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TWAcademy.Org Tour To West Bromwich Albion

It was a chance phone call at the start of the season that set up this weekend to West Bromwich Albion on the last weekend of the Premiership.  Rewind to August & we had organised our Academy tour to London to see our friend Hugo Langton & his academy along with playing a game against Fulham.  Through Chelsea being awkward & West Brom being so accommodating we finished the season with the Baggies!

TW Academy outside the Academy Dome

We had tried to organise tickets for the Chelsea v West Brom Premier League game at Stamford Bridge.  Although Chelsea would not offer any tickets for less than £75 per person!  No child discount, no group discount & stuck up in the second tier of the Matthew Harding stand.  They suggested contacting West Brom.  I remember to this day phoning West Brom & selecting the foundation at 5.20pm to get the most helpful & accommodating woman called Jan.  It was Jan that offered us a fantastic match day experience at the Hawthorns along with great assistance & hard work by Rich.

West Bromwich Albion

The club is also known as West Brom, The Baggies, The Throstles, Albion or WBA.  They are an English professional football club based in West Bromwich in the West Midlands.  The club was formed in 1878 & have played at their home ground since 1900.

Albion were one of the founding members of The Football League in 1888 & have spent the majority of their existence in the top tier of English football.  They have been champions of England once, in 1919–20, but have had more success in the FA Cup, with five wins.  The first came in 1888, the year the league was founded, & the most recent in 1968, their last major trophy.  They also won the Football League Cup at the first attempt in 1966.  The club’s longest consecutive period in the top division was between 1949 to 1973, & from 1986 to 2002 they spent their longest ever period out of the top division.  The 2011–12 season is their sixth season in the Premier League since 2002.

The team has played in blue & white stripes for most of the club’s history.  Albion have a number of long-standing rivalries with other Midlands clubs; their traditional rivals have always been Aston Villa, but more recently their major rivalry has been with Wolverhampton Wanderers, with whom they contest the Black Country derby.

The Hawthorns

The speed with which the club became established following its foundation is illustrated by the fact that it outgrew four successive grounds in its first seven years.  The first was Cooper’s Hill, where they played from 1878 to 1879.  From 1879 to 1881 they appear to have alternated between Cooper’s Hill & Dartmouth Park.  During the 1881–82 season they played at Bunn’s Field, also known as The Birches.  This had a capacity of between 1,500 & 2,000, & was Albion’s first enclosed ground, allowing the club to charge an entrance fee for the first time.  From 1882 to 1885, as the popularity of football increased, Albion rented the Four Acres ground from the well-established West Bromwich Dartmouth Cricket Club.  But they quickly outgrew this new home & soon needed to move again.  From 1885 to 1900 Albion played at Stoney Lane; their tenure of this ground was arguably the most successful period in the club’s history, as they won the FA Cup twice & were runners-up three times.

The boys behind the goal on the Stadium Tour at the Hawthorns

By 1900, when the lease on Stoney Lane expired, the club needed a bigger ground yet again & so made its last move to date.  All of Albion’s previous grounds had been close to the centre of West Bromwich, but on this occasion they took up a site on the town’s border with Handsworth.  The new ground was named The Hawthorns, after the hawthorn bushes that covered the area & were cleared to make way for it.  Albion drew 1–1 with Derby County in the first match at the stadium, on 3 September 1900.  The record attendance at The Hawthorns was on 6 March 1937, when 64,815 spectators saw Albion beat Arsenal 3–1 in the FA Cup quarter-final.  The Hawthorns became an all-seater stadium in the 1990s, in order to comply with the recommendations of the Taylor Report.  Its capacity today is 26,272, the four stands being known respectively as the Birmingham Road End, Smethwick End, East Stand and West Stand.  At an altitude of 551 feet (168 m) above sea level, The Hawthorns is the highest of all the 92 Premier League & Football League grounds.

