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Academy Tour To London

Amazing how the internet brings people together & creates such wonderful opportunities.   After connecting with Hugo Langton on Twitter we found we shared similar philosophies as well as backgrounds.  We are both UEFA A Licence coaches operating our own academies.  So we began talking about organising a tour to visit each other.  Along with some of Hugo’s friends, an old friend of mine & we were booked to travel to London with games set up against North Kent Academy & Fulham.  How fate works – 10 years to the day I took my grassroots side, Castlereagh Colts, to London to also play…Fulham!

Travel

We flew as a group with Flybe from George Best Belfast City to London Gatwick.  Our party consisted on 25 coaches, players & parents.  Hugo’s friend, Sam, organised all the land arrangements.  What a top guy he was!  Attention to detail & communicating with me by email & phone – including one night to 11.30pm!  Sam organised the Hotel 7 Diner at Seven Oaks.  It is a lovely hotel with comfortable, en suite rooms.  The Diner is like a 60′s American style diner complete with 60′s music, shakes & burgers!

The hotel could not have been any better.  They had us checked into our rooms within 5 minutes of arrival.  Sam also organised a light pre-match meal to be ready for us before departing for our first game.  It was the extras that really made it.  Shakes & a meal for man of the match in each game.  They also offered our group a private section of the diner.  They set up a table tennis table & connected the Nintendo Wii up to a 50 inch TV screen!  We then watched Match of the Day on the screen!

We had Les as our coach driver.  He made sure we got to our games & activities on time.  Again, Les was a man that put himself out for us.  He came in early on the Sunday to transfer us to the local bowling alley before our return flight after our final game was cancelled.

Everything ran so smoothly from flights to hotel to transfers.  This allowed us all to concentrate on our games.

The managers, captains & referee before kick off

North Kent Academy

Hugo Langton is Academy Director of North Kent Academy.  We share similar philosophies in that we want to offer players an opportunity for additional elite training.  This is through good technical training & use of the ball.  We don’t exclude players for being to small or less physical, instead we look at their technical ability.  I’ve got a lot of respect for Hugo & very interested in his new concept about offering opportunities for school leavers.  This is something I wanted to do a number of years ago but got no support from the powers that be.  I hope to travel over again to London to see Hugo’s work.

Our referee, Will, is another of our Twitter friends!  He is a great young referee & you’ll be glad to hear that Hugo or me gave him any abuse!!!  The game was played in three x 25 minute periods.  NK Academy started the better of the sides & deserved to come in at the first break 1-0 up.  We made a slight change for the second period & found it reflected in our performance.  The boys played a lot better football & created more opportunities.  It was from a corner that the equaliser came from.  Luke Fisher fired in a very inviting ball that forward, Peter Freeland, got on the end of to send the ball into the back of the net.

The third period was pretty even.  We broke away & a great through ball was played to Jamie Rafferty.  He broke the off side trap & was one-on-one with the NK Academy keeper.  Jamie calmly passed the ball one side of the keeper & ran the other side (Pele style!) before putting the ball in the net.  Both Hugo & I (along with many others!) thought Jamie was going to lob the keeper.  Jamie calmly told us, ‘he was too big’, laughed & walked back to the centre circle.

NK grabbed an equaliser to level the score at 2-2.  Reece Montgomery made a great run down the left wing & cut inside to thunder a 25 yard drive against the crossbar.  NK also had some great chances only to be thwarted by TW keeper Reece Clougherty & a last ditch challenge by Ciaran Clougherty.  At the full time whistle 2-2 was probably a fair result.  A great game played in superb spirit.  The boys shook hands, had some photos taken before returning to the hotel base.  It was great to enjoy a few beers with Hugo & talk about the game along with the great work he is carrying out in London.  Hugo presented the man of the match awards.  The Hotel 7 Diner provided three free milk shakes for a MOTM from each period.  Hugo awarded Luke Fisher MOTM for the first period.  Ciaran Clougherty received MOTM for the second period for his wonderful timed tackle that stopped NK scoring.  Jamie Rafferty was awarded the other shake for his great goal!

TW Academy captain, Luke Fisher, meets his Fulham counterpart & the match officials before kick off

Fulham

Well 10 years to the very day & I was back with a team to play Fulham.  We were due to play at the first team training base, Motspur Park, but with Martin Jol calling the first team in we played the match at nearby pitches.

