear of Fremont died Monday at age 70, the world lost a true youth soccer icon, as well as an incredible human being.

Kinnear, whose son is San Jose Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear, left a legacy that never will be topped in the Fremont area, coaching the Fremont Celtic to five California Youth Soccer Association state titles, two Western Regional titles and a U.S. Youth Soccer national championship in 1980.

But as far as I'm concerned, it's not what Kinnear's teams did on the field that established his legacy. It was the class with which his teams carried themselves that spoke volumes to Kinnear's character — and what Kinnear passed on the countless young men in the Fremont area.

The native of Glasgow, Scotland, who brought his family to the United States in 1969, touched all those with whom he came into contact.

"He was just a great man," said Earthquakes assistant coach John Doyle, who played for Kinnear and is a longtime family friend. "He was someone who had real high values and wanted his teams to have them as well, both on and off the field. We weren't allowed to play dirty or to swear. He didn't likeit, and he wouldn't stand for it."

Growing up in Pleasanton, I had a chance to see Kinnear's teams first hand. Soccer was more competitive back in the 1970s and'80s than it is today, as teams were made up of players from within the actual communities in which they lived.


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Fierce rivalries were created, and when our Ballistic United team played Dublin, Livermore, Fremont or Newark, those were battles. You not only represented your club, but also your city, and often, the emotions boiled over after the final whistle sounded.

But when you played one of Kinnear's teams, while it was a war during the game, once it was over, you gave your opponent a hug and walked off the field as friends.

"We were not allowed to gloat if we won, or be babies if we lost," said Hugh Jr., one of the four Kinnear boys to play for their father. "We had to be the first ones across the field to talk with the team we just played."

"He created respect for the game and for your opponents," added Dominic.

Talk to 100 different people, and you'll get 100 different stories about Hugh Kinnear — and each one puts a smile on the face of the person telling it.

And each one testifies to the character of the man.

My memory is one that I've carried with me for 26 years now. It was my final year of youth soccer — I was 18 at the time — and we were playing Kinnear's Fremont team in a State Cup qualifier.

Fremont was loaded — it would go on to win the national championship that year — but my Ballistic United team was taking it to the Celtic, leading 1-0 late in the game.

It appeared we were on the verge of eliminating the best team in the state, thus opening the door for us to win State Cup for the second time in three years.

But with 25 seconds left in the game — yes, this memory sticks out in my mind to this day — the referee whistled a phantom handball on one of our players, giving the Celtic a penalty kick.

They made the kick, tied the game, then won it in overtime. When the final whistle blew, it was devastating, and all I remember is collapsing in the middle of the field.

Sitting there with my head in my hands, I remember a hand on my back and then heard Kinnear's familiar Scottish accent. After helping me to my feet, Kinnear gave me a hug then told me it was all right, that we deserved to win the game, and we were the better team on that day.

But more important, and this is what stuck with me all these years, Kinnear said there was more — so much more — to life than just this one soccer game.

He said it was all right to be upset, but take a look at everything I had to be thankful for and be happy I was able to play in a game like that one we just completed.

Amazing. Here was the opposing coach, someone who had nearly seen his powerful team eliminated from the biggest tournament of the year, yet the minute the game ended, he focused his attention on a player from the opposing team.

"I remember that game," said Hugh Jr. "I was just talking about it with some other people the other day."

Kinnear was part of the old guard of soccer who cared about the sport as a game, not as a money-maker. Soccer was an extension of life for the longtime Glasgow Celtic supporter (the family still has season tickets to this day).

He finally got out of coaching in 1992 after a 20-year run coaching youth soccer.

"(Youth soccer) had started to change to where it is today," said Hugh Jr. "He just wanted to coach soccer for the kids. He never took a dime for coaching. He even went out and bought a 15-passenger van so he could haul the kids around."

There are countless other examples of Kinnear's contributions to the kids he coached. There were times he helped former players buy houses by putting money in their bank accounts when they were going through loan approval. If you needed help, Kinnear was there, no questions asked.

Hardly anyone knew of these acts of genuine kindness, but then again, Kinnear would never have cared — it didn't matter. He did it because he viewed all his players as his own sons.

"There's been a lot of guys coming by the house the last week who were so grateful," Dominic said. "He put discipline into their life, and they've carried it with them through their life."

Doyle, who played professionally and represented the United States in the 1988 Olympics and the 1990 World Cup, credited Kinnear with a lot of his success.

"He kept me going in soccer," Doyle said. "He had a huge impact on my soccer. At that time in my life, I needed it. He taught us all about training and working hard. I'm going to miss him."

So will we all.

Dennis Miller can be reached at (925) 416-4835 or by e-mail at

drmiller@angnewspapers.com.