Club Badge

Albion’s main club badge dates back to the late 1880s, when the club’s secretary Tom Smith suggested that a throstle sitting on a crossbar be adopted for the badge.  Since then, the club badge has always featured a throstle, usually on a blue and white striped shield, although the crossbar was replaced with a hawthorn branch at some point after the club’s move to The Hawthorns.  The throstle was chosen because the public house in which the team used to change kept a pet thrush in a cage.  It also gave rise to Albion’s early nickname, The Throstles.  As late as the 1930s, a caged throstle was placed beside the touchline during matches & it was said that it only used to sing if Albion were winning.  In 1979 an effigy of a throstle was erected above the half-time scoreboard of the Woodman corner at The Hawthorns, & was returned to the same area of the ground following redevelopment in the early 2000s.

The badge has been subject to various revisions through the years, meaning that the club were unable to register it as a trademark.  As a result of this, the badge was re-designed in 2006, incorporating the name of the club for the first time.  The new badge gave Albion the legal protection they sought.

The teams line up before kick off

Saturday night friendly in the Academy Dome

The success of the Academy teams reaching finals meant our scheduled game against West Brom had to be cancelled.  Although through the special effort of Rich he managed to organise a game against his own team that finished the season as league runners up & cup winners.  Another bonus was he secured the Academy Dome to play the game in!

What an experience for our boys to play in a Premier League Academy facility.  It was also great to have the Academy Dome, Foundation & The Hawthorn Stadium all in the one location.  This was something I liked at Stoke City & previous visits to the likes of European giants, Barcelona & Ajax.  I think it adds as an extra motivation to really make it as a kid developing through the ranks when you see the stadium every day from where you train.

We played 3 periods of 25 minutes.  The first period was very close with both teams playing some attractive football.  A well taken goal from young Ryan McCrory put TW Academy 1-0 up.  His finish was a quality lob over the keeper.  The second period seen another 2 well taken goals from TW Academy through Reese & Curtis Ritchie making it 3-0.

It was also encouraging seeing Rich, like ourselves, insuring that all players were involved & received similar playing times.  The changes that were made seen TW slightly stronger in the third period with John-Lee grabbing a hat trick, Connor Maxwell getting on the score sheet along with Ryan McCrory adding to his tally.

It was a game played in terrific spirits & I was very impressed with the organisation.  Not only did Rich organise the Academy Dome & referee but supplied us with equipment to warm up along with plenty of water & cups for the players.  Although to have a physio present was crucial after Andy McIvor had a bad fall & needed extensive treatment.  It was reassuring that he could be checked over by her.  Again these are all things that people take for granted, but believe me, I know how much planning & organising that has to go in to bring it all together & I can’t thank Rich enough!

Here is some highlights from the game – watch the video!

Match Day Experience

The teams meet before kick off; West Brom v Arsenal

What terrific value West Brom offered us.  For only £25 we received a match ticket to see West Brom play Arsenal, a stadium tour, fun training session & small sided games in the Academy Dome along with a packed lunch!

After a cooked breakfast in our hotel we enjoyed the short stroll over to the Hawthorns to meet Rich.  He welcomed us & placed all our bags securely away in an office so we didn’t have to worry about carrying them all day.  We started the morning with a tour around the Hawthorns.  The highlight was to get pitch side & sit on the bench!  Rich was very informative but insured he kept interesting for parents & children.  After the tour we had an opportunity to see around the club shop & purchase some West Brom goodies!

We then transferred back over to the Academy Dome.  Rich took the boys for a fun warm up & kept it very light after the game from the previous night.  He then soon divided the boys & operated small sided games.  We then seen first hand to what level the club works in the community.  The Dome was packed with other clubs & teams doing the same package.  Not forgetting that they had to be split, so while we were all playing football there was another group doing the stadium tour…there must have been several hundred children on the match day experience!  We were even treated to a display of talent from Connor’s dad – watch the video!

