Sudbury Soccer Storms England
This summer we had the first, of hopefully many more, U14 Sudbury Soccer teams travel to England. Last October we worked with XL Soccer Tours to organize a 10-day tour of England for our U14 Academy Squads. A mix of twelve players from our two boys’ teams signed up to go as a team.
The trip was July 27th through August 5th with a full agenda including soccer games, training and sight-seeing activities. One of the goals was to introduce the players to the English Culture via soccer. It worked very well as the boys enjoyed touring both soccer and cultural landmarks in several major cities.
Below are daily highlights and activities:
July 27th – Group met at Logan airport for our 7:45pm flight to Heathrow. We had a nice flight on Virgin Altantic. There was a little bit of sleep, plenty of movies and an online card game via the monitors provided at each seat. For a seven plus hour flight it was very comfortable.
July 28th – We arrive pretty much on schedule and made our way through customs as a team and meet up with our Tour guides around 10am. Shep and Caly introduced themselves before the bus showed up and immediately started to get to know the group. Both are very experienced with both soccer and working with kids and made sure they had control of the group while keeping it fun for the players.
Once we’ve loaded everything on our coach bus we head to QPR’s training grounds (currently playing in the Championship League) for a light workout. Our two tour guides put the boys through some activities to help shake out their legs and provide a quick release of energy. After a two hour workout, we grabbed some team pictures and loaded the coach bus.
After a couple of hours drive, we arrived in Stratford Upon Avon, home of Sir William Shakespeare. The boys were given an hour and half free time to tour, shop and eat lunch in the center of town right at Shakespeare’s home. Afterwards it was back to the bus and on to Manchester. Once at the hotel we checked into our rooms and had a nice team dinner in our own dining room. Most dinners in Manchester were in our own dining room and the food was great.
July 29th – First full day of the trip. Early breakfast was at the hotel. There they provided a nice full buffet breakfast with everything from cereal and eggs to traditional black pudding. A few of the more adventurous boys tried the black pudding, although most had no idea what it was before they tried it. From there we left for the city of Chester. In Chester we toured the Chester Cathedral, dating back to 1283 AD. After the Cathedral we walked around the Roman walls originally started around 100 AD and finished at the foot of the Chester castle. The boys had plenty of questions and were quick with observations. This was our first introduction to “Shepapedia tours” as they became known.
After another hour and half of free time in Chester we walked back to the bus and drove to our first game. We played Egerton Tatton U14 at their facilities. The game was on a nice grass pitch on what turned out to be a lovely evening. After a tentative start we got into the game and scored three goals in the first half and gave up one. In the second half our team continued to apply the pressure, but could not find the back of the net. Final score was 3-2 Sudbury.
July 30th – This was just about everyone’s favorite day. It started with a tour of Old Trafford, Manchester United’s home stadium since 1910. The tour was great and includethat had a terrible impact on the Busby Babes. From there we traveled to Manchester city center and spent an hour and half in the National Football Muesum. I could have easily spent another three or four hours there. After some free time in Manchester it was a short walk back to our hotel for a late lunch.
Late in the afternoon, we left for our second evening game against AFC Urmston just outside of Manchester. This was a great game, the first half ended 0 – 0 with both teams having some terrific opportunities. Ten minutes into the 2nd half, Urmston was able to breakdown our defense to score. Our boys were tired and sore from two days of touring and a game the night before. That did not show as the boys fought their way back to score a goal to tie up the score. They followed with a second goal four minutes later. The defense held up under a lot of pressure to finish the game 2-1, Sudbury. This really showed what the boys were made of and proved just how much they wanted that win. We stopped for a late dinner of fish and chips on the way back to the hotel. That was a perfect way to end a great day.
July 31st – After an early start we had a short drive to a very nice training facility to work with Coach Collin, the U14/U15 coach of the Everton Academy. Collin provide a great training session for the boys and made time between working with the boys to share coaching tips. After the session the boys changed and board the bus for a trip to Liverpool. We drove past both Everton and Liverpool FC stadiums on the way into Liverpool. We made a quick stop for a couple of pictures at Shankly Gates at Anfield. Again a bit of history about the Hillsborough Tragedy of 1989 was shared with the boys who always seemed eager to ask questions. We visited the Cavern Club where the Beatles got their start and also the Liverpool Cathedral.