One thing I love working with kids is that they offer you such an up & down experience!!  After speaking before kick off telling them they need to start well & couldn’t afford to start like they did last night or they would be punished.  Well after a few minutes we found ourselves 1-0 down.  To be honest we lost focus, shape & were shell shocked to find ourselves 5-0 down after the first period!  We simply didn’t keep the ball or our shape.  But taking nothing away from Fulham, what a great talented group of boys they have.

I got the boys back in after the first interval & told them to learn from the first period & treat the experience as 3 mini games.  Can we improve from 5-0?  In youth football this is important to set goals but at the same time to be realistic.  What would I have got from them if I simply shouted at them for 5 minutes?  It would be very easy for the boys to cave in, feel sorry for themselves & be very embarrassed.  Instead, they were positive & raised their game to play some of the football we expected.  We started to retain the ball better.  We were better disciplined & had a better shape & balance about us.  In fact we were very unlucky not to go 1-0 up in the second period after a great chance from Luke Fisher.  As the second period was drawing to a close we switched off for a second & were punished as the Fulham forward got to the ball before our defender & hit an unstoppable shot to put Fulham 1-0 up.

The third period was much of the same as the second.  We created a few chances while defending as a unit much better.  Again as we looked to secure a 0-0 draw in this period with Fulham with switched off for a second.  As Fulham were awarded a free kick one of our front men failed to stand over the ball.  They took a quick free kick was seen a terrific ball played through to the Fulham forward.  A last ditch tackle conceded a penalty.  Fulham scored that resulting penalty to win the third period 1-0 as well.

In reflection it showed the boys what level they are required to perform at.  It was also a valuable lesson that against a quality side if you switch off or make a mistake you will be punished.  On a positive note the boys showed great character to play some better football in the second & third periods.  Fulham also took the details of two of our players which is a great testament to what we are trying to do in Northern Ireland.

Reading FC organised a mini tour for our boys including walking onto the pitch!

Reading FC

After the Fulham game we transferred straight to Reading FC.  We collected our Match Day Experience tickets & entered the Madejski Stadium.  We were welcomed by Club Officials.  The boys were brought down to pitch side.  We walked around the edge of the pitch looking around this fantastic stadium.  We were then brought onto the pitch for a team photo!  A mini tour was then carried out by the Reading FC staff.  This was done in a Q&A technique complete with photos.  This was great as the club officials worked interactive with the boys testing their footy knowledge!

We then returned to our seats to watch Reading take on Barnsley.  The game was quite unique as we witnessed 3 penalties all awarded right in front of us.  Our seats were the first row behind the goal – you could see us on the Championship programme!  Luke Steele, the ex Manchester United goalkeeper, saved the first 2 penalties that were awarded with only a minute apart from each other!  Although third time lucky Reading scored!  Although they battered Barnsley they still fell to a 2-1 defeat.

Shelley who organised the experience with Elaine came & met us.  I was so impressed with Reading FC.  If you are ever in London make sure you take in a game.  If you look after a team make sure you do the match day experience!  Our boys loved stepping onto the pitch!

We also met Luke Steele after the game.  I asked him how’d he not manage to save the last penalty.  He laughed & said he’d never experienced that in a game before!

Observation

Fulham Academy players were the same age group as our boys.  We had 2 younger players, but nevertheless, it shows the difference in ability & development when you train 4 times per week!  TW Academy provides additional training for players that only train once or twice per week at their clubs.  For those that take additional training through my 1-on-1 coaching & small group coaching, for example, benefit even more.

We also played on a reduced pitch against Fulham.  The nets were slightly smaller & there was a series of blue lines used to mark out the reduced pitch both in length & width.  Parents watched the game in a quiet, civilised manner.  This allowed the players to concentrate on their game.  The Fulham coaches were very quiet too.  Only offering short snippets of advice when required.  This reaffirms that parents should stop thinking if you have a loud mouthed manager that continually shouts is a good thing!  Let your child play & learn.

From Hugo at NK Academy to Fulham & Reading FC we were made to feel most welcome.  They took a real interest in our group.  It is great to see that professional coaches & clubs take time to forge links & friendships with visiting clubs.

Future

The boys will continue to train with myself on a weekly basis.  Some also have booked & continue to avail of my 1-on-1 & small group coaching.  We now start to plan our next Academy tour to West Bromwich Albion during May.  We hope to play their Academy & take in their final game of the season against Arsenal.

Thanks

So many people to thank.  A trip like this doesn’t happen over night!  Obviously the support & hard work of the players & parents.  Hugo Langton for setting this up in the first place & for the game.  Sam for organising the weekend & all of the land arrangements.  Les our coach driver.  The staff at the Hotel 7 Diner.  Adam for organising the Fulham game.  Fulham FC, especially Geoff & Dan.  Reading FC, especially Shelley, Elaine & the team on Saturday.  Finally, my staff.  Mark & Andy were a terrific help.  I hope I haven’t left anyone out!

