Friday, August 5, 2005

There's time for only a quick posting today as we'll be checking out of this London hotel in about two hours and moving on to Manchester. But last night's friendly match at Yeading FC was such a great experience for the players (not to mention the coaches and tag-along administrator) that I cannot let it go undocumented for too long.

I sensed the players were feeling apprehensive as our bus pulled up to the Yeading ground just outside of London and we filed into the away team changing room. No one quite knew what to expect. The Swarthmore men hadn't played together as a full team for many months, and they had but one full-team practice under their belts. And this being England, they knew the opponents would be talented, fast, and tough, albeit a little younger in this case. We found out Swarthmore would be playing Yeading's under-19 team. Never mind. Some of these guys on the home side will probably be pros in a couple of years. I was hoping Swarthmore could at least keep it close.


"Our emphasis tonight is to keep it simple," Coach Eric Wagner said in his quick pre-game speech. "The game is going to be moving a lot faster tonight than what you're used to. I'm watching to make sure you're playing within yourself -- doing what you can do and doing it well. Simplify!"

Eric looked back at me as he trailed his team onto the field and flashed an excited grin. "These Yeading guys are gonna be good. Really good."

We were no more than a few minutes into the game when wish fulfillment fell into Colton Bangs' lap, and mine, too. You see, I think Colton has a great soccer name, and I've been saying for months that, just once, I want to be able to write "Colton Bangs one in!" (I'm sure hearing this juvenile wordplay can only trigger severe eye-rolling on Colton's part, as he has no doubt heard it all before.)

Apparently not the least bit intimidated by the setting and opponent, Swarthmore came out with a lot of energy and spark. And something great happened mere minutes into the game. Culminating a strong attack on the Yeading goal, Mike Bonesteel skillfully flicked a header toward the net, and although the Yeading goalkeeper managed to block the ball, he couldnŐt control it. As it dropped to the ground - you guessed it! - Colton was right on the spot to knock it past the keeper into the goal. COLTON BANGS IT IN.


What a lift! It would be the only goal of the night for Swarthmore, but it bolstered the players' confidence and determination, and it carried right through to the end. Yeading, after a don't-lose-to-these-Yanks halftime tongue-lashing from the coach, broke through in the second half to tie the score, and came close to going ahead two or three times. But the Garnet defense and goalkeeper Ryan Sutcliffe were strong and steady, and the match ended in a 1-1 draw. The players naturally grumbled that they should have won, but to Eric and the Swarthmore supporters in the grandstand (including a parent, a couple alumni, our bus driver Roy, and tour guide Mark), it was pure victory.

Up in the clubhouse pub afterwards, Eric sprung for a round for the Yeading players and staff and his own men. We mingled, ate, socialized, glad-handed the Yeading brass, and headed out for the long drive back to the hotel.

The tour is off to a very good start.

Friday August 05, 2005 posted by Tom Krattenmaker @ 4:43 PM

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.

Men's Soccer Website

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England Tour 2005 Itinerary

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Lad Reading: Aug 2, 2005

Eastenders: Aug 4, 2005

Bangin': Aug 5, 2005

The Real England: Aug 7, 2005

Swarthmoor College: Aug 8, 2005

Birthday Goal: Aug 10, 2005

Red Carpet: Aug 12, 2005

American Idols: Aug 15, 2005