CHESTERTOWN -- Mike Bishop, who's as skilled as any college soccer player in the state, came to the Eastern Shore with an ulterior motive. He's here for the horses, not the soccer.
A 27-year-old senior at Washington College, Bishop grew up in Liverpool, England, dreaming of a career in the racing industry but staring at the reality of a dead-end economy. Today he lives on a farm outside Chesapeake City with his wife, Christine, four cats and 38 horses, and he's several steps closer to working in the racing business.
"My ambition is to manage a thoroughbred breeding farm," Bishop said after a recent Washington loss. "I know guys who bought a farm off of one good horse. You just need one piece of luck in this game."
Several good chunks of fortune already have descended upon Bishop.
"The kids here [at Washington] complain about Mom and Dad sending them to Fort Lauderdale instead of Cancun for spring break," Bishop said. "They don't know how good they have it.
"The only jobs in Liverpool are what we called 'government schemes.' You work a year, then are off a year. I repaired bicycles, worked in a warehouse, a toy store. I was with some friends in a bar around Christmas 1986. I told them, 'We're 24 years old, working government schemes, living at home, nobody has a career. Next summer, I'm going to the States.'
"I wasn't joking."
Bishop had been to the U.S. during the summer of 1985. A company that recruited foreigners to work summer camps here landed him a job at an all-sports camp in Port Deposit in Cecil County.
He had been 5 feet 4 and 105 pounds upon graduation from high school. A growth spurt -- he's 6-1, 175 now -- ended any plans he had to be a jockey, but it helped his soccer game considerably. Bishop was excelling as a club player in Liverpool, but came back to the Port Deposit camp in 1987 with no intention of returning home.
"When the summer camp was over," Bishop said, "I phoned home and told my mom I wouldn't be on the plane she was supposed to meet the next week. My family understood my frustration."
Bishop enrolled at Harford Community College in the fall of 1987. He found work and a bed at a farm near Bel Air, became the school's first-ever soccer All-America and had a 3.5 grade-point average in his first semester.
"Mike was like an indentured servant," Harford coach Rob Bailey said. "Every waking hour he was doing something demanding: going to class, studying, playing soccer or working."
Although he's as skilled as any player at Maryland or Loyola, Bishop couldn't move on to Division I soccer -- athletes at that scholarship level of the NCAA lose a season of eligibility for every year past age 20 -- but Bishop had plenty of offers from NAIA and small-college powers. They couldn't provide what he wanted, however -- entry to the horse business.
Bailey, the Harford coach, happened to have played his college soccer at Washington, a Division III school. The Shoremen coach from 1982-89 was Tom Bowman, a doctor of veterinary medicine who just happened to be an authority on equine reproduction: He's a fertility doctor for horses.
"I came to Washington College for two reasons," Bishop said. "Dr. Bowman and the education. He's one of the top guys in the country on horse reproduction. When he speaks, I listen. I work on a farm owned by Dr. Bowman and his brother.
"Horses have always been a passion of mine. It was a couple of hours out of Liverpool before you got to horse country. In England, there's an old-boy network, with families running the stables. I'm starting late here, but it's not too late if you're willing to put the work in."
Bishop's way with animals would surprise those who only see him as a rough-and-tumble soccer player.
"Mike's a hard nut to figure," said Peter Allen, who replaced Bowman as the Washington coach this season. "He comes from what I gather is a tough, hard-nosed section of Liverpool, but he can be so gentle with those horses. He missed the start of practice one day because one of his cats was sick."
A flashy dribbler, Bishop was a Middle Atlantic Conference All-Star the last two years, when he scored 25 goals and assisted on 10 others mostly as a midfielder. His frustration has grown this season along with a seven-game losing streak. The Shoremen are 2-9-1.
Washington went 23 days and 14 halves without a goal before he moved up from his sweeper spot and nailed a direct kick last Saturday at Albright. After tying the score, he made his way through a defense intent on maiming him. Then he was ejected for wondering aloud how much physical abuse he would have to take.
He was to sit out today's game against Ursinus. The Shoremen will miss him dearly because Bishop has five of their nine goals even though he has been playing sweeper, a defensive position.
"I do miss the soccer in Liverpool a great deal," Bishop said. "I'm always wishing for more from the team. It's strange, but I had to mentally slow my game down when I came here. The school doesn't recruit soccer players, but I can't knock that, because I came for the education and other things myself."