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Euro Tour 2009
Probably the tour's longest day!!! As most of you saw, we left Sydney airport with only a few tears. The boys were super excited (not sure if to leave their parents or to get to Holland?!?!)
Leaving Sydney on Singapore Airlines A380 was an absolute treat. How the beast gets in the air and stays there is a wonder!! With plenty of movies, TV shows and games for the boys to entertain themselves, the first leg "flew" past.
In Singapore, we learnt that the boys were to become extremely obedient with the time and attendance rule. We had a 1 hour 'free time" within the airport, and most of the boys decided they wanted to grab a bite to eat. Burger King was the popular choice. There was a "be at gate A19 by 10:50pm" rule in place - which I might add was a looooooong way from Burger King. Eduardo was still in the FIFA shop when he heard the thunder of a horse race happening. When he looked up, there was a streak of black flying past the shop front. Followed by a trail of chips that could lead you back to Burger King, the boys were experiencing their first sprint session of the trip. It was here that it occurred to Eduardo that he may be running late too. So picture the players running through Singapore airport, chips flying everywhere off Matt Dibiasi's burger King tray, Eduardo trotting along behind them with Olga now in tow. Then... poor old Sam Gunderson-Briggs trolley went a little faster than him to see him splatter face first into the carpet!! Then with the thunder of feet, the roar of laughter at Sam's expense.....MOST players arrived on time at gate A19!
The plane to Amsterdam was definitely no A380... and certainly now Hilton Hotel either. The rule was to sleep after the first meal, and everyone was doing their best to get some shuteye. Players leaning on one another's shoulders, placing heads on the laps of others, sleeping on the floor under seating where ever. Nass was even seen praying, as he slept kneeling at his seat, with his head on the seat. A few got some good time in, others got an average of 4-5 hours.
Arriving in Amsterdam, it was straight to training with FC Utrecht, with a stop for a second breakfast on the way at Holland's biggest service station - an average sized one in Australia. On arrival at Utrecht, the boys were rubbing shoulders with some of the 1st graders, in the cafeteria. With amazing facilities, Marco (current 16s coach) took the boys in a great "Dutch" session. Marco was recently Kazakhstan's 17s and 18s Head Coach. As tired as they were, the boys did very well. Marco commenting on the eagerness and commitment to training.
After checking in to the hotel, we took the boys in to Amsterdam in order to avoid them falling asleep in the middle of the day. The rain did not deter everyone from having a good time. We caught the train to Amsterdam, which allowed us to see the countryside. Holland seems to be a beautiful, green flat country. On our arrival to Amsterdam, the Adults decided a tour of the "Red Light" district would be an experience the boys will never have again. Therefore, we took them through some of it and it was a real revelation for us all. After seeing a few other areas of Amsterdam, the rain started to come down a lot harder so we decided to head back to the train station and off to dinner at the Hotel.
La FEA (Dora the Explorer) came to dinner and was presented to her first date... Nick Vagerakas for being late to Sydney Airport. We await the feedback....
Most boys fell asleep at the dinner table; it was lights out by 9:30pm.
After a good night sleep, and the introduction of Miss Discipline herself, the boys were once again fresh and ready to train at FC Utrecht.
Marco once again took the session, and was able to continue and reinforce the message from the day before.
We must thank Marco here, as some of his exercises help bond the players together.
With a shooting drill, he asked each group to provide a "punishment" for losing the exercise. The punishment was to kiss the others feet?!?!?! And yes, the losers did follow up on it.
After more of the Dutch passing and movement coaching, we visited the FC Utrecht shop where we met Gianluca Nijholt (FC Utrecht Midfielder). We were then allowed to enter the stadium where they were preparing for the visit of Ajax Amsterdam.
We then made our way to the port, where we boarded the King of Scandinavia for our overnight journey to England. After dinner, the boys embarked on a night of dancing, mischief and the socialising with the opposite sex. Being "let of the leash" somewhat, the boys had a ball. They met plenty of new friends, commanded the dance floor in the disco, and roped Eduardo into dancing the DOOF DOOF music with them. This was probably all better for them, than getting jammed into the sleeping cabins like sardines.
Dora Update: Nicholas Vagerakas for arriving late to Sydney Airport.
