Many English players go their whole careers without playing abroad and Paul Shaw thought that would be him. Having started his career at Arsenal, who he scored two Premier League goals for, the attacking midfielder would go on to make over 400 senior league appearances in England for ten different clubs including the likes of Millwall, Gillingham and Sheffield United.
You could say that the former Gunner had seen it all but that was until at the age of 34 when he was offered the chance to play outside of his home country for the first time by Hungarian giants Ferencváros. The Budapest-based club have won the Hungarian top-flight division a record total of 29 times and offered Shaw the chance to join them after he had just left Oxford United, who at the time were in the Conference.
Shaw’s move to Hungary wasn’t entirely random though. In fact, from 2008 to 2011, six English players played for Ferencváros (plus Craig Short managed the side in 2009). This was as a result of Sheffield United owner Kevin McCabe acquiring the club in 2008. He had also invested in clubs in China and Belgium too, almost like a precursor to the City Football Group these days. Anyway, with Shaw being a former Blade himself, that was how the move first came about.
At the time, despite being the country’s most successful team, the Green Eagles were in the second tier after they were demoted in 2006 following financial difficulties. Shaw joined them in 2008 by which time the club had narrowly missed out on promotion twice but his arrival at the club helped them finally win promotion back to the top flight at the third time of asking.
He would then go on to have a further two seasons at club, endearing himself to the fans of his new club and really settling into the Hungarian way of life. He finished with 21 goals in 48 matches with the majority of those coming in his first two seasons at the club – but he wasn’t done there.
After a brief spell back in the UK, Shaw headed to the States to play for USL club FC New York in 2011. It was to be the ill-fated side’s only season in the USL as the club managed just two seasons (the second was in a different league) before folding. However, the man who was Millwall’s player of the season in 1998 did pick up his first managerial experience that year, taking over as manager part way through the season.
He has lived in the States ever since so I caught up with the 45-year-old to hear more about his experiences playing and coaching abroad.
English Players Abroad: After a good career in the UK, how did the move to Hungary happen in 2008? Had you always wanted to play abroad?
Paul Shaw: I did always want to play abroad. I was 34 when this opportunity came along so I thought it had passed me by but I was without a club in the UK and Ferencváros asked if I wanted to go out and train at first. I went for a month and enjoyed myself and they offered me a contract.
What was it that made you want to join Ferencváros and did you have other offers to move abroad at the time?
I had no other others at the time and I must admit I did think that maybe I would not find anything else but I still felt as though I still had more to give and wanted to carry on. To be honest, moving abroad at that time was perfect.
How did you settle in Hungary? Did you find it easy to adjust to life in the country?
As I said I went out for a month first. After I signed the contract my family moved out. My two boys were young at the time four and six so the club got us an apartment in the city centre and we got the boys into the British International school. After maybe six weeks of trying to organise everything, we settled and had a wonderful time. We stayed for over three years and loved it. Budapest a great city to live. My wife worked in the school also.
Was the style of play in Hungary much different to what you had been used to in the UK?
The league in Hungary is very technical but not as fast or intense as in England. This helped me to settle quickly.
What was the support like in Hungary? Were the fans passionate at matches?
The fans are very passionate. Especially at Ferencváros. They expect to win every game so there is that pressure. They were great to play in front of though. As long as you give 100% then they are good with you. I loved every minute of it.
You made a very good start to your career in Hungary, were you disappointed not to have played more?
I would like to have played more but in my last year I was 37 years old so I understood maybe not playing as much as when I started. I can’t complain though it was a great place to end my career and a great place to live.
You then had a brief spell playing for FC New York and also helped managed the club, did you enjoy your time there?
I did enjoy it but unfortunately the club never had the structure to survive as a USL club. I gained valuable coaching experience in that time.
Finally, what are you up to now in the States?
I’m currently Technical Director at Orlando City Youth Soccer. I’ve been here since 2012. My family enjoy living here in Central Florida. My eldest son Lewis is in his senior year in High school so will go to college in August. My youngest Harrison is 15 they both play football.