After the session we all received a packed lunch.  This included a sandwich, drink, piece of fruit, chocolate bar & crisps.  We were able to eat this before taking our seats for the game.  What great seats we received as well!  We were in the third row & touching distance of the players.  It really was a special atmosphere as it was the final day of the season & many West Brom supporters came in fancy dress (Batman& Robin insured we got across the road safely & into the stadium!)

West Brom wanted to finish on a victory as Roy Hodgson was leaving for his new role as England Manager, while Arsenal needed the victory to guarantee Champions League football next season.

It was a terrific start to the game.  After an early mistake by the West Brom keeper Arsenal went 1-0 up.  Then the Baggies fought back to go 2-1 up!  The atmosphere was electric!  Arsenal equalised before half time making the score 2-2.  It really was an unbelievable half of football & such a treat to see these Premiership stars live & be so close to the action.

TW Academy Director, Tim Wareing, with Darren Moore

The second half started well & Arsenal went 3-2 up.  After a lengthy stoppage West Brom offered everything going forward & forced what seemed to be 5 or 6 corners in a row but couldn’t find that equaliser.  We had to sneak away just before the final whistle so that Rich could grab our bags for us & we transferred back to the airport for our return flight to Belfast.

We captured highlights from a special day at the Hawthorns – watch the video!

On returning to the Academy Dome to collect our bags we bumped into Baggies hero, Darren Moore, who signed autographs & was happy to have his photo taken with us all.

Clubs don’t receive enough credit for opportunities like these.  People sometimes take things for granted but to receive what we did for such a low price is special.  To head to an Irish League game can cost in the region of £10-£12 per adult & £5-£7 per child.  To think what West Brom offered us for only £25 really does show you the lengths they work too.

Thanks

Our thanks goes to West Bromwich Albion FC for such a fantastic experience & for their hospitality – especially to Jan & Rich.  Also to all the parents & children that supported the tour.  A lot of organising goes into these great opportunities & pro club visits & shouldn’t be taken for granted.  The Academy was launched in 2010 & boys have had the opportunity to travel to Holland to play PSV Eindhoven & Helmond Sport including playing in an all seater stadium along with visits to PSV & Ajax’s stadiums.  We then travelled to London & played against Fulham before having a bumper April & May.  This offered opportunities to players from the academy to travel to Premier League side, Stoke City, for training & a game before a visit to Carrington & Manchester United.  Of course we can’t forget about the terrific game & clinic against SC Braga in Belfast!

For those that want more information about the Academy & to request a trial please contact Tim Wareing on; 07740120788 or email.  Remember this does not effect the club you play for.  We offer additional training to develop your child’s technique & game understanding helping to offer the all important 10,000 hour theory – 1 or 2 sessions per week is not enough.

TheSoccerStore.co.uk

We have linked up with The Soccer Store to review soccer equipment.  They are one of the leaders of providing top soccer equipment at affordable prices with a quality service to match.  My first batch of equipment arrived within 2 days – speedy delivery too!

The Kickster Football Goal

Set up in less than 2 minutes, light, portable but can withstand a rocket from Rooney! Kickster Goals are a unique innovation in training goals. They are portable & quick & easy to set up without the need for instructions

Kickster Goals are a unique innovation in training goals.  They are portable & quick & easy to set up without the need for instructions.  The poles on a Kickster goal are joined by elastic reducing set up time to just 2 minutes.  The Kickster goals are about half the weight of a normal portable goal & pack away in to a compact carry bag with shoulder strap.

In fact my 12 year old son was able to carry the goals with ease.  I was even able to put them up easy enough on my first attempt which was lucky as I was filmed doing so!  You can watch my video review here.

As a coach I have seen many goals & use many alternatives.  What I like about the Kickster goal is how light & easy to transport they are.  More importantly how quick they are to assemble at the same time of not losing the fun of hitting the back of the net.  They stand up to some pressure.  I drop kicked a few volleys & they managed to take the pressure (no jokes here about my shooting please!)

