Kicking around in England

As the players of the Red Deer United U17 (Under 17) girls’ soccer team approached the magical age of 18, they knew their years of playing youth soccer together were coming to an end. With more than a year to go, they decided to plan something special to mark the occasion.

The group got an eyeful of old London on their walking tour

As the players of the Red Deer United U17 (Under 17) girls’ soccer team approached the magical age of 18, they knew their years of playing youth soccer together were coming to an end. With more than a year to go, they decided to plan something special to mark the occasion.

Last month, they travelled to England to participate in the Umbro International Cup and to see some of that country’s famous tourist sites. For the 14 girls, their coaches and the parental chaperones involved, the 10-day trip was the perfect way to celebrate the years they had spent playing youth soccer together.

With the help of Action Youth, a company that specializes in arranging European soccer trips, the group planned a busy itinerary that made the most of every moment in England.

Upon arrival in London on July 26, they were met by their tour guide and immediately transported to the Tower of London.

Built in 1068 AD, the Tower not only houses the crown jewels, but hundreds of years of British history.

“The resident ravens are really quite creepy and fit in well with the bloody legends surrounding the tower,” said Roxann Good, a parent chaperone on the trip. “The colourful Beefeaters look quite stern and take their jobs as tour guides very seriously. We learned their name came from back when they used to taste the food before the King to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. They were rewarded with beef, a delicacy for most. Today this prestigious position is held by those who have served their country through the military.”

After the tour of the tower, the group checked into the Grosvenor Hotel, conveniently attached to Victoria Station. That evening they went out together to a Beefeater Medieval Banquet. After much feasting, entertainment and festivity under the very watchful eye of King Henry VIII, they returned to the hotel on the Tube, London’s efficient underground metro system.

And that was just Day One of their trip.

On their second day in England, they enjoyed a London city walking tour that took them past some of the famous sites of the UK’s capital such as Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace.

“I was surprised at how interested the girls were in British history and politics,” said Deb Wallace, a parent chaperone on the trip. “Our tour guide was really well-informed and kept the girls engaged and interested for the entire five hours. At the end of the walking tour, the girls were rewarded with some shopping time at a sporting goods store called Lillywhites. They also visited a multi-level Nike store that had a huge inventory of soccer gear. They were surprised to discover that with enough cash, you can make an appointment at the Nike store to customize your own soccer shoes. Every colour of the rainbow was available.”

The group also took a spin on the London Eye, a tall Ferris wheel type structure situated along the River Thames that provides a 360-degree birds’ eye view of the city. Although the eye is a very tall structure, it moves slowly and they found that it wasn’t too scary, even for those who didn’t care for heights.

After enjoying a practice game of soccer in London, they travelled by bus to the northern city of Manchester to participate in the soccer tournament. Along the way, they stopped in the famous Elizabethan town of Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. Regarded as one of the prettiest regions in England, Shakespeare’s house still stands proudly in the centre of the town surrounded by quaint thatched cottages that hearken back to the Elizabethan period in the 16th century.

Arriving in Manchester, they checked into the Palace Hotel, right in the heart of the city. That evening, the girls were treated to a training session with a Manchester City pro team youth academy coach at a local training facility. Impressed with the team’s level of skill, the coaches provided a lot of encouragement.

When the girls weren’t busy seeing the sites, they enjoyed playing soccer against the hard-hitting English footballers. It was a style of soccer or football as the English call it, that they hadn’t encountered in Canada.

“The best part of the trip for me was the soccer,” explained Lauren Good, one of the team members. “The English are so passionate about soccer! Here in Canada, hockey is the sport people get excited about, but over there it is soccer. We also attended a couple of professional soccer games and the level of play was amazing. There was so much chanting and yelling by the fans. It was great!”

A trip to this part of Britain would not be complete without a visit to Old Trafford Stadium, the home playing field of legendary Manchester United.

“We were amazed at the sheer size of the stadium and how well it is maintained,” said Deb Wallace. “They have their own groundskeeper and you are not allowed to walk on or even touch the grass. The girls did get to go in the player’s dressing rooms and run out of the tunnel while the team music played. It was a lot of fun and we got some great videos of them doing that.”

Unfortunately, the weather during their trip was wet and rainy and when the team’s third game was cancelled due to torrential rains and lightening, they hopped on the bus and headed for Liverpool, the birthplace of the Beatles and home to the Beatles’ museum.

“Our visit to the Beatles museum wasn’t originally on the itinerary, but it turned out to be a highlight of the trip,” explained Lauren Good. “We learned all about the band and their lives in Liverpool. It was really cool and I developed a new appreciation for their music.”

After numerous delays due to weather, they were finally able to finish the soccer tournament. With results of two ties and a win for their remaining games, the girls demonstrated the benefit of exceptional training and coaching and finished third overall in the Premier Division.

On the way to the airport for their return flight to Canada, the team made a stop in Windsor to explore Windsor Castle and see the historical area surrounding it. The oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, the castle is one of the official residences of Her Majesty The Queen.

“Her personal standard (flag) was not flying from the Round Tower so we knew she was not in residence,” said Roxann Good. “Features of the castle include St George’s chapel that resembles places seen in The Da Vinci Code with life-sized figures resting over tombs and inscriptions chiselled into the stone floors commemorating the notable of the time.

“Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House provides a unique miniature look at the state apartments. As in the Tower of London, there are many paintings of King Henry VIII along with hundreds of other royals who make up a very complex family tree. The area around the castle is lovely with many shops and restaurants. With the final souvenirs purchased, we were off to the airport and our return home.”

The team found their European adventure an ideal way to celebrate many years of playing together. “The positive aspects of this incredible trip are too numerous to mention,” said Roxann Good. “A year or more in the making, the trip will be a fond memory for the players, coaches and chaperones.”

If You Go:

l It takes a long time to plan and fundraise for a trip like this. The Red Deer United team spent more than a year planning and fundraising to participate in the Umbro International Cup in England.

l Red Deer United was very pleased with Action Youth, the tour company they worked with to plan this trip. Action Youth specializes in arranging European soccer tours. For more information on this tour company, visit: www.actionyouth.com.

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story that we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.

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