Photographs by Bob Rozycki
When Anthony Davidson was interviewing for a job at Manhattanville College, the man who would be chosen dean of the graduate school was asked why he was interested in coming to Purchase.
The reply he gave was as cheeky as it was quite possibly truthful: “Two reasons. You have two soccer fields.”
Of course, the longtime university dean, consultant, entrepreneur – and avid soccer player and fan – would display more than just a sense of humor to those looking to find the next dean of the School of Graduate & Professional Studies. It’s certain Davidson’s well-documented commitment to education, progress and integrity captivated the search committee.
But his easygoing manner and winning personality surely didn’t hurt and since officially joining Manhattanville in the summer of 2011, Davidson has already proven himself.
He’s fine-tuned the master’s programs and launched certificate programs, moves designed to increase Manhattanville’s reputation as an attractive destination for post-graduate business training.
Doing such work is what Davidson says drew him to the rolling campus off Purchase Street after more than a decade at New York University, where he last served as dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies in business and a clinical professor.
“For me it really was the opportunity to build and grow,” Davidson says. “Manhattanville is in a growth stage.”
While busy making strides on the academic side, Davidson still manages to have time for the beloved sport that’s never far from his mind – or view.
“Obviously, part of my deal is I have to overlook the field,” he says with a laugh, welcoming visitors into his Reid Castle office that indeed looks over a soccer field. A look around underscores his allegiance to the game he’s loved since his childhood in England. (Make sure to admire the Chelsea Football Club banner but mention anything Manchester, or what Davidson calls “that other team,” at your own risk).
FROM THE START
A lifelong athlete, Davidson and pals would spend countless hours kicking “anything that moved” as their soccer, or as they called it football, skills were honed.
“We were playing with a Coke can,” he says. “You kicked anything.”
Formal play, if sometimes dangerous, was the natural progression. Davidson shares the tale of a particularly rough moment when he was barreled over only to wake up in the infirmary with one thought – Had he scored?
“It hurts a lot less when you score,” he says with a smile.
But even the most casual chat with Davidson reveals sports to him means more than just winning.
The man who had the “dubious distinction” of being not only an athlete but also a member of the chess club was often the captain, rarely the star. He liked being the underdog, liked using strategy to defeat raw strength.
“I do believe in any sporting game that I do, I play it strategically,” he says. “It’s part of my DNA.”
Whether it’s on the soccer field, the tennis court or ski slope, Davidson finds great reward in sport.
“It’s not about being perfect,” he says. “It’s the pursuit of perfection that I enjoy.”
And that’s mirrored in his philosophy on what makes an MVP, which he would often award during his early years as a teacher and coach.
“To me, the person who earns the MVP is the player who performs so far above their level.”
He finds that still true today.
“It’s the same thing when I play ball. The success stories are people who perform at levels higher than what you expect.”
Davidson came to America some 37 years ago to work at a soccer camp in upstate New York. After a few summers, he decided to finish his schooling here since England in the late 1970s was “depressing.”
“I was still a teenager with an English accent,” he says. “I was perceived as being a real jock.”
His early days teaching soccer, he says, taught him a lot as well.
“The truth of the matter is kids are so easy. Whatever you invest in them they repay it hundredfold.”
Back then, long before the saturation of youth leagues and soccer moms, the game was new and served as “the great equalizer.”
Veteran jocks were learning the rules just as their less-athletic counterparts. The latter, Davidson says, gained a confidence that translated beyond the field.
“They suddenly were not being seen anymore, not to be cruel, as ‘Mr. Loser,’” he says. It changed them “in relationship to their peers.”
Lessons from the playing field would stay with Davidson, who in time would go on to earn degrees from Baruch College-The City University of New York and a doctorate from Cass Business School of City University London. He would have jobs in sports and academia, in consulting and as an author.
Throughout, he says, sport has played its part with its lessons about teamwork, sportsmanship, performing at your best level and prioritizing.
“When I grew up and played soccer, there was no trash-talking,” he says. “It was unsportsmanlike conduct.”
And the father of four finds it disheartening when Little League squabbles lead to inappropriate behavior from adults.
“It takes away from my enjoyment,” he says.
And while American football, tennis and skiing have been part of his athletic life, there’s nothing that compares to soccer.
While Davidson says his days in formal leagues may be done, he’s often tapped for fill-in spots and is hard-pressed to pass up a pickup game near his Queens home.
Still, he says he is “really critical” of himself, especially when taking the field with players 20 years his junior. He is, though, still a holding midfielder with “a pretty accurate pass and free kick.”
These days that comes from experience if not necessarily training. There are no long jogs or hours spent in the gym.
“I would take the car out of my driveway to the car in the street,” he admits.
But, he says, “Give me a ball, and I’d run all day.”
Over the years, Davidson says, sports have been put on the backburner a few times.
But it’s been, Davidson says with a laugh, “not because of my career, maybe marriage.”
With his wife and children, ages 11 to 24, Davidson has long lived in Queens. He says it offers the “right balance” of a setting, part suburban and part urban. It’s the “same concept” of the life he found outside of London.
And is his wife athletic? Not so much.
“Of course, she thinks we’re all insane and I’m fanatical – and we are,” he says, noting one of his daughters even blogs for the Chelsea football club.
To this day, Davidson says the connection to soccer helps him in his professional setting.
He’s amazed at “how much it permeates.”
“It crosses all lines,” he says. It’s helped him break the ice with everyone from a visiting rabbi to an at-first reticent student.
“It’s quite amazing, the depths,” Davidson says. “It’s absolutely unique and universal.”
THE PERFECT AFTERNOON
Davidson has been known to find himself back on campus on a random Sunday with a mix of his children and various nieces, nephews and friends.
“Sometimes we get together a nice big family game and we’ll play ’til we collapse,” he says.
It’s no surprise, then, that he’s happy to head out to the field on a recent afternoon, as the dazzling sun – and WAG request – invite a little escape from the office.
“Anything’s worth it for soccer,” he says.
He’ll take a few playful shots in his usual workday attire before changing into athletic gear, which includes a Manhattanville soccer jersey that was a gift from the athletic director.
Davidson is clearly enjoying himself, showing off his skills and even a few moves one might see on the professional field.
He’ll aim the ball to suit a photographer’s request, “even though my favorite spot is the top right corner.”
It’s quite the workout, but as the photo shoot nears its end, Davidson still wants to be sure nothing else is needed.
After all, he’d be happy to stay out on the field the rest of the day.
“I love playing ball. What can I tell you?”
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