The Easter tour seems set to become a regular event in the club’s life, with a repeat of the 2013 Easter tour scheduled for April 2nd to April 5th 2015. This time, it was the players born in 2002 and 2003 who were treated to this trip-of-a-lifetime experience. Much preparation has gone into this over many months, saving, collecting the cash, making key decisions on where to go and what to do there, organising key fundraising, all this under the watchful eye of a number of people, Ger O’Hanlon at the helm, leveraging the experiences of the 2013 tour, with Terry Burke, Paula Carey, Helen Conway and Andrea O’Sullivan as organising committee.
And so it happened, as it always does, these things that seem to be so far into the future finally arrive. There was just time for one final meeting in Ballyadam, with so many in attendance that Steve Moore had to talk to people in two dressing rooms at the same time – just as well he really likes shouting! The final briefing included a warning, the bus will leave at 3.30 – yes that is “am” – and anyone not on board at that time will have to get to Dublin on their own steam!!
Thursday night – Friday morning – whatever you want to call the middle of the night, the main street of the village suddenly reverted to what it looked like on Saint Patrick’s day, with a parade of Under 12s and Under 13s, parents, some travelling (suddenly wondering if they should be travelling) and other not travelling (suddenly wondering if they shouldn’t be travelling) and a few soccer coaches for good measure – five in total. Oh yes there was also a lovely blue bus and a bus driver – the very best in Ireland as it was to be revealed (much) later on that very day, in a distant land with large soccer stadiums.
In the end after just one late arrival (I wasn’t that late, really!!), the bus departed for Dublin, its progress impeded neither by the regular false alarms of suddenly-unwell young passengers promptly moved to the front of the bus nor by the also regular not-so-false alarms of sick young passengers. What’s a bit of puke amongst friends?!?!?!?
Three hours or so later, with still all passengers on board, the bus finally stopped in the waiting car park next to the Ulysses – one hell of a large boat – that was to depart at 8.05 am. And so it did, for a rather uneventful crossing, perhaps a bit on the boring side for the younger travellers, but definitely profitable for the ferry company. Just under 2000 passengers on this Good Friday and queuing at every turn. Anyone who thought a bit of patience would allow them to avoid the queue for a cup of tea were wrong because the queue was still there when the Welsh coast was in sight (yes Brian it is the Welsh coast, not the fog!).
By then, the day had turned quite ok, a bit overcast but nice and dry, although the cold in the air would not leave us for the three days. The bus came off the boat and there was a small matter of 3 hours of driving to Manchester, including the first stop in what turned out to be a long collection of fast food meals that would turn anyone off eating fast food ever again. All passengers had their eyes of the prize however! All this driving and sailing and driving again (down some of the narrowest streets in Manchester it seems – thanks to the GPS!) were for a good cause: OLD TRAFFORD! If the outside is nothing to write home about – it looks so new on the outside! – the trophy room is definitely more impressive, especially the three most famous trophies: Champion’s League, FA Cup and Premier League. There is also a museum with the jerseys worn by some of the most famous players this game has seen. Now for the best part: the actual stadium tour.
I have to confess I am neither a Man U supporter, nor a Premier League worshipper, but I must also admit it is pretty hard to overestimate the impact of coming up these stairs and out into the light in the middle of the Sir Alex Fergusson stand. The sea of red seats all around, going down right next to the pitch, the sheer atmosphere of this famous arena, dedicated solely to one thing: staging great soccer matches, trumps anything else on planet football. There are larger stadiums, newer stadiums, but are there more impressive stadiums?
The tour guides were professional if a bit dry, but eminently knowledgeable. The tour was intelligently put together, taking visitors into the various indoor areas: press conference room, dressing rooms, etc…and out to the pitch a number of times, into one stand, into the opposite stand, and finally down into THE tunnel, were the kids were treated to some nice decorum: lining up against the opposite walls, as the home team on the left and the away team on the right, and then marching out into the light with the proper announcements and music blaring out of the loudspeaker system. Pity they were not allowed on the grass! But they were allowed in the famous dugouts!
Back in the bus and it was off to the hotel, with swimming and dinner on the programme, which was really more than enough. By then, we were in the 16th hour of this first day and everyone was thinking about bed. A large group did turn up for the swimming however, and all turned up to stuff their faces with the traditional “family food” in the restaurant. At least the adults (and the wisest of the kids) had a chance to detox from the fast food diet, with a proper main course with vegetables and fruits for dessert! Whether it was right to go back to the buffet three times is a separate issue!! Who finished the lemon cheese cake? All right, I will get stuck into the Meringue then.
A good night’s sleep is just what the doctor ordered before the short (by comparison!!) drive to Bolton for another stadium tour. The Bolton stadium is brand new by comparison to the 1910 relic which Old Trafford is. It is utterly modern and nice and tidy with its 28K capacity – not unlike Thomond Park in fact. After a quick tour in the club shop (prices really reduced in comparison with the Old Trafford SuperStore), it was time to meet the most delightful gentleman (U13 tour): Dave was born in 1940 and remembers attending matches the stadium with his father in the late forties, occasionally travelling with his Bolton idols in the bus on his way to the match – as he pointed out himself: soccer was a working man’s sport back in the days and no way could soccer players afford a car to go to the match. He also knew Nat Lofthouse, the local Paul Scholes, who played for Bolton throughout the 50’s scoring 225 goals for Bolton in 452 matches, as well as 30 goals for England, in only 33 matches – a stat that even Messi and Ronaldo can only dream about. Dave had one particular memory of this period: the FA cup final of 1958 – three months after the Munich disaster – where Bolton had beaten Man U 2 nil, with two goals from…yes: Nat Lofthouse of course. Pretty hard to imagine a nicer, more knowledgeable bloke to guide our young players through the Bolton Stadium.
