4 November 2019
Kirkham Grammar School Orlando, Florida Football Tour - Thursday 17 October 2019 to Thursday 24 October 2019
A 2am meeting time at school was not necessarily the most ideal start to a trip, but so it was that the twenty seven Third and Fourth Year boys as well as the staff congregated in front of the school to ‘check in’ before beginning the journey down to London Gatwick to catch the flight out to Orlando. ‘Getting some sleep’ was never really going to be an option as the excitement was palpable and the boys and staff were really looking forward to the week long ‘soccer’ tour out in Florida. Resplendent in our new kit, the group eventually checked in, and before we knew it we were settled into our British Airways flight and happily watching films on our way West across the Atlantic Ocean.
Arriving at Orlando airport saw the group passing through customs with a minimum of fuss and the boys dealt with the border control process in an impressively good natured and well-mannered way, and with a clear willingness to ‘take in the experience’. Once through border control we were onto the coach and quickly checking in to our Hotel, the Rosen Inn at Pointe Orlando. From there it was the first of our evening meals, a fantastic choice of food, some of it known to us, and some of it less so. However, the first apple cobbler of the trip was consumed and all was well as we settled in for the night.
Day 2 saw us establish what would become our morning routine, namely a team breakfast and catch up followed by ‘the bank’ being open for pocket money and an outline of the day. Cereal, ‘special eggs’, toast, bacon, pancakes, Mickey Mouse waffles and banana bread were just some of the options, and all the boys filled up for the day. Universal Studios was today’s destination and everyone was looking forward to it. Once into the park the boys split up into groups and headed off in search of whatever ride they fancied. The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Jurassic Park, King Kong, Hogsmeade, Spider-Man, Hagrid’s Motorcycle Adventure...the list goes on. The staff thoroughly enjoyed the rides as much as the boys, and rumour has it that Mr Gardner is going to try and recreate the Butterbeer recipe in D.T. Exhausted but happy the party then returned to the hotel for a relaxing evening.
Saturday saw the group travel MSL club Orlando Soccer to train with the pros at their brand new training facility. Under the watchful eye of the Orlando coaching staff the boys were put through their paces with drills, games and a range of skills-based activities. Everyone agreed that the quality of coaching was excellent, and it was great to be hosted by the MSL club. However, the session was far from simple; Tropical Storm Nestor was moving from the Gulf of Mexico across Northern Florida. Even though we were nowhere near the centre of the storm itself we experienced torrential rain and on a couple of occasions we had to retreat to the ‘chicken sheds’, not necessarily due to the rain itself, but due to the risk of lightning strikes in the ‘lightning capital of the world’.
It was then back to the hotel before Mr Berry Mr Gardner and Mr Whittle spent a couple of hours in the hotel’s washing rooms manically trying to dry thirty one sets of kit before the evening fixtures. The downside to this was the stark reminder that slightly damp football kit does not smell good... the upside was the chance to chat to the various guests in the hotel. During the trip we would come across and chat to people from Puerto Rico, Brazil, Jamaica, Peru, Argentina, Haiti, Guatemala, Canada, Mexico, and Cuba. There was a truly international flavour to our time in Florida. Once the kit was a tad drier and less perfumed we set off for our first set of fixtures against a club in Southern Orlando.
The U14s played first and came away with a commanding 5-1 victory. Wills Gut opened the scoring and was quickly followed by Sam Gornall and Xander Cane. The opposition did get one back, but a brace from Alex Greenhalf saw the U14s cruise into the final part of the game with ease; Harry Tomlinson deservedly being named Man of the Match. The U15s then played under the watch of the Jamaican referee in what was a tighter affair. Ben Wiggins opened the scoring before Saul Penn added a second. However, a penalty for the opposition and an own goal soon evened things up. However, despite two goals for the opposition late on making the score line closer, the start of the second half proved to be decisive as goals from Josh Langley, Charlie Read and Tom Shuttleworth enabled the U15s to come out as winners. Man of the Match for the U15s was Tom Shuttleworth, and for the U14s it was the outstanding Will Davies for his goalkeeping.
The Sunday saw the boys visit the local Mall for some retail therapy. The journey there was undertaken on the Orlando I-Ride trolley and was certainly driven by the build up to the Manchester United-Liverpool game that was taking place later on in the day. Following on from the shopping the group headed West for the second set of fixtures. Unfortunately, due a little mix up and some awful Orlando traffic it was not possible for the U15s to get their game organised; instead they had a very enjoyable training session under humid floodlights. The U15s game did go ahead, and it turned out to be an excellent game of football, and literally, rather than just metaphorically, a game of two halves.