‘Coach Tim can we watch Chelsea on our London tour?’…’For £1,800.00 we can’…

…Live football is getting further away from the normal fan, the family & it is simply losing touch with the passionate fans.  As clubs look to charge big money to help pay the crazy wages of their so called super stars they would rather the real supporters & families stay at home.  Why?  Well they would rather sell their seats as hospitality & make more £££…’it is an expensive business’ as Chelsea FC box office informed me on a recent telephone conversation.

The Background…

Is football clubs out pricing themselves for the next generation of fans?

My Twitter friend, Hugo Langton, has kindly organised a tour to London for my academy to play against his.  We also play Fulham.  Keen to organise activities & more great experiences for my players I wanted to take them to a Barclays Premier League game.  As a cross community group from Northern Ireland with children coming from different backgrounds I thought I’d do my best to see what clubs could offer them an experience of watching a live Premiership game.  After checking the fixtures (along with 2 of the boys in the Academy supporting Chelsea!) I sent an email to Chelsea FC to see if they could provide tickets for their home game against West Brom.  What I am about to share with you will show the amazing difference in how clubs operate…

After receiving no reply from my email to Chelsea FC I thought I would phone them.  I phoned the box office & spoke with a member of their staff.  I explained who we were & what we wanted to do.  She quickly informed me that Chelsea FC offer no group discount.  I then asked her what tickets she had available for their game against West Brom.  She informed me she had seats available at the top of the Matthew Harding stand.  Obviously not the best seats in the house but the main thing was for our kids to experience a live Premiership game.  So how much would these tickets at the top of the stand cost us?  ‘£70.00 per ticket Mr Wareing.’

Shocking…

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!  I asked about child discount but was quickly informed there was none!  So for each father to take their son to the Chelsea game it would cost £140!  Some of the dads have 2 children on the tour – it would cost £210!  This is before the match programme, food, drink & the normal visit to the club shop.  For me to take my party of 14 children & 11 adults it would cost a staggering £1,750.00! This is for 1 game, 90 minutes & not meaning any disrespect to West Brom but you would hardly call it a premium game.  I was so frustrated & asked the box office that surely they would have cheaper tickets or assist a group of children?  Well her reply was casual & how Chelsea FC operate, ‘It’s an expensive business.’ For an extra £48 it would offer some of the best seats in the house, a 4 course meal, drinks & entertainment.  Although the best line hadn’t come.  When I pressed for Chelsea to be more accommodating I was then informed to phone West Brom!  Yes, you are reading that right.  Even though it is Chelsea’s house & I want to visit they informed me to contact the away side for better priced tickets!

I was so disgusted I phoned the main number I could find for Chelsea FC, I got as far as reception.  I suggested I spoke to the community department or someone further up.  I simply wasted my time, not that Chelsea FC minded – they had me on their premium line!  So my last resort was to send an email.

The email to Chelsea FC…

Subject: Disappointed

‘Dear Sirs,

I contacted Chelsea FC on Monday 1 August after receiving no reply from previous emails regarding tickets.  I spoke with the Box Office explaining that I was bringing over my academy side from Belfast, Northern Ireland.  We are coming to London from Friday 19 – Sunday 21 August & playing a series of games including Fulham FC Academy.

I have a party of 25 including 14 children along with parents & coaches.  The academy is mixed.  It brings children from both sides of the community together; catholic & protestant.  There is also a mix in terms of personal background.  Some come from dis-advantaged areas with some parents out of work.

To my disgust Chelsea FC would only offer £70 tickets for the live Sky game against West Brom.  When I asked for child discount & / or group discount I was shocked to hear that there was none / nor any group discount!  For a father & son to go & see Chelsea play West Brom it would cost £140!  Worse when you look at an overall total being £1,800.00 to attend one game of football!

I asked to speak to the ‘Community Department’ but was informed I’d have to send an email.  Although the girl from reception sympathized it did very little to help get children from Northern Ireland to a game…many never seeing a live Premiership game before.  What I found even more shocking was that the only suggestion was to phone West Brom FC!  Bloody hell it is your house, your stadium yet I have to phone the away side to see if we can come in a more affordable way!

