Carlsbad United F.C. Helps Youth Soccer Players Explore Soccer in the UK
A group of 28 players, coaches and parents spent 11 days visiting some of the storied sites of English football, including Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford and Anfield.
Every spring brings the return of sunshine flowers and birds to the world – except in Southern California where they hang around all year. For some youth soccer clubs, spring also means the start of the travel season, with teams taking trips to far-away lands such as England, Italy or Spain. While some may travel to these countries for the culture, these clubs go for one main reason – the beautiful game.
Carlsbad United F.C. (CUFC) is one of those clubs sending young players overseas to get a taste of European “football.” Just recently a group of 28 players, coaches and parents, returned from an 11-day journey to England and Wales where they had the chance to train with coaches from three professional club academies, play four matches against British opponents, visit some of the world’s most famous stadiums and attend a pair of English Premier League (EPL) games. The trip was organized by CUFC coach Gwynn Williams, a native of Wales, and his company Challenger Sports. It was a jam-packed itinerary, filled with a lifetime of memories.
The journey first started to take shape in late 2012 as a trip for Carlsbad Wave, one of the founding organizations of Carlsbad United. After the merger with Carlsbad Lightning in late 2013, the trip became a United affair.
The excitement began almost as soon as they landed at London’s Heathrow Airport on Friday morning, April 4. After collecting their luggage it was off to famed Stamford Bridge for a guided tour of the home of Chelsea F.C., including a look into the trophy room. Next stop was the London Eye, before checking in to their hotel in the Docks area of London. Players and parents had a chance to rest up that night in preparation for a full Saturday.
The group’s second day began with a Blue Badge Tour of London, followed by a bus trip to Carrow Road, home of EPL side Norwich City F.C., to catch a match between the home team and visiting West Bromwich Albion. The Americans watched as West Brom’s Morgan Amalfitano netted for the visitors just past the 15-minute mark for an eventual 1-0 win over the home side. However, the loss by Norwich didn’t diminish the excitement and entertainment of attending a real EPL match.
Sunday brought a training session with a professional coach from Charlton Athletic, followed by the boys’ first match that evening against Dartford Town. No doubt still suffering from a touch of jet lag, the team lost decisively to their talented and physical hosts, but they battled to the end and improved as the game went on.
On Monday the group crossed the border into Wales, en route to the city of Cardiff where they checked in to the recently opened Maldron Hotel. In Cardiff the players had the chance to meet an old friend of Williams, who once coached at the Cardiff City F.C. Center of Excellence, the club’s pro youth academy. Afterwards, while the boys rested, some of the parents were introduced to the heady Welsh beers by Williams and his friend.
Tuesday was primarily a tourist day, beginning with a visit to the Cardiff City training complex to watch the first team and U21s work out. This was followed by a guided tour of the club’s Academy complex led by one of Williams’ former apprentice professionals who now heads up some of the programs at the Academy. In the afternoon the Carlsbad group enjoyed a guided tour of Millennium Stadium, the national stadium of Wales and home of the Wales National Rugby Union Team – the other major sport of the country.
Following an afternoon of shopping – which was greatly enjoyed by the mothers in the group – the boys took on a talented U12 Cardiff City Academy team for their second international friendly. Although the Carlsbad boys stuck to their game and played well at times, the home team came away 5-1 winners. After the match the host club treated the visitors to food and drinks and then presented every boy with a Cardiff City Academy training top. These turned out to be among the highlights of the trip and were proudly worn for the rest of the tour.
Wednesday was another travel day, as the group headed north through Wales to Newtown where the boys took on a local youth team at Latham Park. Carlsbad played well, and had their chances, but came out on the short side of a 2-1 score. After the game the boys received a Welsh flag and commemorative medal in honor of their visit before sitting down to a celebratory meal of sausage and chips and other local specialties. In return the boys presented their opponents with some of their old Carlsbad Wave jerseys.
In the afternoon the group headed off to Chester, with a stop in William’s old home village of Chirk. The next morning they continued on to Manchester, where they visited the Theater of Dreams, better known as Old Trafford, home of Manchester United. It was an exciting time for the boys, and several of them stocked up on Man U merchandise. Then it was back to Wales to take on a Welsh-speaking team from the town of Ruthin. After a spirited game, which the home team narrowly won 1-0, the Carlsbad boys again presented some of their old jerseys to their hosts.
Friday began with the third EPL stadium visit, this time to the storied Anfield, home of Liverpool F.C. It was a thrill to be in this legendary stadium, and during the visit several boys switched allegiance from Manchester United to Liverpool! After Anfield the group visited nearby Conway Castle and sampled the local fish & chips while they sat looking over the harbor.
The trip ended on a high note, beginning with a visit to the English Football Association’s (FA) national football center at St. George’s Park in Burton upon Trent. This state-of-the-art center is where the FA runs all major coaching courses and hosts England National Teams for training modules and international preparation. English teams from U15 up through the England Men’s National Team come to St. George’s Park to get ready for competition.
While visiting the national football center was exciting, the ultimate highlight was a chance meeting with four members of the Newcastle United team they would watch later against Stoke City and none other than legendary Manchester United veteran and now interim manager Ryan Giggs. Giggs and the Newcastle players posed for pictures and signed autographs for the group. Attending the Stoke-Newcastle match that evening at Brittania Stadium in Stoke on Trent put the final touch to an amazing trip.
“We loved the sayings they use in games like ‘give it a dig’ and ‘unlucky,’” said one parent. “Hanging out with the families after the games was the best, and sheep cheerleading us in Ruthin was hysterical. We definitely created our own little dysfunctional family! I love how kids can kick a soccer ball anywhere you are and it isn’t called misbehaving but encouraged!
“To me, the entire trip was truly a highlight,” said Dan Wierman, the grandfather of one of the boys on the trip. “I was amazed at the congeniality shown by Ryan Giggs and the four members of the Newcastle United team that we ran into at St. George’s Park. Giggs acted like a true gentleman signing Adrian’s ball and patiently posing with the team for photos.”
“Carlsbad Lightning has been taking trips to England for as long back as I can remember,” said CUFC Director of Coaching Michael Duggan, who will be taking the BU14 Elite team on a similar trip in August, “but having Gwynn and Challenger handle all the details from the second you go to the airport to the time you step off the plane back home is worth a million bucks. Gwynn will be our tour guide when we are there, and I could not ask for anyone better.”
“Trips like these are what will instill a lifelong passion for the game,” said CUFC Director of Boys Program Glenn Malone, who will join Duggan on the summer trip. “To have an opportunity to experience what football means to the people in Europe will give these players a true appreciation of the great game. Challenger has put together a package that has a little bit of everything, and I know my boys will have the time of their lives.”
“These trips are all about developing an even deeper love for the game within the kids themselves,” agreed CUFC BU14-19 Head of Player Development Paddy Madden. “Everyone that goes on these trips will experience different cultures and come to appreciate different ways of life, but when the players themselves return to the sunny West Coast it will be the memories of EPL games, training with academies, scrimmaging UK teams, and other soccer related experiences that will really stay with them and further motivate their love for soccer.”
Welcome home, Carlsbad United F.C., and congratulations on a trip to remember.