Hua Hin has everything. Beautiful beaches, upmarket hotels, fine dining and a wide selection of shopping malls, water parks, golf courses and fun family activities. It hasn’t been home to many international celebrities but one famous former footballer has decided to call the seaside resort home.
Khao Tao might be a long way from Wembley, where Stevens scored a late equalizer against Manchester United in the 1983 F.A. Cup Final. But the 57 year old has decided to make it his permanent home and says he is loving life in Hua Hin,
“I live in Khao Tao, I have always dreamed of living on the beach and my condo is a stone’s throw away. There’s a few restaurants and cafes and it is ten minutes to Bluport or Market Village so it’s a little bit out of town but Hua Hin is still really accessible.”
Stevens spent several years living in Bangkok. But when Hua Hin Airport started offering international flights the opportunity to live by the coast became irresistible, “Hua Hin was a place I explored with my girlfriend and we both loved it. I work as a pundit for Astro Supersport in Malaysia and when Air Asia opened up the flight from Hua Hin to Kuala Lumpur it meant I could fly there directly.”
Stevens has coached two teams in the Thai Premier League, or T1 as it is now known. He regularly receives offers from elite clubs in Thailand and beyond but says he really enjoys the lifestyle in Hua Hin, “I came here to coach Army United in the Thai Premier League, I coached Thai Port too but clubs here hire and fire managers very quickly. Thai Port used five different managers in a single season, so there is not a lot of job security in football. I have had a few offers but nothing that would tempt me to leave Hua Hin.”
Stevens might no longer be coaching in the Thai Premier League. But he is still extremely busy and is the head coach and co-owner of the Black Mountain Hua Hin Football Academy as well as working part time as a football expert for the Astro Supersport television network in Malaysia.
He holds a UEFA Pro License, the highest coaching qualification in the sport of football. But Stevens is no stranger to coaching young children, “I ran my own football coaching business in England called ‘Football Tots’ and we worked with children from 4 years old up to 18. For me the coaching principles are the same whether you are working with young children or senior professionals; they have to enjoy it and you have to help them develop and improve.”
The Black Mountain Hua Hin Football Academy opened its doors in 2018. But it has grown very rapidly and Stevens says he is very impressed by the facilities, “We are really lucky to be able to use the pitch at the Hua Hin International School, it is better than the pitches I worked on at Army United or Thai Port and the equipment is better too so even though the players aren’t professionals the setup is actually more professional in many respects.”
As well as coaching the players Stevens has also spent some time with the coaches, sharing the extensive knowledge he has accumulated during his own career, “I have been very impressed with the other coaches so far and we have put in place a development program so I can work with them and help them improve. It’s also a really valuable experience for me, even after decades in the coaching game there is always more to learn.”
It is a long way from the cut throat world of top tier professional football in Thailand. But Stevens says he gets a lot of satisfaction from working with children who are just there to enjoy the sport rather than to forge a competitive career, “It has been a breath of fresh air for me to work with children who have so much enthusiasm, their love of the sport really shines through. What I really get a kick out of is seeing children gaining in confidence, making new friends and learning life lessons that will help them away from the football pitch. Plus there’s a real sense of community at Black Mountain, everyone is very friendly.”
He has also helped to pioneer a charitable scheme to give children from impoverished backgrounds the opportunity to train at Black Mountain, “I am a keen golfer, albeit a bit out of practice at the moment, and the golf course at Black Mountain is one of the best in Asia so I’ve really enjoyed getting a few rounds in. But I am also aware that a lot of children in the area don’t have the opportunity to attend a prestigious international school or to live on an award winning golf course resort and we have set up a scheme that allows them to come and play football completely free of charge.”
Under the scheme that Stevens helped to introduce children from the nearby Wang Bost and Nong Hieng schools are able to come and train football at Black Mountain for no cost, “Thanks to the generous support of Black Mountain and Sansara we are able to offer scolarships to local children who attend the government schools. They get free training, free kits and even free boots and now that I have made Hua Hin my home I feel it is important for me to give something back to the local community with a project like this.”
The Hua Hin International School first opened its doors four years ago and has grown rapidly. The golf course at Black Mountain was founded in 2007 and has a reputation as being one of the best in Asia, there is also a water park and the brand new Sansara development is close to completion.
The area has been transformed from a remote rural community to a thriving international destination with world renowned facilities. Stevens sees a lot of potential for the football academy to grown and has ambitious plans for the future, “The school seems to have grown very fast and we have new players signing up at the football academy every single week. We have already organized some small tournaments for local teams and schools at Black Mountain and now that there is a brand new road we plan to put on more competitions for teams in Hua Hin and beyond.”
Stevens was in the headlines earlier this year because his old club Tottenham Hotspur reached the final of the UEFA Champion’s League. The last time they reached a European final he was heavily involved, scoring a in the penalty shoot out to secure a dramatic victory over Anderlecht in 1984.
As a pundit for Astro Supersport he follows the fortunes of his former clubs very closely and Stevens has been pleased by the progress both Brighton and Tottenham have made in recent years, “For Tottenham to reach the Champion’s League final was huge, even if the match itself didn’t go their way. I started my professional career with Brighton so I’m really pleased to see how they are progressing, as a pundit I am strictly neutral but it gives me a lot of pleasure to see them playing in the Premier League.”
Any local veterans teams hoping to add the former England international to their ranks are destined for disappointment. Stevens says he has hang up his boots for good, “I got invited to play at the opening of the new Tottenham Stadium last year but I said ‘no’ because I am a very active person and I worry about getting injured and losing my mobility so I think my playing days are behind me. I still enjoy a game of golf and one of the best things about living in Hua Hin is that there are so many course to play on and so many different people to play with.”
Stevens played football before the start of the Premier League era when player salaries surged to levels that would have been unimaginable in the 1980s. So he might not have the same jetsetting lifestyle as famous former England internationals like David Beckham or Rio Ferdinand, but the 57 year old is very clearly enjoying life and feels that Hua Hin is the perfect place to do just that, “I like the weather, the people, the beaches, the food and the local culture. If you had told me 30 years ago I would have ended up living in Hua Hin I would have thought you were mad but I’m really happy here, life is good.”