They come available in a number of sizes.  6 x 4 (perfect for a garden or young players), 8 x 5 & then 12 x 6 which is perfect for any age or small sided game.  The other option I liked was the combo unit whereby the goal came with a rebounder.

The rebounder is a great addition to any coaches collection of equipment to the child that wants to practice at home.  By adding an attachment to the bottom of the goal & swapping the netting you have the rebounder complete.  My son enjoyed using the rebounder to practice his keepie ups, touch & then playing a one-two with it before finishing with a volley into another goal!  I also demonstrated the use the rebounder has for goalkeepers.

This makes the ideal goals to use at the end of a training session or to take down to the park or beach.  Especially at this time of year when many goal posts come down these goals add more fun & professionalism to your session rather than jumpers for goal posts!

The goals are designed and manufactured by Quick Play Sport and tested to British Standards BS-EN71

To watch me put together the goal & the rebounder along with seeing my son use the goals from shooting to a game click here.

How to order…

To order your Kickster goal & coaching equipment simply contact The Soccer Store via website, email or phone call;

Web – www.thesoccerstore.co.uk

Email – uksales@thesoccerstore.co.uk

Phone – 01270 257892

We will be reviewing more coaching equipment from The Soccer Store over the coming months.  If you would like any item reviewed let us know!

All Of Us v Cancer

On Sunday 27 May I was happy to offer our services free of charge to provide football for all children attending Cancer Research event, ‘Race for Life’ at Stormont Estate, Belfast.  While the mums completed the 5k course children enjoyed small sided games & coaching with us!

Race for Life

Here is some footage that we record from the event, click here.

Over 5,000 woman ran, jogged or walked this years Race for Life event.  TWSports.Org was happy to support Cancer Research & provide free football for all children at the event.

Every two minutes someone in the UK is told they have cancer…join the biggest fight against cancer & support Race for Life…

We had great fun providing football for all the children!

ALL OF US V CANCER

Every pound raised in sponsorship supports the fight against cancer & helps more people survive.

Make a donation; raceforlife.cancerresearchuk.org/support-race-for-life/make-a-donation

We offer our services free of charge to as many charity groups as possible. If you would like to request our services please send an email to; info@twsports.org with ‘Charity’ in the subject box.

Manchester United Visit

April really was a terrific month of experiences & club visits.  We kicked off with welcoming Braga to Belfast then travelled to Stoke City & Manchester United.  To be honest Manchester was planned as a birthday present for my son & we organised to travel with friends but with having a couple of contacts there from the @Coaching Family on Twitter I couldn’t resist to organise to meet up with them.  It was another memorable trip!

Carson & Cameron pitchside at Old Trafford

United Experience

We brought the boys down to Old Trafford for a stadium tour.  This was terrific for them as they got to see around the ground, sit in the changing rooms & walk down the tunnel onto pitch side before taking their seats on the bench!   They also got to learn about the history of the club from the Munich disaster through to the the successes on the pitch.  It was great to see around the museum & trophy rooms along with seeing an area dedicated to Paul Scholes.

After the tour we visited the club shop & the boys were able to get some United gear.  Quite amazing what you can get a Manchester United badge onto nowadays!

Packed up we departed for the Trafford Centre.  For those that don’t know this is a massive shopping complex with entertainment & restaurants.  After visiting the week previous I wasn’t keen to do the shops again lol.  Fortunately the boys entertained themselves in the arcade before we met with Pavl & Andy…known as @betterfootball & @Hiltaldo from Twitter.  Pavl interviewed me last year when I published my second book, ‘1-on-1 Coaching The Secrets To Improve ALL Football Players – GUARANTEED!‘  You can hear the interview here.