Of course this is no Old Trafford, but it does have a few tricks up its sleeve: the 4 star hotel built into the South end, the luxury restaurant and especially the hang-in-the-sky television gantry, where we were allowed to consider things from above, in small groups, due to the limited capacity of the rig. The highlight of the tour was the home team dressing room, all set up for the match in a few hours’ time, with each player’s alcove carefully arranged by staff members – shoes, gloves, shinguards, jerseys all neatly arranged – How come Mum and Dad never do this for me!! [or perhaps they do?!]
Then it was another very short ride to the Bolton academy for probably the best training session these kids have ever received – and it is no disrespect to our CUFC coaches – the Bolton academy guys and were very very well drilled and clearly very used to players in this age group – inspiring and motivational for all involved, as well as entertaining. This is the type of session that will help our players to come out and do their very best at training and on match day in the future. The facilities –although located in what can only be described as an “unfinished project” – were also top notch – luscious looking artificial grass and portable goals aplenty.
The good news was: there were many places where to grab lunch around the Bolton stadium, the bad news was: – by now you will be able to fill in the blanks yourselves – there were all fast food venues [by the way, you do know why French people like to eat snails, don’t you? It is because they really hate fast food].
So it was a delightful choice between McDonald, KFC or Subway…equally appetising at the stage.
Then it was back to the stadium for a second time, this time to see some real class action between Bolton and Blackpool, the latter fighting for relegation big time – a loss would have meant dropping down and they avoided this with gusto coming out fastest and scoring after only 10 minutes when playing the ball above the Bolton defence. The match, although eventful (with a couple of penalty appeals), stayed at that for 80 minutes, before Emile Heskey – the Carrigtwohill young players’ undisputed favourite – headed onto the cross bar, before Gudjonsen fired the rebound into the net from close range. The premier league stars of the afternoon might have been in their (late) 30’s, but they were there nonetheless and they certainly played their part.
One hour of shopping was then inserted into the programme to make up for the high prices in the club shops – not helped by the adverse exchange rate. There were plenty of affordable memorabilia as well as sports equipment in the local stores and the tills were kept busy, although our young shoppers displayed a level of discernment that was really commendable, including making nice purchases for their siblings back home – nice and thoughtful for kids this age!. All that was left for the day was to drive back to the hotel and enjoy a good dinner before retiring not too late – there was a short sojourn at the hotel bar from some of the parents and coaches, but that was only for the purpose of team spirit building of course!
The next day – our last day in fact – was another early start which saw our young players get a special training session at Platt Lane, Manchester City’s academy training ground. At that, it seems the U12s got an easier deal than the U13s, who really got the soccer training equivalent of an entrance exam to secondary school! Surely lads, the Man City coach can’t be more severe than our own Stevie, can he?
The U12s, got a fun warm up and a super-fast running full pitch 2 V 2 exercise, followed by a nice open match, the U13 got technical training the likes of which they had rarely seen, accompanied by a diet of coaching that they definitely had never seen. When the match came, it was also more of the same with very frequent interruptions and few positive comments! Lads, surely the Man City coach can’t interrupt the match more often that our very own Freddy, can he?
By then, it was time to “really run” – just a quick group photograph in front of the Manchester City backdrop and back to the bus for the final leg of the journey: back to Wales, (one more fast food meal!) and off to Holyhead, with only about 20 minutes to spare. By now, even our younger players were seasoned travellers and the way back was as smooth as the top of Mangerton Mountain. A short drive through the Dublin tunnel, and we were off on the motorway home, with the kind of atmosphere in the bus that will be hard to recreat:, parents, players and coaches moving about, talking to one, talking to the other, sharing stories, swapping photographs and jokes – who said bus travels have to be boring?
The rest of the story everyone knows about: the arrival at the community Hall late on Sunday after what felt like a long long journey – all wrapped into a mere 66 hours! The 2015 tour has been a huge success and the players owe some gratitude to all those who have invested their time and resources in making it such an enriching experience. – Frederic Adam
Friday – 3rd April
- Pick Up from Community Hall, Main Street at 3.30am.
- Boat Leaves from Dublin Port 8:05am.
- Arrive Holyhead at 11.30am.
- Coach Trip From Holyhead to Manchester.
- Stop for lunch at Chester services.
- Arrive in Manchester at Approximately 3pm.
- Old Trafford Stadium Tour 2 groups – 3:40pm & 3:50pm.
- Check into the Hotel – We will be staying at the Britannia Country House in Manchester at 5.15pm.
- Evening Activity (Swimming) – Group 1: 6.30pm -7.15pm. Group 2: 7.15pm – 8pm.
- Dinner in the Hotel at 8.15pm.
Saturday – 4th April
- Breakfast at 8am.
- Depart Hotel 8:45am.
- Bolton Wanderers Stadium Tour at 9.30am.
- Training at Bolton Wanderers Academy.
- Championship Match (Bolton vs Blackpool) 3pm Kick Off.
- Dinner in the Hotel at 7.30pm.
Sunday – 5th April
- Breakfast at 7am.
- Depart Hotel at 7.45am.
- Training with Manchester City Academy Platt lane at 8am.
- Depart for Holyhead.
- Stop for Lunch.
- Holyhead boat leaves at 2.10pm arriving at Dublin port at 5.30pm.
- Arrive back at Community Hall, Main Street at 9pm.