August 1st – Another early breakfast was followed by room checks and loading the bus for London. After a couple of hours on the bus we made our way to the city of Crewe and the training grounds for Crewe Alexandra for a two hour training session with Ryan, coach of the U13/U14 squads. A bit quieter than other coaches we had, Ryan did a great job focusing the boys on Crewe’s famous “drag, drag, drag, dodge” routine. The boys worked through a progression of activities that highlighted the use and different forms of this routine to create space and gain separation from opponents.
After this training session, it was back to the bus for what was supposed to be a two hour trip to London. Unfortunately an accident just outside of London forced all traffic off the major highway and on to rural roads not meant to handle all that traffic. After several hours with little progress we changed plans and stopped for dinner on the way to the hotel. After dinner traffic had a chance to pass and the ride to the hotel was much easier.
August 2nd – Breakfast was again a full buffet and very enjoyable with something for everyone. After breakfast we boarded the bus and made our way to City of Westminister and Buckingham Palace. Again we did the walking “Shepapedia” tour of Westminister and London. Seeing everything from Buckingham Palace to Big Ben. One of the highlights was the boys answering the question “how many soccer players can you fit in a phonebooth?” The answer was nine. We took a boat tour of the river Thames and then stopped for lunch in London.
After meeting up with our coach, we made the trip to southeast London to play Kingfisher JFC. The days of sightseeing and two hours of soccer a day caught up to the boys. A shaky first half came to a close with the boys down 0-3. While they may not have had the legs, they had the heart and started the second half applying a lot of pressure and scoring just three minutes in. Before we could score again, Kingfisher created a breakaway and scored. This goal seemed to deflate the team briefly. From this point on we just did not have the legs to get anything back and end up giving up another two goals and finished 1-6 Kingfisher JFC.
August 3rd – After breakfast we loaded up for the day and made our way to Fulham’s Academy training grounds for a training session. We had a great session with Coach Josh who was a young coach working with Fulham’s U14 Academy team. Josh took the boys thorough a session focused on passing, creating space and moving off the ball. It was a good session and although the boys were tied after all they had done in the past week, they put forth a great and focused effort. From here we travel to North London to Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal. We watched the first two games of the Emirates Cup. The first game was Portal FC versus Galatasaray, and the second was Napoli versus Arsenal. Two great games in a terrific atmosphere.
August 4th – Sunday morning started with a ride on the Tube, underground to Wembley Stadium. Wembley is home of the English Football Association and walking out of the train station and over to Wembley is a glorious walk. Again the tour was an excellent trip with plenty of highlight, including a chance to touch the FA Cup on the same balcony where it is presented to the winners each year. From Wembley we again traveled east north back to Emirates Stadium for the last two games of the Emirates Cup. The first game was Porto FC against Napoli which Porto came back to win. This was followed by a thrilling 2-1 win by Galatasaray over Arsensel.
August 5th – With room checks done before breakfast, everyone was ready to start the trip home. After breakfast and loaded the bus, we made our way to Winsor Castle. A quick walk around the castle with some insight into the castle and significance of to the British Royalty. The boys were given some final free time for last minute shopping and to watch the parade of the guards to the castle. From here it was a quick trip to Heathrow Airport. Again the staff with Virgin Atlantic did a great job of helping us check in and luggage on the flight for a safe trip home.
It was the trip of a lifetime. Visiting some of the biggest shrines for soccer enthusiast, in the birthplace of the game. The XL tour guides made sure everyone had a great time and resolved any issue before it became a problem. In the end the trip was all about the boys. They came together as a team both on and off the field. They enjoyed learning about the English culture and history. The team thoroughly enjoyed learning about the ‘football’ history as they walked in the footsteps of some of the greatest players of all time. I hope we are able to continue to send teams on this trip for years to come.
Trivia note – The term soccer actually originated with British. The original soccer rules were created in 1863 and the sport was called Association Football. The “Association” separating it from other football games of the times like Ruby Football. The British school boys shorted “Association” and added their “er” extension, a favorite for nicknames at the time. From about 1863 to 1881 the sport was widely know as soccer in England. So don’t let any tell you American’s are corrupting the game by calling it soccer.