17 November 2022
The 2022 Soccer Tour to California saw thirty nine pupils and six members of staff spend nine days in the Los Angeles area. With the accommodation based in Santa Monica, the trip comprised a training session at LA Galaxy and four 'soccer' fixtures against local opposition, as well as full day trips to Disneyland and Universal Studios. In addition to this, the group had the chance to immerse themselves in Californian culture and experiences, with time spent in and around Santa Monica Pier, a visit to UCLA, a full NFL game at the SoFi stadium, a NBA game at the Crypto Arena, and excursions to Hollywood Boulevard and downtown LA.
Early starts are to be expected when taking part in any major sports tour, and so it was that the students, staff, and parents(!) all managed to gather at school for the 2am meet on the 'morning' of Tuesday 18th October. All rather bleary-eyed we made the coach trip down to Manchester airport for a the short flight to Heathrow, before embarking on what would turn out to be a long, yet relatively enjoyable 11 hour flight across the Atlantic and mainland USA to Los Angeles. After such a long day it did feel rather surreal to be arriving in LAX airport at what turned out to be 2pm on the afternoon of the same day. Thankfully, we had been briefed with advice on how to manage the jet leg, and we were soon arriving at our accommodation in Santa Monica, ready to get settled in and go for a stroll down to the famous Santa Monica pier, and the end of Route 66. Following what was, in very literal terms, a long day, we rather swiftly fell asleep after having eaten an evening meal.
There was no time to spare on the morning of day 2 as we set out for Disneyland. An action-packed day ensued with a huge choice of rides and adventures to be had. Some of the group had the Star Wars area as their favourite part, whilst the ability to choose between so many rides meant that the day went by in a flash. As darkness fell, the group were able to watch the evening light show, with the Disney Castle as well as a giant orange Halloween pumpkin providing the ideal backdrop to the experience.
Day 3 saw us remaining local and the itinerary for the day was the Santa Monica Pier and surrounding area. This turned out to be a favourite day for many, as the mixture of rides, beach, surf, food and games provided a real Los Angeles feel. With the pier and the famous 'Baywatch' lifeguard stations in view, many an hour was spent either lazing on the beach, splashing in the surf, or playing what turned out the to the first set of many competitive beach American Football games. A highlight of the day was being able to speak with one of the lifeguards, a veteran of many experiences, films and television series', and he was genuinely impressed with all the students' football skills and manners.
The evening was then a trip to the UCLA campus and a game of college soccer. The UCLA campus itself was very impressive and we were treated to an excellent game, first class entertainment from the resident brass 'band', and a good chat with local supporters. By this stage we were starting to feel very much at ease with the local customs, and some members of the group started to realise how interested people were in their British accents!
Friday was then 'soccer' day, and we have evening fixtures planned against one of the local Los Angeles District clubs. First of all though, it was off to the LA Galaxy stadium, where we had the chance to train with their coaches. A very professional session was put on for us on their training ground, before a full stadium tour – a treat we were not expecting. The night before, LA Galaxy has lost in a play-off game, so the site was rather calm and low key, but we had a chance to tour the inside of the stadium, as well as getting a look behind the scenes. It was a fascinating insight into the workings of the club, and MLS in general.
Following lunch, and some very competitive bowling competitions, we then set off for our first set of fixtures, against the Region 7 club. One of the highlights of the games was the fact that the pitches were located right next to LAX, and as we were playing, a constant stream of aircraft flew in over the pitches. A very fresh breeze reminded us our location next to the ocean, but that didn't stop some commanding performances, and both the U15 and U16 teams won their games. A big thank you must go to our hosts, who asked some of students if they wanted some baseball coaching, and then very kindly invited us all to join them for post-match tacos and burritos!
The next day started with a pre match walk along the Pacific coast from Santa Monica to Venice Beach, and a chance for everyone to stretch their legs and explore the local area. The walk was a fascinating insight into some of the cultural and social differences to be found in this part of the world. A very good reminder of the opportunities that travel can bring you in learning about the world.
After that it was on to our afternoon fixtures against Region 57 down in the Huntington Beach area of Los Angeles. A very good-natured set of games saw some excellent performances and seemed to really bring all the teams together. The games saw some superb football and 2 convincing victories, although one of the games did see our first ever yellow card!
The evening meal was booked in at The Hard Rock Cafe. What we hadn't quite realised was its proximity to Hollywood Boulevard and its stars on 'The Walk of Fame'. A very glamorous and exciting walk along the boulevard star spotting was a perfect way to end the day.
The Sunday was then a day that many in the group had been looking forward to since the start of the tour and it didn't disappoint: 'American Sports' fixtures. Starting off with an American Football fixture at the genuinely amazing SoFi stadium. The game was the LA Chargers against the Seattle Seahawks. But what was most impressive was the idea of sport as entertainment, and the whole way in which the stadium and event were organised gave the spectator a spectacular experience. We then moved onto the Crypto Arena where the NBA game that night was the LA Clippers hosting the Phoenix Suns. Again, the game itself was good, but it was the music, the lights, the fireworks and the overall entertainment that left the biggest impression. Maybe that was why Snoop Dogg and Rihanna were also ... apparently.... in attendance.
The final full day was to be spent in Universal Studios, and there was so much to do. The behind the scenes tour was particularly special, giving a glimpse into many famous films, sets and scenes from many years ago, including the Back to the Future Town Hall, and the famous Jaws shark. The rides and attractions themselves were superb, and an action packed day was had by all. By this stage we were all very accustomed to California life, and were not looking forward to having to leave!
The final day was a travel day. Checking out of your accommodation and leaving Santa Monica seemed rather sad. We had one last look at the famous beaches, and then headed off to the local outlet mall for some much needed souvenir shopping. Then it was to LAX and the flight home, reflecting on the trip, and some pleasing soccer statistics: played 4, won 4, goals scored 'many', goals conceded 'zero'. The 2022 California Soccer Tour certainly lived up to expectations. A great chance to play competitive 'soccer' fixtures abroad was a wonderful experience, but the chance to explore new and very different parts of the world was probably more powerful.
A selection of photographs can be viewed on our Flickr page at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kgsphotos/albums/72177720303763012