A rather disjointed first half saw the boys play a little bit as a individuals rather than a cohesive team, and as a result let the opposition into the game when really there should only have be one winner. Going into half time there was a rather frank team talk from the coaching staff, but this was seemingly to no avail as the opposition scored just after the break, leaving the Kirkham boys 3-4 down. However, the boys then seemed to heed the advice of Mr Berry and started to play football through the opposition in a calm and technical way, rather than trying to rush things pressing forward. Once the Kirkham boys began playing football with structure and genuinely thoughtful approach work they were so much more effective. This soon reaped its rewards as the boys started to dominate the opposition and eventually ran out 7-4 winners. Alex Greenhalf scored a well-deserved hat-trick, Harry Tomlinson an absolute screamer from long range, Xander Kane, Wills Gut and Sam Gornall were also on the score-sheet, all ably backed up by Jack Gorton and Finn Chaya who held things together at the back.
Monday saw the group return to a Universal Studios Theme Park, this time ‘Volcano Bay’, the waterpark located just twenty minutes away from the hotel. The wait to get into to the theme park allowed some of the boys to have a good chat to a local police officer and get their bearings on the park map; with a such a huge array of slides and rides it was clearly important to have a plan for the day! Having established a base camp on the beach at the foot of the Krakatau volcano the boys set off in search of adventure. Not so lazy rivers, slides, tubes, rides.... a very full day of aquatic fun ensued and everyone agreed that there was something for everyone.
The group then left Volcano Bay and returned to the hotel for a quick change before the final set of fixtures. On a ridiculously hot and humid evening all the Kirkham players were sweating before kick-off, but the atmosphere under the floodlights at the Falcons’ 4G pitches was superb with a very healthy showing from the home supporters. With both teams playing against more experienced opposition, everyone knew that the games would be extremely difficult.
The U14s under Coach Gardner played their socks off with a superb, never-say-die performance, but unfortunately the opposition were too strong. Sam Gornall once again got on the scoresheet, and everyone in the team gave everything they had, with Sam Medhurst, Oli Greenwood, Sam Dunnington and Oscar Harkins particularly busy in the first half. However, despite the Kirkham industry and attitude, they could not prevent a 1-3 defeat, with Luca Mihell and Jack Gorton sharing the man of the match award.
The U15’s game was a tight affair to begin with, with an early Charlie Read header following a great assist from Ben Wiggins being the only thing separating the teams for a quite a while. However, the physicality and fitness of the U15s soon started to come into play and the more the match went on the more it was clear that only one team was going to win. The opposition did score a goal, following a mistake, losing possession on the half-way line. But a hat-trick from man of the match Tom Shuttleworth, including an absolute screamer, ensured a 4-1 victory. Clearly the most improved player was Jorge Zacharias who was dominant in the centre of the defence along with Noah McKnight, Will Mathison and Josh Langley. A genuine strength of this team throughout the tour was the midfield, with Saul Penn and Ethan Woodcock always looking for work and strong in the challenge. To their great credit Jonny Goodacre, Charlie Cope and Fintann Doyle always looked to get their foot on the ball and look for a pass, and Ioan Condon developed significantly as the team’s goalkeeper. Harry Jones also deserves a special mention; unable to play due a pre-tour injury, his positive attitude throughout the tour set the tone for the rest of the team.
Tuesday was the final day and it was off West to Tampa and Busch Gardens. Whilst Mr Whittle picked and choosed his rides it would be fair to say that the boys made the most of their final theme park day. The mix of rides and wildlife was a great way to pass the final day, and there was something for everyone, including alligators and a very impressive Nile Crocodile! The evening then saw the group visit Disney Springs for a fabulous final outing. Dinner at Planet Hollywood was followed by a bit of souvenir shopping, and everyone was happy to wander around the streets listening to the various singers and musicians; a truly magical and fitting end to what had been a wonderful trip.
Day 7 saw a quiet morning as everyone packed and chilled out by the pool. We then transferred to Orlando Airport for a quick rendezvous with Tyson Fury and then we boarded our flight to take us home. Various amounts of sleep were had on the way back, before we reached school tired, jet-lagged but very happy and reflecting on what had been a memorable trip: Orlando ‘Soccer’ Tour 2019.