With the night of dancing behind them, it was time to once again pack and board a bus. Having the experience to ride in what was Tottenham Hotspurs ex 1st team bus, we made our way to Blackburn to watch them play Liverpool at Ewood Park. We arrived with time to spare, so we had time to sample the local delicacies for lunch... the boys will tell you that it was probably the world’s worst burger! It would have been better to place a piece of car tyre with cheese, between 2 pieces of cardboard...maybe add some sauce for flavour! Those that raced across the road to Maccas, made the right choice.
In what was a defensive first half, there was not much for the group to celebrate and cheer. The second half was a better showing with a bit more excitement. The game finished a 0-0 draw.
Unluckily, the group missed out on meeting up with Brett Emerton and Vince Grella as they had a function to attend. The stewards allowed us to hang around after the final whistle to see the Liverpool players warm down.
We later waited near the team bus, where some of the group - those that braved the rain - met a few of the Liverpool stars! In all the excitement, Michael Yuille "jumped" on Rafael Benitez to get his picture taken and almost choked the man.... probably something some Liverpool fans would love to do at the moment. Then, Micky was told off by Mr Benitez.... "No me garres asi!" (Don't grab me like that!) So now, Micky can say he has been treated like other Liverpool players have in recent weeks...being told off by Rafa Benitez!!!
Wet and running on adrenalin, we made our way to Liverpool, to check in to our hotel, have some dinner and certainly some sleep.
Dora Update: Kerien Joel for aggressive behaviour to his peers.
A 7am start brought with it a trip to Wales to play our first fixtures of the tour. These early morning starts are proving to be tough on some of us, at the sun is not fully out until 8:30am... so you can imagine how dark 7am is?!?
Both games were against Rhyl FC. The Shadow squad started slowly and were down 2-0 after 15 minutes. To their credit, they got it back to 2-2, only to be down 3-2 at half time. Through words of wisdom from Eduardo, the team went out there and finished the business 5-3. Goals from Sam Gunderson-Briggs, Nicholas Vagerakas, Yianni Karakikes x 2 and Adis Semic.
The Elite squad then took on a resilient side that came out with a physical brand of football...Something expected in the UK. The boys handled it very well, and dished it back...but the difference in the 2 teams, was the football our boys played. Leading 2-0 at halftime with goals by Lachlan O'Connor and Jordan Figon - both physically strong presences required. The instructions for the 2nd half were that, more possession and control was wanted. And they delivered!!! They really put the nail in the opposition coffin with a passing and moving game that made us very proud as coaches. It confirmed that they listened and learned from Marco @ FC Utrecht. A hat trick was added by Ricardo Da Silva, with the most amazing individual goal by Jordan Figon who took on 5 players to find himself 1 on 1 with the goalkeeper, and a cheeky finish to complete that sent his teammates and the rest of the tour group crazy with cheers and support.
The scoring was rounded off by Yannick Gassy and David Stojic.
It finished 8-1...they had a penalty to make it 3-1 early in the 2nd half.
After our matches, we raced over to Goodison Park, to watch Tim Cahill's Everton play Tottenham Hotspur. We arrived just after kick off and it seemed that the 2 teams were waiting for us to sit. 0-0 at half time, we witnessed an Everton revival from 2-0 down, with a Tim Cahill equaliser and a Tim Howard penalty save n stoppages. The boys were treated to a fanatical display by the Goodison crowd - something they cannot see every week.
After the match, the boys met up with Socceroos Tim Cahill and Lucas Neill. After singing Happy Birthday to Tim, they had tickets signed and photos taken with them and other Everton stars.
Thank you Tim Cahill for making the boys day super special!!
Day 5 includes training with Manchester City and Liverpool FC.
Dora Update: Yannick Gassy for repeated bullying towards a teammate.
On a high after 2 victories on Day 4, we headed up the highway to arguably the world richest club, Manchester City, for a training session. As are most clubs, the facilities were to make us all jealous.
The boys trained on the main artificial pitch, and enjoyed a session of passing and moving, which later was added to a shooting drill.
Before the training commenced, it was the parents undergoing a drill of shuttle runs, between the coffee machine and the sideline. We all complained about how bad the coffee was, and believed that it was a conspiracy because there were Manchester United supporters amongst us. We later realised, we ALL just forgot to stir the sugar!!!!
