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.

One Response to “Stoke City Experience”

  1. ujjal chatterjee says:

    Nice article to read….and tough i never met you in person, but i really appreciate your work to build young players for the future.Hope one of those 3 boys at least will get a chance to play for Stoke City one day.

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