We caught up over a drink & some lunch.  It is fascinating meeting coaches this way.  You meet so many quality coaches online & it is great to meet them in the flesh.  What was terrific was having the opportunity to follow Pavl & Andy up to Carrington, Manchester United’s training ground.  Andy organises a community programme every Friday evening at Carrington.  This allows children to come in for coaching & games.   They cater from 5 year olds up to 14 / 15 year olds.  There is also a dedicated goalkeepers clinic & coach assessments that take place.  We met with Bill who holds the UEFA A Licence & is also a coach assessor.  I was impressed by the team along with the facilities of course.

Cameron & Carson getting a game inside Carrington!

Upon driving up to Carrington you pass Manchester City’s training complex as well as Sale Rugby Club.  Arriving at Manchester United you wouldn’t really know it was there training complex at the end of a country road.  Only for a sign up saying about first team players signing autographs you probably wouldn’t think it was Carrington!  After driving down a narrow road we parked & then walked over to the complex.  This is when you know it is Manchester United!

The facilities are unreal.  The glass fronted complex we walked into is the famous complex where you see press gathering on a Friday for Sir Alex Ferguson’s press conference.  That takes place up the stairs in front of the sponsor board.  Any other time though it is best known as the parents lounge.  Tea, coffee, juice & wifi is available while children can go on ahead & train!  On the same level you have viewing galleries & the story of how the youth academy was developed over the years.

On the ground floor at reception you are met with a large photo of Sir Matt Busby & Sir Alex Ferguson looking over you.  2 of the most famous & most successful managers at the club & across Europe.  They both invested heavily & believed in youth over the years.  As you walk down the corridors you are met with terrific pictures on the wall from our very own George Best & Norman Whiteside through to Bobby Charlton, David Beckham & Ryan Giggs.  There is a number of changing rooms then the entrance to the indoor 4G pitch.  We were told the first team don’t like training on it & the surface was replaced.  Apparently this was due to a photo shoot being done with Park ji sung.  After the shoot the company knocked over one of the lights which smashed.  Due to them not being able to guarantee that all the glass was lifted they had to replace the whole pitch!  United at this stage then added to the amount to introduce the latest in 4G surfaces.  Although the first team still prefer to train outside even in the harsh winter weather.

Outside there is a full size 3G pitch & grass pitches as far as the eye can see.  There is a separate complex that houses the first team.  Unfortunately we never seen inside the complex but were informed it was the first team changing area, management offices, rehab area & gym.

What was a real treat was when our boys were asked to join in & play!  Cameron enjoyed playing with some of the coaches while Carson was straight in playing with the young kids.  Carson attends are Toddler Soccer programme & couldn’t believe the opportunity to play at Carrington!  I shot a video of our experience at Old Trafford & Carrington & you can watch it here.

This was a remarkable experience for me & the boys.  I honestly can’t thank Pavl, Andy & Bill enough for a wonderful time at Carrington.  I hope to return very soon.

Bolton Wanderers

With Mark who organised the tickets - he's a top man!

Another Twitter friend @JnrFootyCoach organised tickets for Bolton v Swansea at the Reebok Stadium.  Mark & his son & friend came down to meet us & organised tickets.  It is amazing how you just click.  The boys got on like a house on fire & mixed really well.  I enjoyed talking away to Mark who was telling me about his wee team he coached & it being their last game of the season.  He is a forward thinking coach & child centered letting the kids play & develop.

Bolton Wanderers offer grassroots clubs tickets for only £10!  It is a fantastic offer to see a Premier League game live.  The Reebok Stadium is a lovely ground.  There was great entertainment outside the ground before heading in for the game.

Swansea have performed excellent in their first season in the Premiership.  Playing some wonderful football they deserve to be were they are.  They took the lead early on with an amazing goal flying into the roof of the net that we were sat behind.  Bolton find themselves at the wrong end of the table & in the relegation battle.  To be fair they played some good football as well & deserved to equalise before half time.  Although that would be the end of the scoring as the game remained 1-1.

