By Jim Hague
West Hudson soccer lost perhaps its biggest fan last week, when Jay Costello died at the age of 62.
Jay Costello was more than my brother-in-law. He was a friend who became more like a blood brother, even more than my own. He was a gigantic part of my life, a slice of brilliance, comedy and flair all rolled into one.
Although he was born in Jersey City and died in Kearny, Jay was Harrison. He epitomized Harrison, the townís gruff, yet close-knit personality. He was cut from the same cloth as many others from Harrison, a true native son.
And Harrison embraced Jay as well. There were so many times that I would introduce myself to someone in Harrison and those
people would quickly retort: ìAre you related to Jay?î
Everyone seemed to know him and love him.
Jay Costello also epitomized one thing. He was soccer. He was the sport. Especially in West Hudson, especially in Harrison. Jay Costello was soccer.
If there was a local soccer game going on, chances are Jay was there. If the annual Harrison-Kearny tussle was taking place, Jay would be a fixture, donning his patented English gentlemanís cap, windbreaker and larger-than-life stature.
ìHe went to every game under the sun,î said Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame member Hugh OíNeill, a long-time close friend of Costello. ìIt didnít matter the level. Recreation, high school, college or pro, he was there. I was amazed how many games he would attend. He was a lover of the game. He loved the beautiful game of soccer and he knew so much about the game.î
When I first started writing about soccer in 2000, covering the MetroStars for Associated Press, then later writing about soccer on these pages of The Observer, Jay was one of the first to offer his help to me and his give me advice about the sport.
After all, Jay was the expert and I was clearly the novice, so I needed all the assistance I could get.
At one point, Jay even offered to write my column for The Observer for me when it came to soccer.
ìI can be sort of your ghost writer, Jimbo,î he said. ìNo one would ever know.î
There was only one problem with that idea. I would know.
Or Jay wanted to know if there was room in our section for an article or two utilizing his expertise on the game.
ìI can write about soccer from a fanís standpoint,î he said. ìWrite soccer from all over the world.î
It was a novel idea, but one that really couldnít take flight in a local weekly newspaper.
Jayís help to me has gone a long way, because thanks to our hours and hours of conversation about soccer over the last 17 years, I have a better understanding of the sport _ and was eventually appointed as a voting member of the United States National Soccer Hall of Fame committee. Jay gets the credit for teaching me a lot about soccer.
Yes, a kid from Jersey City, whose only knowledge of soccer came from serving as a busboy at Giants Stadiumís club restaurant and dealing regularly with the members of the New York Cosmos.
As for the Cosmos, Jay was so in tuned with that team that he actually had friends like David DíErrico and Santiago Formoso who played for the Cosmos.
Jay was always thinking of ideas, simply because he was always thinking. A crossword puzzle fanatic, Jay knew anything about everything. I marveled at all the different things he knew, from movies and television to American history and western civilization. His range of knowledge was uncanny. He was worldly in his knowledge and would bring out that knowledge from time to time, to the astonishment of most.
I canít begin to count the times Jay would make me shake my head in amazement with what came out of his head.
On a trip to Notre Dame in 2005 to see a football game with an assortment of family and friends, Jay waxed poetically with a taxi cab driver about different American Indian tribes and their origins. Jay could identify well with the cabbie, because he also drove a hack for a number of years, among his assortment of different jobs.
The way Jay would recite historic facts off the cuff was astounding. He was a human Internet with his vast source of knowledge about everything. He never needed the use of a computer to get his information. It was stored in his fascinating brain. The way he would just spew out facts about a certain topic or issue made you wonder at times if he was making it all up, but as it turned out, he was right on target all the time.
I know _ because after he would say something totally ridiculous and seemingly implausible, I would go to look it up on the Internet and more often than not, Jay was right.
His sense of humor was one-of-a-kind. He could go from doing a dead-on Elvis Presley impersonation to firing off a quick witted jab or a metaphor, using names and places. He constantly made everyone laugh.
ìHe was witty and funny,î said OíNeill, who became one of the first American soccer players to play top-division soccer in England and Scotland during his playing days. ìI said that God must have needed an impromptu master conversationalist, so he called upon our best and took Jay. He was like a big brother to me, always by my side every step of the way. He was always so supportive of me and I tried to do the same for him. He spoke fluent Harrison-ese. He would come up with things and say things no one even dreamed of saying. He was a genius, a worldly guy.
Added OíNeill, ìHe was a ray of sunshine and he let everyone get a piece of him. We all got a little bit of that spice. I loved him and I will miss him terribly.î
So will I. There was only one Jay Costello and I was proud to have him as my brother-in-law and overjoyed to have him as a friend. He had a heart the size of Harrison and itís a downright shame that it was that heart that finally gave out last week and took him from us all too soon.