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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!

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