Watching the managers you could see Brendon Rodgers taking notes on a regular basis.  He’s a manager I have a lot of respect for & funny enough comes from an area only 40 minutes away from me.  Aaron Danks, a coach from West Bromwich Albion, attended a recent clinic of his.  It was terrific to read some of his comments that stick in my mind; Rodgers philosophy on developing players, ‘people don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.’

‘Every player I see has 4 magic words imprinted on their forehead – ‘Make Me Feel Important’.'  He then went on to say about when he was out of work & trying to break down barriers, ‘ Don’t wait, CREATE.’

We got ourselves back to our hotel & relaxed by watching the el Classico on Sam’s laptop with a few beers.  It was great to reflect on another terrific day.  Sam was great doing all the driving & having the car with the kids was a great help.  We missed Coach Ronnie on Saturday.  He went to visit his son who now leaves just outside Manchester.  We would meet back up with the two of them at the United game on Sunday.  His son, Jonathan, played for me at Lisburn Distillery when I was under 18 manager & then reserve team manager.  He also played a couple of games for the first team.  Like his dad, Mr dependable, someone you can always rely on both on & off the pitch.

Our boys had done terrific.  Cameron really enjoying his birthday & young Carson kept up the pace so well for only being 4.  They mixed well together & always kept themselves occupied with the DS or i-pad during the travelling!

Manchester United

My son & I at Old Trafford

Our final day away had arrived & we had another visit to Old Trafford to look forward to.  This time we were watching their Premier League game against Everton.  It was a wet Manchester morning so we had to take cover in the club shop.  It was great to meet up with an old school friend of mine who now lives in Manchester.  Sam & the boys went on in to grab there seats while I had a coffee & catch up with Rob.  Ronnie & his son arrived & then we made our way in to the ground.

Our seats were in the Stretford End beside the tunnel.  The area we were in was the family stand.  It was great the activities & games they had going on in the concourse area of the stand for the kids.  We then settled down to enjoy the game & what a game it was!  We went 1-0 down to a Jelavic headed goal.  I must give the big man credit as never realised how good his movement was off the ball until I seen him at a live game.  Rooney though equalised for the Champions before half time.

The main action was saved for the second half.  Wellbeck scored a wonder goal at our end before Nani made it 3-1.  I managed to get his goal on camera & it was amazing to see the celebrations.  It was also funny to see young Carson sitting playing on his dad’s i-phone while 76,000 fans were going crazy!  But this is United & we never make things easy for ourselves.  Everton pulled another back to make it 3-2.  When Rooney made it 4-2 against his old club we never thought for one minute that the score would finish 4-4 but it did!  SO the title race is going right to the last weekend of the premiership by the looks of it.  We were glad to be there!  Here is footage from the games, click here.

What an amazing trip & experience.  I can’t thank everyone that played a part enough.  From Sam doing the driving to Pavl, Andy & Bill at United to Mark organising the tickets for Bolton.  The internet is an amazing place to meet amazing people!

Stoke City Experience

I had the pleasure to travel over to Stoke City FC with 3 boys from our elite squad.  This was a terrific experience for the boys to see a Premier League club & it’s academy set up.  Their U10 coach, Will Ryder, hosted us during our stay & I must say what a positive experience we all had.

Belfast Departure

We all met at Belfast International Airport for the 7am departure to Manchester.  A nice early start that had Ryan, Stephen & Tom all kitted out in their black TW Academy tracksuit along with white polo.  They all said goodbye to their parents & I became their surrogate father for the next 4 days lol.  We got straight through security & boarded the plane.  We enjoyed a pleasant flight over to Manchester on a lovely morning.  We used the time to chat about the experience telling them to be focused but to truly enjoy the experience.

