The sun beat down on 71 cheering Kings’ School pupils and staff as Raul Garcia celebrated his winning goal for Atletico Madrid against Villareal, deafened in turn by the roar from the packed stadium.
The group had been in Spain scarcely 24 hours and they had already been introduced to the impressive national heritage site at El Escorial where they were staying, trained at San Lorenzo’s stadium, watched the U14 academy teams of Real Madrid and Atletico battle it out and now were surrounded by 65,000 Atletico fans celebrating their team’s return to the top of the league.
Could it get any better? Yes!
Over the course of the next 4 days, they packed in three training sessions, a pre breakfast training run, twelve games against local opposition, trips to Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), Franco’s controversial war memorial to his soldiers of the Spanish Civil War, Madrid zoo, a local shopping mall for the inevitable replica football shirts, Real Madrid’s Bernabeu stadium (with heating!) and a meandering walk up to the spot from where Phillip II of Spain, in the 16th century, surveyed the 21 year long building of the palace where the group were staying. A highlight for many of the boys was front row seats at a flamenco show in the heart of Old Madrid. Maybe less so for the girls!
What about the football?
The first games were against local opposition, with Kings’ having to come to terms with a local advantage – the dirt pitch. Having practised on the surface the previous evening the teams were ready for that but maybe not the heavier ball that is necessary on this kind of pitch. The U13s got the tour off to a fantastic start against local team, CD El Escorial, showing the Spanish how to play with a flowing move out of defence, finishing with Alfie Trodd smashing the ball into the top right hand corner. They eventually won 4-3 (Alfie Trodd 2, Luke Hide & Marcos Latcham). Next up were the U14 girls. Unbeaten in Hampshire, they came up against the national futsal champions, AD Escurialense and went ahead early on with a Stella Gandee-Morgan effort from outside the box. As the game went on, Kings’ started to defend very deep giving the Spanish girls lots of space to attack. Showing excellent ball control and pace on the wings, the local team eventually triumphed 3-1.
Next up were the U14B, a mixture of Year 8 and 9 players who had come together under the watchful eye of Head of PE, Ally Birch, a few weeks before the tour. A little disorganised at first, they worked hard for each other and secured a 2-2 draw against AMD San Lorenzowith goals from Loughlan Stephenson and Sam Nelson. Coach Mr Birch stated “Kings’ school enjoyed a real footballing lesson from a country where controlled passing and movement are rightly considered the pinnacle of the game. Although the U14 B team struggled with the intensity and quality of the opposition they learnt to play to their strengths and remained resilient to the end in each game and training session. Hopefully all the players will use their experience to work on their fitness and technique so that they can play in such a cultured and attractive way in years to come. The backdrop of the granite El Escorial Monastery for the training and first matches was one that any player will struggle to surpass and none of the pupils could fail to also being inspired by the additional aspects of the trip.”
Last up were the U14A team, with a guest appearance from Alejandro Arguelles, a former pupil at Kings’ and current captain of the Atletico Madrid U14 academy side. Facing a strong local team, ADC Castilla, the boys started with some uncharacteristic nerves, gifting their talented opponents two own goals but soon took charge of the game with goals from Jack Down, Mark McAuley, a delightful header from Oli Hall and a final, thumping drive from Jack Down to secure another 4-3 Kings’ victory.
Next up was a short training session and four games at the impressive home of FC Pozuelo de Alarcon. The President of the club, Isaac Cardoso, was a constant presence throughout the two day visit to the club he has developed over the past 20 years. He was clearly proud of the work they do at this local academy with 33 teams, involving six hundred boys and girls from the surrounding area. The facilities were incredible; with 3 full size astro pitches, a grandstand and full changing rooms and a caf, all paid for by the local council. Take note, Winchester.
The President afforded Kings’ the utmost respect by fielding four very strong teams. After a day at the zoo and shopping, all four teams were slow to start and found themselves on the wrong end of some hefty scores. The U13s went down 4-0 to a very a strong academy team followed by the U14 girls, who got the shock of their lives when the Pozuelo ‘sub 16′ team turned up to play. Tall, strong, skilful and not one of them looked a day under 16. Coach Richard Nichols, picks up the story: “I was a little in shock myself. I asked their coach how old the girls were and he said mostly 14 and 15 with a few 16 and 17. We went down 2-0 very quickly but, with a huge amount of loud encouragement from us, we steadied the ship and eventually kept the score to a creditable 5-0. I was incredibly proud of our pressing and desire to pass when we got hold of the ball against a vastly superior side. We learnt a lot about or defending, not so much about our attack! We found out subsequently that their team were the best in Madrid with four players in the regional team and one about to play for Spain U17. A good experience all round”.
