The West Coast Wire
The passion ‘can’t compare’
Corner Brook United Soccer given English soccer tour
It was an experience they won’t soon forget. From Aug. 18 to 28, 13 players, along with parents and staff, from Corner Brook United Soccer’s U15 program toured England, experiencing the passion and richness of English soccer culture firsthand.
From playing soccer to taking soccer lessons to touring stadiums to seeing three professional games, it was a busy 10 days for the club.
According to club president Deidre MacDonnell, there is no parallel in North American sports to the passion they saw from English soccer fans.
“It almost took your breath away to see it — it’s really a sight to behold,” she told The West Coast Wire. “Just so many fans, so engaged, it’s unlike any other sporting event I’ve ever been to. I’ve been to Major League Baseball games, I’ve been to NHL games, but they just can’t compare.”
The club saw two English Football League Championship games, the second highest division of English soccer.
In the first game, they saw Leicester City host Cardiff City on Aug. 19. The home side won 2-1.
The second game at West Bromwich saw West Bromwich Albion defeat Middlesbrough 4-2.
For that game, MacDonnell said they were given the corporate hospitality experience, which included a three-course meal prior to the game in a fine dining environment.
They also had directors box seating during the game.
The last game they saw was in the top division, an English Premier League game in which Sheffield United hosted defending league champions Manchester City.
MacDonnell explained that they were seated behind the away section, designated for Manchester City fans.
Throughout the match, Sheffield fans directed their ire towards the City fans, frequently shouting at them.
“It was a wild feeling,” she recalled.
The home side was a big underdog, but MacDonnell said they held their own, almost hanging on for a draw but ultimately falling 2-1.
She noted the game included a goal from the EPL’s top goal scorer, Erling Haaland.
There was nothing quite like seeing live professional soccer.
But there were lots of other highlights to the trip.
Corner Brook United participated in two training sessions at Leicester City training grounds as well as a training session at Quorn.
On Aug. 21, Premier League referee John Brooks gave them a talk at Leicester City.
He provided insight on refereeing matches with the pressure 40,000 fans ready to voice their displeasure at a call they disagree with.
He also shared details on how video review works.
“He was just very funny and very sweet,” recalled MacDonnell.
They were then given a tour of Leicester City stadium King Power Stadium by former team captain Matt Elliott, who led the club to a League Cup title in 2000. According to MacDonnell, that was a highlight.
“It was really neat to have this man giving us a tour whose picture was plastered all over the walls in this stadium,” she said. “It was a very personal touch to it and he was a fantastic tour guide.”
Later in the trip, on Aug.
27, they toured one of soccer’s most famous stadiums, Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United.
Corner Brook United also had the chance to play games of their own, squaring off against fellow youth teams from Barrow, Loughborough and Quorn.
The trip also included a day touring London, a visit to Alton Towers theme park, playing fun activities like football-golf (a hybrid of the two sports) and even watching the Women’s World Cup final with Leicester fans.
“So many moments during that trip that were indescribable, it was special for them I think to have that shared experience,” commented MacDonnell. “They’ve shared something now that other people can’t understand until they experience it themselves.”
MacDonnell says the executive saw the trip as an opportunity for the club to embrace soccer culture and experience a higher level of training.
Corner Brook United has had a longstanding partnership with Leicester City F.C.
Chris Hodges, who is part of Leicester’s coaching department, has held camps in Corner Brook for several years.
The executive started meeting with Hodges back in February to discuss the upcoming summer camp.
He informed them about a soccer tour and training camp that he also offers.
MacDonnell thought it would be a perfect experience for the club.
“We’re doing a lot of work on really building a strong identity,” she explained. “We want to be really deeply rooted in our soccer history here in Corner Brook and when you’re talking about wanting to embrace soccer history, a trip to England just seemed like a perfect fit, because of course soccer is like religion over there.”
MacDonnell hopes to make the UK tour a biannual experience for the U15s.
She expects more will want to go next time around now that their peers have returned and are sharing stories with them of their thrilling experience.
“It’s all a part of the direction our club is headed and hoping to continue to move forward,” said MacDonnell. “We’re really trying to build that Corner Brook United pride, for sure.”