I have played football all my life.  Supported Manchester United all my life & have attended many games over the years.  I’m also a football coach holding my UEFA A Licence qualification.  I have travelled, visited & shared many ideas with professional clubs over my 15 years experience.  This has taken me throughout England & Scotland then to Holland with PSV Eindhoven & Ajax to Portugal with Benfica & Braga.  I have also spent a week with FC Barcelona.  I have never come across a more unwelcoming, rip off club than Chelsea!  I am completely disgusted at the price you charge a community group to come & watch a ‘low’ key game.  No disrespect to West Brom but it is hardly a ‘Grade A’ game!

I believe Chelsea FC should review their policies.  I for one, along with a number of Chelsea supporting boys from the Academy, have been left very disappointed!

I await with interest your response to my email.  Oh by the way.  I did contact West Brom.  I was put through to their community department & got to speak to a lovely woman who took my details to see what she could do for us.  She also informed me that they offer a match day experience for youth groups of £25 per person to attend a match & also receive a coaching session before hand.  Then a stadium tour after…maybe Chelsea should look at this!’
Chelsea FC responce…

The only credit I will offer Chelsea FC is that they phoned me the very next morning.  ‘Graham’ informed me they have a family stand that normally fills instantly which means that premium tickets, like the ones we were offered, is generally all that is available for general sale.  He also informed me that they do a lot in the local community & they have done a lot of free coaching in Asia (that I am sure is to boast shirt sales!) & that they offer ‘cheap’ tickets for Carling Cup & the FA Cup.

I informed Graham that it all sounds very good but how does this help a group from Northern Ireland that can only attend the West Brom game that weekend?  Unfortunately we can’t offer anything apart from the £70 tickets.  That was that.  Nothing.  Not even a suggestion of come along for a stadium tour or anything else.  It left me feeling very bitter towards Chelsea.

West Brom FC…

I did take Chelsea FC Box Office advice & phoned West Brom.  I decided to click on the number to speak to the community department.  It was 4.53pm on a Monday afternoon yet a lovely woman called Jan answered my call.

During the next 20 minute call I found out the following;

  • Jan purchased tickets for the West Brom end at Chelsea for herself & son.  Her son’s ticket only cost £25!  She was shocked & angered at how Chelsea FC dealt with my request.
  • She informed me that West Brom offer visiting youth groups a £25 match day ticket.  I butted in saying that was great but Jan told me to ‘hold on luvy, I haven’t finished’.  This £25 offered a coaching session by a West Brom coach, the Premier League game & a stadium tour!  Bloody hell, this is how all Premier League clubs should operate.
  • Jan took my details & informed me she would contact Chelsea FC along with other London clubs that may accommodate us.

This was customer service.  I felt important & that Jan couldn’t do enough for me.  I have a new love for West Brom FC!  I am also going to look at taking my academy side over to a West Brom game this season!  I haven’t heard back from Jan yet but for sure will add comments to this blog piece to keep you all updated.

Other London Clubs at home…

My next move was to check to see what other Premiership, Championship & League 1 clubs were at home on Saturday 20 August or Sunday 21 August.

Premiership

  • Arsenal vs Liverpool
  • Chelsea vs West Brom

Championship

  • Reading vs Barnsley
  • West Ham vs Leeds

League 1

  • Charlton vs Scunthorpe
  • MK Dons vs Chesterfield

I sent the following email on Tuesday 2 August at 2am…

Subject: Youth Academy from Belfast to attend a game…

‘Dear Sirs

My name is Tim Wareing & I am a UEFA A Licence football coach from Belfast, Northern Ireland.  I operate my own academy & have organised a tour to London from Friday 19 – Sunday 21 August 2011.  Our Academy will play Fulham FC & the North Kent Academy.  We would love to attend a game, take a stadium tour & if possible organise a game against your academy, development centre or avail of a coaching session with one of your youth coaches?

We are available Saturday afternoon, evening & have the whole day free on the Sunday.  Our hotel is based in south London.  We had contacted Chelsea FC to attend their game against West Brom but have been quoted £70 per ticket with no child reduction!  To take our group of 25 to the game would cost, £1,800.00!!!!!!!  No thanks!  I have been very disappointed with Chelsea & their lack of community support for youth groups.

I have a party of 25 including 14 children along with parents & coaches.  The academy is mixed.  It brings children from both sides of the community together; catholic & protestant.  There is also a mix in terms of personal background.  Some come from dis-advantaged areas with some parents out of work.