Both the U14A and B teams played against U15 opposition. Overwhelmed by the technical superiority and pace of their opponents, the U14B side succumbed 9-0, a highlight in a tough match being Oli Rowden double save from a penalty. The U14As, playing on the main pitch, battled hard with Alfie Glover inspired in goal and some real defensive discipline thwarting the Spanish attack. With a diminutive midfield and attack, Kings’ had very little joy against a very poised defence. It was fitting that Kings’ sole goal of the entire evening was an absolute peach of a goal by Mark McAulay in that game, a consolation in a 4-1 defeat.
As the team caught the coach back to El Escorial, pride had been dented by a 23-1 overall score line but spirits soon picked up with some signing and as one comedian put it “at least we got the away goal and just need to beat them 22-0 when they come to our place”.
The following evening, Kings’ returned to FC Pozuelo for their third and final game against supposedly weaker opposition. This turned out far from the case, unsurprising given the set up and reputation of the club. That coupled with a little fatigue at the end of a demanding schedule meant that Kings’ struggled to match the tempo and focus of the previous day. The U13 boys did very well in their game against the Pozuelo U13B side, showing a flair for attacking at pace and scoring spectacular goals. Kings’ triumphed 6-0 with goals from Luke Hide, Alfie Trodd (2), Freddie Taylor, Matty Malam and Marcos Latcham. Reflecting on the result, coach Martin Manning said “The boys went into this game full of confidence. Although they had previously lost to a strong Pozuelo XI, the performance had been very tenacious and they were determined to start the day’s proceedings with a win – and a good performance. From the start, and playing with both flair and confidence, the lads were on top and raced into a 3-0 half-time lead. Although the locals missed a penalty before pulling one back, the benefit of all the pre-tour fitness work undertaken back in England paid off as we finished strongly with 3 late second-half goals. The boys grew up on this tour and it will be exciting to see if they can take their fitness, work ethic and new-found skills into next season.”
This proved to be the highlight of the evening with the girls stuttering to a 1-1 draw against a ‘sub 13’ team in a shortened match they should have won comfortably, despite falling behind in under 60 seconds. After their heroic efforts of the day before, the performance and result was a real disappointment. The U14B team, playing for pride, put in a much-improved performance, with the emphasis on organisation and tireless effort to close down the opposition and play on the break. They were well beaten but held their heads up high with a 4-0 scoreline. And so to the final game, the U14As against another strong and technically gifted U15 team. Expecting a more equal match on paper, the boys felt somewhat aggrieved to begin with, especially when their number 10 scored a couple of breath-taking goals from distance. However, they continued to try and play good football while defending resolutely, ultimately rewarded with a late penalty that Jack Down converted with aplomb.
Reflecting on the tour, Head Coach Chris Marwood said, “We came over to Spain to learn from the best footballing nation in the world. We have certainly done that, with visits to the top two La Liga teams in Spain right now, watching the best U14 academy boys play and our school teams standing up to some very talented club opposition. The Pozuelo teams showed a higher level of team understanding which made all the difference in the end. You could certainly tell that these boys have grown up playing together and spent many hours on the training pitch. Their movement off the ball and understanding of each other’s game was superb, something that as a school team you are going to struggle to match. But our boys never gave up and will have learned a lot from this experience, which is what touring is all about!”
The Kings’ team played a 7-a-side tournament on the morning of their departure, won by Martin Manning’s team, followed by tour awards for each team.
U13 Player of the Tour: Bruno Delvaux; Most Improved: Luke Hide
U14B Player of the Tour: Charlie Vallis; Most Improved: Oli Rowden
U14 Girls Player of the Tour: Livvy Mattinson; Most Improved: Molly Golding
U14A Player of the Tour: Charlie Wallbridge; Most Improved: Dan Holt
The local organiser, Pablo Arguelles, General Manager of British International Schools and former striker at FC Pozuelo, added: “I think that we had a fantastic trip, not only because of El Escorial but also because of the very well mannered group of students.and teachers. I also enjoyed the trip and organising all the activities was a real pleasure. I also loved watching the games and playing a bit of football with the kids. I didnt run as much as Gareth Bale but I did my best to try not to let my son down in front of his pals.”