Just after Midday, we headed back down the highway to The Academy at Liverpool – the pioneer of all clubs and their Academies.
With the English weather treating us to a fine display of rain, cold and more rain the boys were trained on the Ian Frodsham Indoor Arena. The session was based on technical skills and I believe all the boys got a lot out of it.
After dinner, we all headed to the city’s new Liverpool One shopping complex for a bit of r & r and to stimulate the English economy with some Australian Dollars.
Dora Update: Ahmed Hassan for breaking bedtime curfew.
An eagerly awaited day. The Elite squad had a real test with a clash against Wolverhampton Wanderers and the Shadow squad was playing Pendeford High School.
It was a longish drive, and hour and a half, and the bus was rather quiet. The boys seemed to be in a real concentration.
On arrival at the Wolves Academy, we were treated with their Firsts and Reserves going through its paces in training.
The Elite squad started nervously and conceded an early soft goal. It turned out to be just the tonic they required. It sparked the team into life, and it was Jordan Figon who equalised after latching onto a through ball by Marc Svinos and avoiding the challenge from the defender.
Only 10 minutes later, the team was awarded a penalty and uncharacteristically was put over the crossbar by Sam Cornish.
Gratefully, only minutes had passed when Lachlan O’Connor put the team ahead with a beautifully placed shot from a Jordan Figon cutback.
2-1 up at the break, the boys continued the 2nd half where they left off in the first. Lachlan O’Connor put the team further ahead with a fantastic far post finish early on, with a Marc Svinos deflected shot making it 4-1.
This made the Wolves come back biting. They got the score back to 4-3, with Chris Becerra saving a penalty to keep the victory on our side.
The Shadow squad started their game on fire, with Fletcher King opening the scoring with a great left foot finish.
Running slightly “downhill” and with the wind at their backs, the team really started to play some beautiful football. Crisp passing, good interchange play and a lot of overlapping brought upon wave after wave of attacking football.
More goals arrived with Adis Semic and Yannick Gassy grabbing doubles, Fletcher King getting his second, Nicholas Vagerakas scoring a great header and Steve Salmon ending a great team play with a superb far post finish,
That is right...the halftime score read 8-0. The referee approached Nass at half time to advise that the half had been cut short by 5 minutes. He was not sure how bad the score could get with the football the team was playing.
Running into the wind in the second half, the team seemed a little more lacklustre. Chances came and went. Pendeford got themselves a couple of consolation goals, before Nick Vagerakas completed his double to seal off the 9-2 victory.
Before dinner, the boys went back out to complete their shopping needs, with plenty of boots and sports gear being purchased.
Dora Update: Ahmed Hassan for leaving Miss Discipline behind in the change room.
This morning’s training session was with Everton FC and it was Colin Littlejohn who took the boys.
Taking into consideration that they were playing in the afternoon, Colin kept the session simple and took the opportunity to measure the boys first touch ability. This led to exercises of using space and thinking.
In the afternoon, both squads play Alsop High School. I know the itinerary stated Chester City, but last week the club collapsed under the financial pressures and strain of any football club.
In hindsight, this was good, as it was a great match up.
The Elite squad went behind 1-0 midway through the first half, only to be level at halftime through a David Stojic penalty.
The team took control of the game in the 2nd half, but the ball did not want to cross the line. However, with 3 minutes remaining, once again Jordan Figon provided the winner.
The Shadow squad had an exciting 0-0 draw, in which Yianni Karakikes missed a first half penalty.
Either team could have taken the win, but a draw reflected the contest.
After an early dinner, the boys were treated to a night at Anfield – home of Liverpool FC. It was a Champions League match between Liverpool and Fiorentina. The game had nothing to play for, as Liverpool were already out, but we were all able to experience You’ll Never Walk Alone in full voice. We also witnessed the return of Fernando Torres from injury. Unfortunately, the away team won, with Gilardino winning the match in the last minute.
Dora Update: Ricardo Da Silva for breaking bedtime curfew.
Our last day in the north west of England! Along with the hundreds of Fiorentina supporters, we were checking out of the Adelphi and heading up the motor way for a tour of the Theatre of Dreams.... Old Trafford.
