|Monday, August 15, 2005|
| American Idols|
This journal began two weeks ago when we flew across the Atlantic. And so it ends today, 36,000 feet over the ocean, as we fly back to New York from London, our two-week tour over. The trip certainly ended on a warm note. I have a feeling that our new British friends are going to remember these Swarthmore guys for a long time, and that our crew will remember the people in and around Heywood just as well.
Since Friday afternoon's reception at Rochdale Town Hall, the Swarthmore contingent ...
... played a Friday evening match with Heywood Town. The final: Swarthmore 5, Heywood Town 4. Defense, obviously, was in short supply in this game. The Garnet fell behind 2-0 but came back and won thanks to speed, slick passing and finishing, and some late goaltending heroics by Steve St. Vincent. Given that it was the final match of the tour (more later on the scheduled fifth match) I thought it was important that Swarthmore won. It meant that the team would be flying home with two victories and a draw in four matches. Not bad for some collegiate Americans playing the English at their own game.
... witnessed a Premiership season-opening match on Saturday afternoon between Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion at Manchester City's home ground. This was the third and final professional match of our tour and certainly the one with the most juice, given that it was in the top league and that it counted in the standings. Unfortunately for the Man City faithful, whose ranks include Eric Wagner and our good friend Jack, it was a disappointing opener for the home team: a nil-nil draw.
... spent a Sunday afternoon strolling around the center of Manchester, a chance to soak up the atmosphere of England's second-largest city and a final opportunity to grab gifts for the people back home.
Much of the final weekend found the Swarthmore contingent at the Heywood Cricket Club, the site of last Sunday's craziness. Our last two nights there weren't as manic as what we experienced a week ago during the Wood Cup cricket celebration. This past weekend, our time at the club was more about relaxing, celebrating and reflecting on the trip, and cementing new friendships.
On Saturday, team members found some new admirers gravitating toward them--the teenage daughters of club members. B-Wash and J.P. Faunes, obviously enjoying their celebrity status, taught the girls dance moves, their special handshake, and some of the finer points on wearing a baseball cap just the right way. Jack, our host, arranged for a live performance by a singing duo, whose second set got the crowd flocking to the dance floor.
At night's end, Eric had a special announcement about the next morning's match. The team had been scheduled to play a side from Rossendale United, you see, but the match had to be canceled several days earlier because of illness on the part of the club's manager. For several days, Jack had worked to find a substitute opponent. No luck, Eric told the team, so we would be ending the soccer portion of the tour with an intriguing match--Swarthmore versus Swarthmore. Eric and Ciaran would draft their squads that very night, and each would play for his team.
Their competitive juices flowing, the two coaches performed their draft the instant we arrived back at the dorms. Each did his best trash talk and macho posturing as they took turns picking, yours truly recording the closed-door session and printing the rosters for posting in the players' dorm block.
Jack refereed the next morning as Eric's garnet team and Ciaran's white-clad squad took the field for this internecine battle. The teams did their warm-ups separately, as if they were real opponents. And to make the run-up complete, they staged a mock skirmish after Ciaran's troops taunted Eric's by jogging through their warm-up formation--something sure to incite a riot on a soccer pitch.
The brawl was a joke, obviously, but the match was anything but, with both sides taking it dead serious. The sides were even at 1-1 four-fifths of the way through before B-Wash and Ciaran himself scored for men in white, giving them a 3-1 victory. "Trust me," Ciaran told me later, "that once preseason starts, I'll be bringing this up on a regular basis."
Whereas the two sides had warmed up separately, Eric had them come together as one to stretch and go through the rest of the post-game ritual. The coach took the opportunity to reflect on the tour and get the players thinking about the real preseason to come beginning August 22. Among other challenges, the team will be joined by no less than 16 freshmen.
"It was a hard, clean game," Eric told the reunited team, "and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I want us to take back with us this same intensity and passion. You have a week off now, which I want you to use for R and R. In a week, we meet the rookies and get at it big style."
"We'll be happy to ease their transition, coach," captain Alex Elkins interjected in his usual deadpan style.
After last year's successful season and the good home crowds the team attracted, the Swarthmore men's soccer program will be coming into the 2005 campaign in the spotlight, Eric continued. "My hope is that we'll be a positive force wherever we go, that kids will want to come to our games and that their parents will be glad to see them look up to you."
That was certainly the case on Sunday evening, back at the cricket club on our final night. Remember Ethan? He's the six-year-old local boy who became the team's friend and No. 1 fan last weekend, along with his dad, Lee, and 10-year-old brother. We were all upset a few days ago when we learned that Ethan had fallen off a garage roof and injured himself, requiring surgery and some 65 stitches in his nose and face. Eric and the team quickly came up with the idea of having each player sign the spare Garnet soccer jersey we had and presenting it to him.
Our chance came at the cricket club on our final night, when Lee brought his two sons around to say goodbye to us. The stitches looked like a roadmap on Ethan's nose, but he was undeterred, receiving hugs and handshakes from the Americans and running around energetically despite his father's admonitions about taking it easy.
If you've ever tried interviewing a six-year-old, you know it's next to impossible to get him or her to utter anything more than one-word answers. I guess Ethan's grin and obvious excitement said everything. His dad, smiling warmly, told me that Ethan had never met an American before we came and that his first encounter was positive, to say the least. His sons, he added, "have had an absolute ball with these guys. Brilliant! It's been an honor for all of us to meet them."
Apparently it was the same for a teenage girl I heard chatting last night with Jack's wife, Gwen. "Look what J.P. showed me," she said, proceeding to quick-step through a series of dance moves. ÔThey taught me that handshake as well," she said happily.
"They're turning you into an American!" Gwen replied.
I suspect the reverse is true, too. Because while the Swarthmore students have been making an impression on their hosts these past two weeks, they've no doubt been having one made on them. And, after their two weeks embedded deep in English culture, two weeks of playing and living the game of "football" in the place where soccer reigns supreme, they're flying home not only a better and more passionate soccer team, but a little more English as well.
|Monday August 15, 2005 posted by Tom Krattenmaker @ 4:00 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.
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England Tour 2005 Itinerary