2007 England Trip Diary
Thursday, August 16th
With a 3:30 am wake-up, our journey to England began. Sure it was early in the morning, but for everyone involved it was easy to be very excited as the months of fund-raising and hard work had finally paid off. The day was consumed with a seven-hour flight and a late evening arrival. However, as we traveled across the Atlantic it became very clear that this trip was going to be special. From the quick timing through security to the second round of food served in flight, everything went perfectly.
Upon our 8:30 pm arrival, most of the team probably could have played a game then as we all were excited. I have never seen so many photos taken of an airport terminal until our guys landed, they seemed to want to capture every moment. Our bus driver provided many of those moments as the team struggled with the fact he was on the wrong side of the street. We all honestly felt he may run into every car we passed as we were not used to that change.
Our final destination was the Premier Travel Inn in Cobham, Surrey, south of London. A great hotel by any standard, the boys found no problem getting a good nights rest to prepare for the days ahead.
Friday, August 17th
As we boarded the bus for our first training session the team was actually a bit nervous. Along with this being our second practice day, we were training at the training grounds of English Premier League club Chelsea FC.
GW has had a relationship with the English team since Coach Lidster coached for Chelsea during 1997. Because of this, we were able to secure some of the best soccer training facilities in the world at Chelsea. In the middle of a high-priced residential area rested this 25-field facility. When driving in, we were able to see the first team's training fields, indoor facility, offices and Reserve fields.
After wiping the awe away from our faces, we settled in for what would be a very productive and intense session on one of the many high-quality practice pitches. The team was greeted by Shaun Gore, Director of Chelsea's Community Scheme, who made us feel welcome and, even more importantly, gave us some good advice on facing our first English team. Our trip to England to prepare for the season had officially begun.
After the session came one of the more humorous points of the trip as we went to a grocery store to pick out snacks and food for the hotel. The team was greeted with food it had never seen before. From Frosties (Frosted Flakes) to Hoops (Fritos) to many other things we never have encountered, the team faced the difficult task of jumping a bit out of its comfort zone and trying new things. After a few minutes of empty baskets, blank stares and heavy searching, the team jumped right in.
Saturday, August 18th
Our next day was greeted with another productive practice outing at the Chelsea complex. The session was highlighted by a meeting with former GW assistant coach and current lead scout for the Western Hemisphere for Chelsea, Jorge Alvial. Jorge spent time with us at practice and spoke to the team about what it takes to become a professional soccer player at a club like Chelsea. He was in Cobham on official Chelsea business, so it was perfect timing!
The strong session was followed by a trip into London to see, for many of us, our first English Premier League match, Fulham versus Middlesbrough. An extra treat for the team were the three Americans on the Fulham roster, including team captain Brian McBride. As we got to the stadium, the excitement was definitely in the air. We even got a photo opportunity with "Billy," Fulham's mascot, and a few friendly police officers.
From the opening kick the scene at the game was electric. The speed of play, the singing in the crowd, our awesome seats, and the overall passion displayed on the field made the day quite special. Much of the team picked up the songs pretty quick and sang along with the home Fulham supporters. An added bonus also brought a little disappointment, as McBride scored a goal, but was severely injured on the play. It was great to see an American be successful at the highest level of professional soccer, but unfortunate to see his season come to an end. Finding a silver lining, McBride's injury helped bring the third US player, Clint Dempsey, into the match as a substitution. The end result was not as the home supporters would have liked as Middlesbrough won 2-1, but that day is one we will always remember.
Sunday, August 19th
Finally, our first game day had come. Our opponents were two teams from Bishop-Stortford. As an extra bonus, we played the game on the Chelsea Youth Academy field. This field was as nice as any of us had ever played on before.
The match was a great introduction to English "football," as quickly our team realized the tackles came in far more aggressively and the speed and style of play is definitely a little different. After remaining scoreless early on, we finally settled into a groove and ended up winning both games quite convincingly, 5-0 and 4-0.
After the great result the team seemed reluctant to leave the field as in three days this facility had become our home away from home. We even left a little bit of us there as the bushes on the side of the field swallowed two of the balls we brought on the trip.
At the completion of our day, Coach Lidster and Coach Davis spent time with former GW player Chris Jones, who is now the Strength and Conditioning Coach for Chelsea and the England Under-21 team.
Once back at our hotel, the pace picked up yet again as we were now set to go into London to see the city and do a little sightseeing. The bus dropped the team off at Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. The team then spread out from there to see Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and the rest London had to offer. Quite fittingly, the team ended up meeting back up at a soccer/sports store, Lillywhites in Piccadilly Circus.
Monday, August 20th
Our last full day in England took the team to North London to play Stevenage. The drive up went well and allowed the team to see much of the English countryside.
The game took place in the village of Hitchin and really was a great test leading into the college season. In a hard fought game, the team ended up holding on to win 2-1. As the game concluded and the team took its final pictures and shared congrats with the opposing side, the realization that the soccer experience in England was complete. However, what was gained in England will carry the team this season and be remembered as one of the greatest sports experiences of these players' lives.
Tuesday, August 21st
Up at 6:00 am, the team was officially on the way home. The team said its goodbyes to the Hotel staff, Bus Drivers and 55 degree weather, only to arrive back at Dulles to 65 degree weather and rain - Did we even leave England?
The coaching staff and players want to thank every person who donated money and put in countless hours to make the England trip a reality. All of you contributed to an experience we will never forget.
Please come out this Fall to support our team as it continues the journey started early in the morning on August 16th. With the goals of a great trip complete, the team's focus has shifted to carrying that over into the season. With great fan support and a great group of players, it's clear that anything is possible.
George, Bryan and the Team