Firstly, we had a chance to fit in last minute sightseeing and shopping in the city of Liverpool. Some of the boys raced off to collect the latest football boots at bargain prices, others grabbed clothing and some raced down to the port to get a glimpse of the Beatles Museum.
Just before lunch, we headed to Old Trafford.
From a distance you can see the monster of a stadium... TV does not do it any justice. Of course, first stop was the Mega Store. Some players grabbed jerseys with their idols names on it, others grabbed a souvenir of their visit.
Little did we know, we arrived only half an hour before the appearance of 3 first team regulars, who were to sign autographs to the lucky few that won a competition that had been run in the weeks leading up to it. Once they arrived, a small buzz came across the store. It was Ben Foster (Goalkeeper), Johnny Evans (Centre Back) and Gabriel Obertan (French left Winger). The boys were in awe for just being in the same shop as them.
It was a Liverpool supporter that looked after the Manchester United supporters. Nass approached those organising and had a word about who we were, where we were from and what we were doing. The Club granted Nass the opportunity to invite those that supported United to have a photo and get autographs from their heroes – a couple missed out as they preferred to be outside the store!
During the stadium tour, we learnt more about the Munich air disaster, and just how much it had affected the club. We also discovered freakish facts about the accident – like the team photo that was taken not long before the accident that had those that were killed on the left, and those that survived on the right! Yes....very freaky!!!
After walking in the footsteps of all Manchester United players, Nass & Eduardo led their teams out on to the pitch through the tunnel. Of course, Eduardo was the captain of Manchester and Nass the captain of the “others”.
From here we headed back to Wales to tackle Wrexham FC. The juniors took on an u/15 side that was extremely well drilled, fast in attack and had been together for 3 years. The score finished 5-0 to the locals and did not reflect the performance or effort of the boys. Anthony Carrozzi in goals was magnificent.
The Elite squad took on their 16s, and were ready for a battle. Before we arrived, 1 players was already ruled out injured, we lost 2 players just before kickoff and another 20 mins in. The Wrexham side had 3 Welsh internationals in their line up, and a goal keeper that is currently on the radar of Manchester United.
The match finish 0-0, and it was a magnificent display of attacking and defending football from both sides. Both keepers matched each other with great displays and nail biting saves. Attacks were disarmed with precision ruggeredness and both teams were explosive on the counter attacks. It really was a great game, and truly our greatest test. No player could be faulted, and either team almost won it at the death.
So it was off to London....
Dora Update: Adis Semic for breaking bedtime curfew.
After a short sleep – we checked in at 2am – it was off to Chelsea’s amazing training headquarters, Cobham.
The day was to be spent training, but with the amount of injuries running through the boys, it was more of a fun afternoon with Chelsea. It was light training where all the boys could have a laugh.
The injured ones along with the Parents, snuck a sneaky peak at Chelsea’s first grade on the pitch next to the boys. Until security asked people to move away, we were able to see all their stars in training. Yes, there was Peter Cech, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Nicolas Anelka and co. Did we take photos? Maybe!
With the boys being extremely worn down and tired, we spent the night at our hotel. Some jumped into the pool, others in the spa or sauna.
An early night after plenty of laughs.
Dora Update: Lachlan O’Connor for having more responsibility over his own items. He left his bum bag (wallet and all) on the team bus that went on to Leeds after leaving us.
With 2 boys sleeping in, the bus was delayed for its departure for Charlton’s Academy. This put us behind the eight ball and got us caught in a bit of traffic.
When we arrived, Charlton’s 16s were playing Chelsea and to our surprise it was Charlton leading 3-0. The boys were able to watch the last few minutes.
We then took on Charlton’s trialists on the clubs 3G artificial pitch. The team consisted of 14-16s and our boys put on a magnificent display. One touch passing, movement on and off the ball, with the addition of physical presence, our boys raced to a half time 4-0 lead with goals from Yianni Karakikes, Jordan Figon x 2 and David Stojic.
Charlton came back at us in the 2nd half, and pulled on back with an unstoppable effort. Our boys then went back to where they left off. David Stojic made it 5-1, and Sam Gunderson-Briggs wrapped up a brilliant display to finish it off at 6-1.
To our pleasure, the Charlton coaching staff acknowledged the team and some individual performances. We look forward to training on Monday.
