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San Clemente Journal

English Footballer & Coach David Kemp Straddling Life between Two Continents

Apr 06, 2021 11:49AM ● By Mary Colarik

2021, Dave and Debbi Kemp in their San Clemente Home, with Milo.

by Mary Colarik

I had the pleasure of sitting down and enjoying a chat and a cup of coffee at Caterina’s across from the pier one pleasant morning in mid-December with former English footballer and long-time coach, David Kemp and his wife, Debbi. They filled me in on their story and how they found their way to the Spanish Village by the Sea 18-years-ago.

 Kemp, who was raised in Harrow about 20 minutes outside of London in Council Housing (U.K. government housing), learned at a young age that there were two ways out of his neighborhood … become a rock star or a sport sensation. His dad, who had been a photographer in WWII, saw that his young son had the potential skill set to become a footballer. Little did he know that David would become an immensely popular player, and that a song would be sung as tribute to him in English Stadiums for over 40 years and still play it today. The song, set to the tune of “Lily the Pink,” had the following refrain that crowds of spectators chanted to honor the much-loved player.

“We Drink a Drink, A Drink to
David the Kemp, The Kemp, The Kemp,
The Saviour of the Portsmouth Frontline.
So, We Gave Him a Little White Football.
Now He’s scoring all the time.”

Kemp’s journey to becoming a well-respected player and manager began in 1964 when he signed up at 11-years-old with the Chelsea Academy where he practiced and played honing his football skills with the other boys two nights per week. He began his semi-professional career as a forward with Slough Town before joining Crystal Palace, a professional Premier Football team in 1975. In November 1976, when he was 23-years-old, he joined Portsmouth Football team as a forward becoming the leading scorer in the 1976-77 and 1977-78 seasons, even though he did not play a full season for the club. 

1988, Dave and Debbi Kemp with the FA Cup (English Football’s Superbowl trophy).

 While he was playing for Pompey (nickname for Portsmouth) the song referenced above was sung in his honor as he was quickly becoming a fan favorite.  Also, during his time at this club Kemp was featured in “Roy of the Rovers” English Comic magazine. He was photographed next to his fictional goalscoring counterpart. Years later, in 2016, his outstanding reputation with the club continued when he was inducted into the Portsmouth Hall of Fame.

Kemp played for several football clubs throughout the ‘70s in England, then in 1982 came across the pond to North America. He first played for the Edmonton Drillers, next for several other teams in the U.S.A. including, the Seattle Sounders, Tulsa Roughnecks (indoor), Chicago Sting, (indoor), and Oklahoma City Stampede; finally wending his way back to England for one final year with the Wimbledon Football Club in 1984.

The pressure of the long football seasons (August-May) prevented Kemp from enjoying much leisure or vacation time, however, in the summer of 1981 he and some football buddies took time off to travel to the famed Southern California Coast for an extended holiday. They spent their days enjoying the sun and surf and evenings out at local night spots. One night at the Déjà Vu nightclub on Newport Blvd. in Costa Mesa, Kemp met Debbi, a young woman from Huntington Beach who worked part time in an office, modeling part time, as well. When Kemp returned to England after his three-week vacation in the OC, he and Debbi stayed in touch the old-fashioned way- writing letters. This was long before cell phones, text messaging and email would become the norm for communication. 

Shortly after David and Debbi got married on the 15th of October 1982. In 1985 they moved to Sweden where Kemp began his coaching careers as manager of Hagahojdens BK Norrkoping. He played in 22 matches, scoring 14 goals. Then in 1986 he returned to England as a coach for Wimbledon. Under his guidance as first team coach the club won the FA Cup in 1988. (The FA Cup is equivalent to winning the Super Bowl). For the next 26 years he managed and coached in the Premier League. Wimbledon twice, Crystal Palace, twice, Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion, with his teams reaching the FA Cup semi-finals in 1994-95 and again finishing as runners up in 2011.

In 2002 the Kemps began looking for a home to buy in Southern California. Debbi was a Southern California girl and had grown up with brothers that surfed, so she was familiar with San Clemente. When they found the house they wanted to buy, there was one caveat to the purchase; the owners’ Dalmatian dog, Murphy, was part of the deal. Luckily, they fell in love with the dog and the town. And as a result of they became volunteers at the Newport Beach Dalmatian Rescue, adopting two more Dalmatians, Dodger and Topaz.

Although they love the laidback beach town life, they continue to travel back and forth across the pond to their other home, a historic 1598 Tudor cottage in Datchet, a village in the Royal Borough of Windsor on the banks of the River Thames, just a five-minute drive from Windsor Castle. 
When David retired in 2018, the U.K.‘s largest paper, the Daily Mail sent a reporter and photographer out to San Clemente to interview him, taking a photo near the pier, with him holding a surfboard incorrectly! 

He doesn’t surf, but he does enjoy collecting English Railway Signs, English Post Boxes and Station Signs from his old neighborhood. 

Debbi, not yet retired from her position as a Senior Exhibits Marketing Manager of Trade Shows and Events, recently put on a Webinar, “Exhibitor Life.”   

Everyone has a story and the Kemp’s are certainly no exception. Theirs is the tale of how an English footballer on a three-week holiday fell in love with a SoCal gal and ended up straddling life between two continents—you simply never know where your life story might end up! 
The Kemps walk their dog through town most mornings, stopping at local cafes for a cup of Joe. Give them a wave and “hello.” They’re an interesting couple you just might like to meet!