I would appreciate if you could help source match tickets & / or a friendly or coaching session on the Sunday morning / early afternoon.  I see from your fixtures you are due to play XXX

Thank you for your time reading this & I look forward to your speedy, but favourable reply.’
The response…
Arsenal…First of all I struggled to find an email address on the club website for tickets.  I ended up having to send the request through to ‘disability@arsenalXXXX’.  They don’t seem to welcome supporters to get in touch with them.  Arsenal seem to want people to find the answer to their query on a ‘frequently asked questions’ section on their site!
I got this reply on Thursday 4 August at 2.10pm (2 day response)

‘Dear Mr Wareing,

Many thanks for your recent email which was forwarded on to the Arsenal Academy.

I am sorry but we are unable to help you with your request for match tickets.

On behalf of Arsenal FC may I take this opportunity to wish you an enjoyable and successful visit to London.’

Reading…Received a reply on Wednesday that looked promising but haven’t had any further contact?  * UPDATE * I received a telephone call from Reading on Friday 5 August.  They are able to offer us a ‘Match Day Experience’ with group discount.  £20 for adults, £15 for 17-21 year olds & £7.50 for U16′s.  This allows pitch side access for photos & a tour around the ground along with the game.  They are also looking to source a game for us on the Sunday against their Academy!

‘Hi Shelley please could you sort out reasonable priced tickets for Tim and I will speak to Chris/Ryan about a game.

Thanks very much

Kind Regards

XXX

Office Manager’

West Ham…I had already contacted West Ham & again I received the same automated email the next day from my email.  It basically informed me that members get first choice.  If there was tickets left they could offer us them but to do that I need to supply them with my credit card!  No thanks!  So the club that have just been relegated & boast about their youth academy but do very little in terms to assist other elite youth players.  Here is that email…

‘Dear supporter

Thank you for your recently enquiry,

We can offer you the chance to purchase these tickets, however our members have priority purchasing so if this fixture sells out to our members we will not be able to complete your purchase.

We would require;

1)Seating details where you would like to sit , please note that for bulk booking we can usually only offer band 2-3 in the West or East or Bobby Moore Upper , these will be situated in the corners of the stand

2)The age bracket of the people attending the fixture and how many are coming

3)A full postal address so we can send the tickets to you as soon as they have been processed

4)Full payment details

We will ask if you could forward the relevant information via post and then we will try and allocate these seats for you once the game goes on general sale

You can also telephone the call centre 0n 0871 222 2700 via option 3 and the customer service team will be able to process these for you, however they will not be able to sell these seats until the game has reached general sale dates can be found on the website for the upcoming fixture, some may not be on the website as of yet, but please revisit nearer the fixture as the website will be updated as soon as we have the information

Fixture information and pricing

The fixtures currently available can be found here; http://www.whufc.com/page/TicketNews/

If the fixture you require is not on the above link then we do not have the information available at this time, please check back nearer the fixture as these are usually made available 6-8 weeks prior to the fixture .

Ticket prices can be found here;

http://www.whufc.com/page/MatchTickets/0,,12562,00.html

We hope this information helps and you manage to gain the tickets you desire

Kind regards

Ticket office’

Charlton…They replied on Wednesday at 4pm with the most positive response…

‘Dear Tim

Thanks for getting in touch.

We would really like to welcome your group to our game against Scunthorpe on 20th August 2011.  We would be able to offer you our group rate of £5.00 per person (including adults) for this game.  If you give me a call on xxxxxxxxxx, I can organise this for you.

Kind regards.

XXX

Club Development

Charlton Athletic Football Club’

MK Dons…* UPDATE * Received a reply on Friday 5 August…

‘Hi Tim,

Thanks for the e-mail.

I have forwarded your e-mail on to relevant members of staff regarding the ticketing request.

Unfortunately, the Academy department is unable to help with your request as we have pre season games; however, we hope our SET department may be able to help with a coaching session.

I have asked the relevant members of staff to respond to you.

Many Thanks’

Our Academy tour last year to Holland offered us great rates for stadium tour & a game at PSV Eindhoven

Summary…

It is amazing the difference in how clubs operate.  I have an individual in Hugo Langton who has done everything possible to welcome us & set the whole trip up.  I have a professional club in Fulham who have accepted an invitation to play us at their first team training ground.  Then we have clubs who either don’t reply, let a computer service reply or simply do everything possible not to welcome us.
As a life long football fan and as a professional coach for 15 years I have seen how clubs work so different.  Last year in Holland we could not have been made more welcome.  Playing matches against professional sides, stadium tours, training ground visits, live match…you name it.  Different mentality!
What happens when these arrogant clubs lose their ‘sugar daddy’, get relegated or money simply dries up?  Will they then go back looking for the real fans?

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