GSSA 7th annual Academy tour of England – March 14 – 22, 2016.
The announcement that flight TS292 was delayed caused a sense of disappointment among the lads. The eagerness to arrive in Manchester and battle the professional Academies on those amazing pitches was overwhelming. The two players from the Barbados National under 17 team were already ensconced in their rooms at the Bolton Wanderers FC hotel. Their text messages of their arrival, which were passed on, had only served to heighten the impatience of the Canadian players.
A rather smooth flight and much sleep gave way to the dawn of a new day as we arrived at the Manchester Airport. Immigration check was smooth as always. They are becoming familiar with the annual visit of the group in red from the Frigid Zone, as one officer put it, which is Canada. Luggage issues dominated the morning as we learned that at least 10 of our suitcases had gone to Gatwick Airport in London in error. Once the important information was exchanged with the airport personnel, we found our way to our executive Grayway coach which clearly bore the name GLOBAL SATELLITE SOCCER ACADEMY. We had arrived.
Our hotel, which is built into the Bolton Wanderers Football Stadium and surrounds the amazing football pitch, was ready for us. We quickly sorted out our rooms and settled into them for a period unpacking and relaxation. It was Tuesday March 15th and the time was 11:20 am GMT. After lunch, our official activity was in high gear. We were off to Old Trafford, the Theater of Dreams and the home of Manchester United.
An amazing tour of an amazing place gripped all of us. Wow! The Manchester United environment and just being at old Trafford was the most beautiful experience. The tour of the museum, around the stadium, shopping for the signature clothing and just taking in most of the atmosphere was incredible. We were at the world’s greatest football club. No offense intended.
It was now Wednesday and we were in preparation mode for our opening game at Skem United, a feeder Academy to primarily Everton and Liverpool Football clubs. It was now 7:00 pm and the referee’s whistle signaled game on. Skem United’s U18s were a big and physical bunch who were getting stuck in. This played to their advantage with aggression and opportunistic goals. We didn’t help our cause as we started slow. Midway inside the second half, we were down 3-0 and then started to fight back with competitiveness and spark. It was a little too late and we lost 4-0.
On Thursday, we eagerly awaited the game against Bury FC. We were overjoyed to be playing at Carrington, the famous training ground of Manchester City and now used by Bury FC. What a fantastic ground and a fantastic game between 2 teams who played soccer the way it should be played. Bury would open the scoring and take 1-0 lead into the second half. GSSA would rebound after the break to level 1-1 with a goal by Dorian Holder-Poulton. We would then take the lead through Kareem Rae. Bury FC would strike back in the final 2 minutes to earn a 2-2 draw. GSSA had played its part in a thrilling game.
After the first 2 games, Friday arrived rather quickly and was our free day. We did another famous stadium tour. On this occasion, we visited Goodison Park, home of Everton Football Club. Everton Football Club offered us the chance to experience Goodison Park with a behind-the-scenes stadium tour. The tour was followed by our group having lunch at the Everton Captain’s Table Lounge. The day would end with an afternoon of sightseeing and shopping in downtown Liverpool, which was thoroughly enjoyed by both players and accompanying parents.
Saturday was a day of expectation and excitement. GSSA would be visiting Goodison Park once again. On this occasion it was to witness a live Premier League game - Everton vs Arsenal. Upon our arrival at the Stadium, our players went down to the field where the likes of Arsenal’s Koscielny, Giroud, Welbeck, Ozil etc. were warming up as well as the Everton players such Lukaku, John Stones,. Our boys would have a lifetime of memories as they took numerous pictures. The game was dominated by Arsenal. When Danny Welbeck opened the scoring with a nifty move to elude the keeper, we knew it wasn’t going to be Everton’s day. Arsenal young midfielder / Striker, Iwobi, by way of Nigeria, soon sealed the deal thereafter by scoring Arsenal’s second goal and the fat lady took the microphone. The exciting day ended at Goodison with our players having the opportunity to take photographs with the Everton players who were very accommodating. Lukaku, Steven Pienaar. John Stones, Phil Jagielka, Arouna Kone and Kevin Mirallas fulfilled the dreams of our kids by signing autographs and taking photos with them. Great way to end a great day.
Sunday was another great day for our team. We would travel to the home town of our co-founder the late Mick O’Brien to participate in our annual game against Cammell Laird FC for the Mick O’Brien Memorial Trophy. We were entering this game as defending champions. The game was a treat for the purist. Both GSSA and their host Cammell Laird FC played some fine stuff much to the delight of the crowd. When Cammell Laird took a 2–0 lead midway in the second half, it looked a bleak day for GSSA. However, they came roaring back to score 2 themselves and push the game into a penalty kick shootout. GSSA would lose the trophy on penalty kicks. After the game, were treated to a nice reception by our hosts. The memory of Mick O’Brien will live in all of us forever.
It was Monday and the tour was coming to an end all too quickly. Yet there was an exciting game awaiting us. Tranmere Rovers was next on the schedule and what an exciting game it turned out to be. The pace was frightening and skill level on display was indicative of two well drilled teams. As strategies change to get an edge in the battle, the intensity level rose. GSSA took the lead through a well fashioned goal and a terrific strike by Emmanuel Belle. But Tranmere upped the ante. They hit back with a great goal of their own. It was see-saw contest and late in the game Tranmere counter punched effectively to run out 3-1 winners. What an exciting game! They have already put us on their schedule for 2017.
Tuesday morning came rather quickly. Reality had now set in. We were departing from the Bolton Wanderers FC Stadium Hotel where we had lived for the past 8 days. These were spectacular accommodations and GSSA had enjoyed the surrounding for yet another year. More importantly, it was another superb tour. We were welcomed, respected, and entertained. 2017 can’t come quick enough for our kids to enjoy another showcase tour of England. Now we await communication from interested clubs.