On the way home, we stopped by local pub to watch Manchester United lose 1-0 to Aston Villa. Watching the match in a packed local English pub, was a good little experience for the boys.
After dinner, it was once again the pool, sauna and spa for the boys and later off to bed.
Dora Update: Lachlan O’Connor for not treating her right, and forgetting to include her in his activities.
Jordan Figon’s 16th birthday!
A day dedicated away from training or playing, we decided to head into town and get in some shopping for selves, Christmas shopping for the family and some r & r.
After visiting the massive Nike store, where some boys got their new boots personalised, some jerseys and other apparel, we headed to the world famous Lillywhites. Everything sport, at bargain prices. Plenty of full bags left the shop.
We then raced back to hotel to get a glimpse of the Liverpool v Arsenal match which was interrupted before the end with the arrival of a very special guest.
Mark Schwarzer joined us to not only help celebrate the birthday, but to have a chat with the boys and answer some questions. A great man, a very humble man, he joined us on his rest day and left the boys very excited after an amazing surprise visit.
He discussed his career, his club Fulham, the last World Cup and the next one, and he gave the boys advice as to taking the next step.
Thank you Mark Schwarzer!!
Dora Update: Michael Yuille for invading the private space of a team mate when a few players “rearranged” the luggage of another teammate.
Back to Sparrow Lane for a training session with the Charlton FC. Injuries are really starting to tell at the moment. To our delight, Charlton were very hospitable, and allowed the injured players to be attended by the club physios... even when they were busy attending to their 18s that were taking on Chelsea in the FA Youth Cup that night.
The Charlton Academy was very welcoming. A fun session, that not only was enjoyable, but was testing on the technical aspect of the boys ability. Lots of 1 v 1, 2 v1 and 2 v2 football.
We headed up the road for lunch, and must admit that any Health Compliance Officer in Australia would run out of ink writing infringement notices!! Oil smelt like it was changed once a year... probably 1st of January. Some boys braved the elements to eat, and some walked a few blocks to eat pizza that seemed to be a rip off of Pizza Hut!
In the afternoon, we took on the London Colleges side, as Charlton could not play us due to FA Youth Cup commitments. We started very well, taking the lead through Lachlan who chipped the keeper from the edge of the box, and a scramble between Shaq Ali and David Stojic to force the ball over the line, gave us a 2-0 lead at half time.
The game turned out to be a game of 2 halves, as London Colleges brought the game back to 2-2, through two of the most brilliant free kicks ever seen. And that is how it ended.
While waiting for our bus to head to The Valley to watch the FA Youth Cup match between Charlton and Chelsea’s 12 Million Pound side, a massive game of keep it up was enjoyed by the boys – Nass and co joined in. What started out as a flick of the ears if you failed to keep it up, turned into more of a rumble! And you guessed it, Nass was the target!!!
That night we enjoyed the match which Chelsea won 2-1.
Dora Update: Ricardo Da Silva and Keiren Joel for invading the private space of a team mate when a few players “rearranged” the luggage of another teammate.
EARLY START!! Breakfast was at 5:30am. We were today saying goodbye to England and heading to Spain. We left the hotel at 6:30am.
The bus trip to the airport was a game of “stay awake”, as if you fell asleep you ran the risk of having words and figures drawn on your face with a marker. Poor Mickey Yuille was the major culprit... he was heavily asleep, and walked through Heathrow Airport like a Maori!
The flight on the other hand, was where we all caught up on some shut eye... which also made the 2 hour flight quicker.
After checking in to our hotel, everyone went to grab a bite, before getting ready to tackle our first of the Spanish opponents.
The shadow squad was to take on FC Can Buxeres under lights on the artificial grass.
The first 20 mins was a real battle. Each side had chances. On came Yianni Karakikes who instantly brought the game towards us. He scored within 2 minutes of coming on, and doubled the lead 5 minutes later. The half time score became 3-0, as Nicholas Vagerakas got his first of his hat trick before the break.
The second half became one way traffic. Nicholas Vagerakas completed his hat trick with powerful drives from inside the box, little Jack Campbell got his first goal of the tour with an expertly taken finish to which EVERY squad member ran on the field to celebrate, Fletcher King and Adis Semic grabbed one each. Then Keiren Joel got his first ever football goal with an amazing 60 metre run where he beat 6 or 7 players to finish with his left foot in the far post. The game finished 9-1!
