Thursday, August 4, 2005

Coach Eric Wagner gets up to address the team as Roy, our driver with the melodic Welsh accent, pilots the bus toward the morning's destination. This is Day Two, and we're in the district of Stratford in East London. We'll be joining up with an agency called Quaker Social Action for several hours of community service.

Yesterday was all jet-lagged fun -- sightseeing around Buckingham Palace, a tour of Lloyd's of London, dinner at the Hog's Head pub, and attending a professional "friendly" match between Charlton Athletic and the Dutch club Feyenoord -- but today's purposes are more serious. After the volunteering stint, the team will head back to the hotel to rest up for tonight's match with Yeading FC, the first opponent of the tour.


Standing at the front of the bus, Eric gives his players a quick briefing. "As you know, fellas, Swarthmore has a long history of community service and social activity. I felt coming over here to help out Quaker Social Action would be a great way for us to give back to the community upon which we've descended. One of the things about this team that makes me most proud is the way you've embraced community involvement. It's good for us as people and it's fantastic for our program. Thanks for what you'll be doing this morning."

Eric has linked up with the Quaker service agency with the help of Abby Honeywell '85, a Swarthmore alum living in London (and a friend of Eric's sister, Lise Wagner '85). Community action is nothing new for the coach and his players; the past several seasons, they've run soccer clinics that have raised thousands of dollars for African famine relief, in addition to other community work.

We arrive at the service agency's "Home Store," a four-story white building where residents of this lower-income area can buy furniture and appliances at prices well below what they'd pay in a regular store. As the Swarthmore contingent squeezes past a delivery truck and walks up to the door, Jim Carling steps out to greet them and put them to work. Jim is the project manager for the store, which advertises its purpose as, "Building up homes without building up debt."

Jim thanks the students for coming and spends a moment talking about the agency's and Swarthmore's common Quaker roots. His project's goal, he explains, "is fighting poverty in East London. The operation is very simple: Furniture in. Furniture out. I've heard you have about three hours to give. Good. I've got a load of stuff for you to do. Who wants to go out in a van? I need eight people willing to lift."

Hands shoot up, and Jim organizes two four-man contingents to deliver and pick up sofas, mattresses, tables, and the like. Another crew is assembled to paint inside the furniture show room and another to distribute leaflets in the neighborhood to encourage residents to donate their unused goods. Two students are sent to clean the kitchen upstairs, and two others are assigned to assist in the office that completes customers' sales and answers phones.

"What's great about this," Jim Carling tells me, "is that with these guys here today, we can get a lot of things done very quickly."

An hour into the session, I take a quick tour through the facility and check on the guys' progress. Scott Long, a senior from Los Angeles, is just about finished painting a door. Scott is "playing hurt," to use the sports phrase. His left hand is wrapped in a plastic bag to protect the six stitches and extensive bandaging that are holding his thumb together. Scott was at his apartment in Washington last week -- he spent the summer interning at the Red Cross in D.C. -- when he had a nasty accident. He was carrying a glass and plate in the kitchen when he slipped and fell, shattering the glass and suffering a serious cut in the process. The injury has soccer origins; Scott was wearing his new soccer cleats at the time to break them in for the trip. "They don't give you much traction on a kitchen floor," he notes. (His cut will keep Scott out of tonight's game, but he and the team's Certified Athletic Trainer, John O'Donnell, are hopeful the healing will be far enough along to allow him to play the rest of the matches.)


Painting another door a few feet away are Patrick Christmas, a sophomore from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Jason Horne, a sophomore from Long Island. "I'm happy to do anything to promote our program and Swarthmore," Patrick offers.

Brendan Grady, a sophomore from San Jose who was involved in community service in high school, is laying carpet with his coach and Steven St. Vincent '07. "I used to volunteer at a hospital in high school. This is my first time laying carpet," he says. Brendan seems perfectly happy spending one of his mornings in England in a neighborhood rarely if ever frequented by tourists. "It's a great way to make a positive mark on the community," he says.

I check in on Alex Elkins, a senior from North Jersey, who has been cleaning the upstairs kitchen with sophomore Mike Bonesteel and preparing the pots and pans for sale in the showroom.

(Alex, a team captain, likes to keep his teammates laughing, and he was in top form yesterday at Lloyd's of London, the famed insurance market. Alex approached a very official-looking gent behind a reception desk and asked if he could speak with Lloyd.

"Who?" the clerk asked.

"Lloyd," Alex answered with a straight face. "This is Lloyd's, right?"

The official patiently explained that there actually was no Lloyd but that the chairman's office was down the hall. Alex declined the offer.

His other schtick has been shirt-shedding. Alex and a couple of his teammates have been making it a point to pose shirtless at the top landmarks. This they did yesterday while posing next to a Buckingham Palace guard and in front of the playing field at Charlton Athletic's stadium, "The Valley.")

Alex's thoughts on the community action?

"It's been nice. They're treating us well. Happy to have the opportunity to give back to the community, and I'm sure it's helpful to them to have 20-some guys offering their services," he says. "Oh, I'm a Cancer, by the way, if you want to put that in."


Other guys arrive back from their furniture hauling and information leafletting. It turns out that passing out fliers about Quaker Social Action was no picnic for Paul Thibodeau '06 and Frank Kyei-Manu '06. In addition to the barking and teeth-flashing of some unfriendly dogs, Paul and Frank encountered a few snarling locals who didn't appreciate having "rubbish" left at their door.

The clock strikes noon, and it's time to go. The team presents mementos to Jim and his colleague and poses with them for a picture outside the facility, and we're off. Time to get back to the hotel, eat, and rest up for the evening match. Some serious "football" will be played tonight.

Thursday August 04, 2005 posted by Tom Krattenmaker @ 10:34 AM

About This Site

In August 2005, the Swarthmore College men's soccer team embarked on England Tour 2005. Their mission: Play matches against English teams, spread good will, take in the sights, attend a professional match or two, learn about English culture, and, well, have fun. Follow their progress at this special web site, written by Tom Krattenmaker, director of news and information, who is traveling with the team.

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