The Stoke U10 Academy Manager, Will, arrived to collect us at Manchester & transfer us to his home in Stoke.  It was an enjoyable journey that offered an opportunity to get to know Will.  Straight away I found him to be very professional but with a warm personality that put the boys at ease.  It’s funny as over the years I sometimes would meet very stuffy coaches who seem to be above themselves & I wonder how they can relate to kids.  To meet a guy from a top premiership club that had such a welcoming & down to earth attitude was refreshing.  But that’s enough man love for Will haha.

Tom, Will, Ryan & Stephen training with Stoke City's Britannia Stadium in the background

Arrival & Small Group Session

We got settled in to his house & had a drink before preparing to go out for a morning small group session with Will.  The session took place on grass outside the Academy Dome which incidentally is just across from the Britannia Stadium.  What a back drop to have while you train!  It was a great opportunity to watch another coach work with a small group.  As many of you know it is something I work on a daily basis with – 1-on-1 coaching & small group coaching.

The boys had a terrific time concentrating on ball familiarisation, Speed, Agility & Quickness (SAQ), passing & then into finishing.  I filmed highlights from the session & you can see Will & the boys work by clicking here.  This is something I do until the cows come home.  You can never do enough ball work!  Will also had one of his academy development players arrive in to take the group up to 4.

When you watch the video you will see that Will has a great way with working with players.  I believe we share similar philosophies.  It is refreshing to see a coach work heavily on technique through demonstration, snippets of guidance & always positive encouragement.

 

First Team Training Complex & the Academy

After the session the boys got to see the Academy indoor 3G Dome & parents lounge.  We then transferred over to the first team training ground.  Will’s U10 team had a friendly against the only team that Stoke have an official link with.  They were over from Orlando.

It was terrific to see around the first team complex & to see one of the academy teams in action.  At this age group they played on a smaller pitch with smaller nets.  On all occasions the keeper looked to pass the ball out & play from the back.  The defenders were comfortable on the ball & we witnessed some lovely passages of play & individual skill.  The players looked to take players on & the coaches only added encouragement & short snippets of advice to the players.

The weather decided to put on a performance as well & wanted to make sure every condition got a game!  We had warm sunshine, cloud, rain to a heavy downpour of hail stones!!

Picture with the boys in Stoke City first team training complex

I captured highlights from the game & the Stoke City first team training complex & you can watch the highlights by clicking here.  All the pitches were immaculate & their was a mix of a couple of full sized pitches for the first team, the reserve team pitch, academy pitches full size & a number of marked out smaller sized pitches.  There was also a full size 3G pitch.

The complex was over two levels.  On ground level there was reception, changing rooms, gym & a rehab room complete with mini pool.  On the first floor there was offices, including the first team manager Tony Pulis’ office!  The canteen was also situated on this level.  Many may remember big Peter Crouch walking across this area on Sky Sports transfer deadline day!

We had our photo taken in here beside the Stoke City badge.  What was also present on all the walls was photos from the current stars of the first team to famous older players from yesteryear.  This included Gordon Banks & ‘the dribbler’, Sir Stanley Matthews!

I was very impressed with the facilities & the welcome we received.  There was always a smile & hello from coaches, players, staff or parents.  The boys loved the experience!  Not a bad first day to train, watch a game & be shown around the first team training complex!

The Britannia Stadium

We enjoyed a private tour of the Britannia Stadium

The Britannia Stadium is an all-seater that can accommodate 27,598 spectators (reduced from 28,384 due to segregation.)  The name is taken from the sponsors of the Stadium the Britannia Co-operative Bank.  Along with hosting football matches, the stadium has played host to performers such as Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams & Elton John.  The ground also holds conference & banqueting suites, the Delilah’s Bar, & a club shop selling Stoke City merchandise.

The highest attendance being recorded at the stadium was 28,218 for the sell-out fixture against Everton in their FA Cup 3rd Round tie in 2002.  The first goal in the stadium was scored by Graham Kavanaghfor Stoke in a league cup game against Rochdale.  The club had played at the Victoria Ground until 1997.  Club legend Sir Stanley Matthews ashes were buried beneath the centre circle of the pitch following his death in February 2000; he had officially opened the stadium on 30 August 1997.