Well done boys!
Dora Update: Sam Gunderson-Briggs and Anthony Carrozzi for sleeping in on Saturday and costing the team a chance to see Stamford Bridge and miss out on tickets to see Chelsea v Everton!
The boys were allowed a sleep in. Some decided to roam the Barcelona streets to do some shopping. But by the time the boys woke and breakfast was had, it left an hour or so before we caught the Metro to FCD Espanyol for training.
We will all tell you that the Metro system in Barcelona is superb. We can get from anywhere to anywhere, while staying underground!
Training at Espanyol was a dullish event, as some boys were still tired from the travels and game the day before, and the others were saving themselves for their first Spanish match in the evening.
That evening the Elite squad took on the FC Can Buxeres 18s. Jordan Figon opened the scoring after 15 mins with a fantastic far post finish after a one-two with Daniel Cejas.
The game was a real arm wrestle. No team was giving in. It was getting heated as well. The referee was protecting the locals. With 20 mins left, David Stojic broke clear after great play in midfield, to draw the keeper and play Lachlan O’Connor in to an unattended goal.
Minutes later, David Stojic flicked on a Chris Becerra goal kick to send Ricardo Da Silva in on goal to slot it through the goal keepers legs.
Jordan Figon wrapped up the victory with a superb individual goal after beating 3 players to slide the ball past the keeper.
After dinner, the boys crashed into their beds...no curfew needed.
Dora Update: Sam Gunderson-Briggs for treating Dora with huge disrespect the day before.
A morning again dedicated again to the three S’s - sightseeing, shopping or sleeping!
Lunchtime was again at FCD Espanyol. The training session was a lot better, as the speech by Daniel Cejas the night before about application and dedication to dreams hit the right area.
After training, we headed on a 4 hour bus ride to arrive in Villareal to watch their Europa League tie with Red Bull Salzburg from Austria.
The tickets we had was in the away section. When we arrived, we thought it was actually in the prison section. It was located on the second tier of the stand behind one of the goals. It was enclosed by bullet proof glass and wire fencing. It was like watching the match on a giant plasma. You could not hear the locals cheering.
Red Bull Salzburg won 1-0, but the greatest part of the match was at the end, as the boys left the stadium. The away team had rent a crowd. It was a bunch of young men from AUSTRALIA supporting the Austrians. They paraded the streets around the stadium, coming up with new chants and creating a fun, exciting atmosphere for all to enjoy.
All of a sudden, the boys found themselves being filmed by television cameras, which we hope was beamed around the world.
Driving back to the hotel, everyone continued with the song and dance until they all fell asleep. We were back at our hotel by 3:30am.
Dora Update: Marc Svinos for flicking the ear of Eduardo in the cold. Taken as disrespectful.
Our last full day in Barcelona and Europe.
After breakfast we all went to visit the beautiful port of Barcelona. Most boys completed their shopping commitments. Others enjoyed the sights.
We then caught the Metro over to do a tour of the Camp Nou – Barcelona FC’s super impressive football and sporting complex. You could not wipe the smile of the face of Nicholas Vagerakas.
The only disappointment was the fact that they do not show you the home change room. Everything was extraordinary. The museum certainly had history and the stadium had character.
After lunch we headed to our final matches in Spain against Club Martinec.
The Elite Squad was up first. We arrived with NO time for a warm up... it was straight to the game. And it showed, as the boys were behind 1-0 after only 3 minutes. In true tour style, the boys hit back.
A Jordan Figon hat trick before half time, made it 3-1, and that is how it ended as no goals were scored in the second half.
The shadow squad then hit the field. Little Jack Campbell made it 1-0 with a superb finish after a cute flick on by Nicholas Vagerakas. Unfortunately, the boys came into the half time break at 3-1 down.
As did the Elite squad, the bys fought back in the second half, to bring the score back to 3-3 with goals by Yianni Karakikes and Yannick Gassy.
The Martinec goal keeper was pulling off some fine saves, to deny the Aussies a chance at taking victory.
A draw it finished, and left the FEA coaching staff super proud of all players and teams.
Dora Update: Steven Salmon for wearing incorrect track suit pants in public.