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Chris Birchall living the American dream with LA Galaxy

David Beckham and Chris Birchall involved in training at LA Galaxy
David Beckham (l) and Chris Birchall (r) have developed a good friendship in LA

By Phil Cartwright and Rob Adcock
BBC Radio Stoke

You could be forgiven for thinking there is only one English-born player currently turning out for Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS.

Given that the player in question is David Beckham, arguably the most famous footballer of his generation, you can understand why.

But there is another, and it charts another remarkable chapter in the football career of Chris Birchall.

He made his debut for Port Vale at the age of 17 in a League Cup tie at Charlton in September 2001.

Since then, he has played for six different clubs in three different countries and also represented Trinidad & Tobago at the 2006 World Cup, despite growing up thousands of miles away from the Caribbean.

Birchall is eligible for the Soca Warriors because his mother was born in Port-of-Spain.

The Staffordshire-born midfielder has just begun his third season with LA Galaxy, playing alongside Beckham, former Aston Villa striker Juan Pablo Angel and ex-Everton forward Landon Donovan.

However Birchall, now 26, freely admits it took him a while to adjust to his new surroundings following his move to Los Angeles in 2009.

"It was difficult because it's the other side of the world and I didn't know anything about LA," he told BBC Radio Stoke. "I had to find accommodation and it took me a good three months to get my fitness as well.

"Since I've settled in, I've loved it here.

"Landon was great, I knew him from playing against him for Trinidad against the USA and we'd met a couple of times.

"To be honest, most of the guys here are great and I get on with them all.

"It's changed a bit, new faces have come in but there's great camaraderie and great banter in the dressing room."

The standard of football played in the MLS is a constant source for debate; while star names such as Beckham and Thierry Henry can be found currently plying their trade across the Atlantic, the depth of quality within the league does not appear to be present just yet.

"It's probably on par with the middle or lower parts of the Championship," admits Birchall.

"I think it's improving, attendances are going up every year and more high-profile players are coming over from Europe.

Chris Birchall in action for LA Galaxy
Chris Birchall has just entered his third season with LA Galaxy

"When people comment and compare it to the Premier League, they're not miles off but they're off.

"We play friendlies against Barcelona and Real Madrid and we've played well but you can't compare when there's no meaning in the game and it's just a friendly.

"There are some high-quality players here that could play in the Premier League, but overall as a team, we're probably not on par."

And what of the Beckham phenomenon in America? Well, Birchall has seen "the circus", as he calls it, first-hand.

He maintains a good friendship with the former England captain now, although he admits it took a while for a bond to develop between the pair.

"Understandably it probably takes him a bit of time to trust people and open up to people," he said.

"We're the only English guys in the team so sometimes we say stuff that only us two will get.

"I think he's getting to the stage where he's opening up, he can trust me and that's great because he's a great guy.

"For how famous he is and how much money he's got, he's really down to earth and it's a pleasure to play with him.

"When we're on away trips, it's a circus. He can't go anywhere and he can't have his own privacy.

"You can tell when he's chilled out and when no one's hassling him, he can really open up and have a laugh.

"On the other hand, you feel sorry for him because everywhere he goes, people are hassling him.

"I don't really know how he does it every day but he's obviously learned to."

Birchall has also gained another celebrity friend, Take That star and Port Vale fan Robbie Williams, during his time in Los Angeles.

"When I first moved here, our media guy got a call saying Robbie Williams had asked for my number and I was speechless," he said.

"He'd seen a friendly we'd played against Barcelona and a couple of days later I was at his house kicking a ball around.

"He's been busy in the last few months with the Take That tour, but when he's back we're always up by his house playing football.

"He loves Vale, he's always on about Vale, he follows them week-in and week-out, he knows what's going on and he's a down-to-earth guy."

At the age of 26, Birchall should still have a few years left as a professional and he is obviously enjoying his time in LA.

However, he admits it would be difficult to turn down the advances of the club he started his career with, if Port Vale wanted him back.

"I'd definitely consider it if they went up. To be honest, going from the Galaxy to League Two would probably be a step down for me," he said.

"If they went up and the club was secure, I'd love to. Vale's my team.

"I was there since I was nine years old, it's the first result I look out for and when I go back [to England] I'm always going to their games.

"I'd love to go back but it's got to be under the right circumstances."

After leaving Vale in 2006, Birchall went on to play for Coventry, St Mirren and Carlisle (both on loan) and Brighton before his Stateside move.

You can hear extended interviews with Chris Birchall and David Beckham as part of Midweek Sport with Matt Sandoz on BBC Radio Stoke on Tuesday, 5 April at 1900 BST.

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see also
Watching the Beckham revolution
10 Aug 09 |  Football
Birchall to join Beckham in LA
10 May 09 |  Brighton
Brighton block Birchall MLS move
11 Apr 09 |  Brighton
Birchall earns Brighton contract
16 Jan 09 |  Brighton
Carlisle sign midfielder Birchall
27 Nov 08 |  Carlisle
Vale look to Birchall loan deal
21 Nov 08 |  Port Vale
Coventry bring in Vale's Birchall
05 Aug 06 |  Coventry
From Burslem to Dortmund
30 Apr 06 |  World Cup 2006

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