The Stoke City fans were awarded with the loudest supporters in the Premier League last season!  We were shown the executive boxes before being taken down to the changing rooms.  We all left our mark there lol before heading down the tunnel & out on to the pitch.  We got some great photos & memories that we’ll never forget.  Those that clicked on the above video link will also see the stadium tour after the academy game & first team training complex.

Before leaving the stadium we made sure we grabbed some Stoke City training gear & were all kitted out!

Stoke City Development Game

After returning home to eat & relax we prepared for a game that night.  The boys would feature for Stoke City’s Leicester Development squad playing against Stoke City Development squad.  This is the stepping stone to being selected for the academy.

Ryan, Tom & Stephen line up for Stoke!

The match was played at a local club called the Stoke Domino’s.  They have a fantastic set up that reminded me of a typical Dutch grassroots / semi pro club.  While the boys got ready I grabbed a coffee in the club house & had a walk around the facility.  I met with a parent whose son had traveled over from Asia.  He played in the academy game the previous day.  It was fascinating speaking to them & hearing about their experiences back home.  He was a talent.

The game was played on a smaller pitch with reduced size nets.  The pitch size was perfect for a 9 v 9 game.  The coaches on the night decided to play 11 v 11.  Personally I thought it was too tight a pitch but on a positive it meant that Ryan, Stephen & Tom all got full games.  They played 4 periods which allowed the coaches time to speak & organise the players.

The boys played in the Leicester Stoke Development side & played some great football.  They were very unlucky not to score with Tom going close while a team mate hit the post.  It was in the second period that Stoke City went 1-0 up.  During the third period the boys did excellent.  First of all Ryan came up with a terrific bit of individual play by flicking the ball up & over the Stoke defender before sending a looping shot over the keeper to equalise!  We captured the goal on camera.  Although no sooner had kick off taken place that Tom picked the ball up & sent a thunder bolt into the roof of the net to put the Leicester Stoke side up 2-1!

This was great personal achievement by the boys as Ryan & Tom had scored at Stoke while Stephen grabbed the goal against Braga before flying out!  Disappointingly I missed Tom’s goal on the camera : (

The third period seen Stoke Development equalise at 2-2 & that would be how the scores remained.  Was made up for the boys to play in the Stoke top & have such a memorable experience!  Watch the match highlights here!

Indoor Tournament

On Friday there was a meeting for all academy staff based on the new EPPP coming in so it changed the schedule of the day.  The boys enjoyed playing an indoor tournament in the Stoke City Academy 3G Dome.  The bonus was it included a lot of players from the actual academy so the standard was very high.  It was non stop action & I enjoyed watching the game before having a walk around the facility & the local area which was beside the stadium.

I really do like the idea of clubs having their training bases close to their stadium…what motivation must it offer players – especially young ones.  Barcelona & Ajax are two great examples of this.

As Will attended the meeting that night it offered us some down time in the house to reflect on the experience.  I think I was buzzing as much as the boys!  To see the various training sites, stadium & for the boys to be involved in training & games…along with grabbing a goal each!  These experiences should be jumped on.  We need more children from Northern Ireland to sample being around the professional environment that a Premier League club offers.

Return leg

On our final day Will dropped us down to the Trafford Centre in Manchester.  We enjoyed some food together before the boys seemed to change into woman & went shopping!  Never been into so many shops in my life.  Will played a game for his club before returning to collect us & take us to Manchester airport.

I can’t thank Will & Stoke enough for what was an awesome experience.  Will opened up his home for us, as did Stoke City, & it will be a memory I’ll never forget about not to mention the boys.  We hope to link up & offer a clinic in Northern Ireland by Will as well as a return visit to Stoke City.

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