Over the Bank Holiday weekend, The New Saints FC Academy travelled to Northern France to compete in the Bourbourg U13 Tournoi, writes Jason Brindley.
It’s the third consecutive year that our football club have been invited to compete in this prestigious International Tournament, due to how well we have competed in the past. Joining us in the tournament were West Ham and Kent Schools from England, as well as teams from Russia, Morocco and Belgium. Lots of top teams from the French first division make up the tournament also.
The tournament is split in to a group stage initially, before going into knock-outs, where you compete for a final placement between 1st and 40th.
The draw was made the week prior with a very difficult group for our travelling Saints. We faced two of the top French division sides, Stade De Reims and Dijon, as well as Marck and Calais, who were all good opposition. Needless to say the boys were excited for the challenge ahead.
We departed from The Venue early on Friday morning to catch our Ferry in Dover. Our U13s squad consisted of Henry, Seb, Ollie, Charlie, Ethan, James, Oliwier, Alfie, Jake, James.Li, Ollie.S and Louis. The coaching team were myself, Kieran and Danny. We were all extremely excited to face off against top European opposition in an International setting.
The boys were in great spirit and I don’t think they stopped chatting all the way to Dover. With a few new boys in the group, I was delighted to hear them socialising together so well.
We soon arrived in Dover and made our way to Calais, before being collected and taken to our accommodation. After dinner we returned to our accommodation and had an early night, with a long day of travelling behind us and a day of football to look forward to.
Soon Saturday arrived and the day we all had been looking forward too. With our first game not beginning until 3pm, we had a relaxed breakfast before a team meeting with the players. We discussed our formation, playing 8 a side format, and roles and responsibilities in and out of possession for each position.
We challenged the players to set their non-negotiables – the standards that they set themselves and must all aim to keep too. This was both on the pitch and off it. Some of the answers were fantastic.
Not just looking to remain true to our football philosophy but we had answers like, always remain positive, outwork the opposition and encourage each other. We got the players in groups and then they had to present their answers back to the room, with the audience asking questions to create a mini debate. I was delighted at the way the group took to the challenge and the answers given.
We made our way to the sports ground, which was very impressive, consisting of three grass pitches and one 3G. We had a few games of header tennis before lunch and then our attention turned to our first game against Stade De Reims.
Day 1 consisted of all the group games, with day 2 deciding the final placements. The top two from the group go into the final 16, with the bottom three going into 17-40.
We spoke to the boys about starting brightly and couldn’t have hoped for a better start. Louis Croft picked the ball up straight from kick-off, danced past three defenders, before finishing to put us in the lead within 8 seconds. Louis doubled his tally shortly after, when James Rainbird played an excellent weighted through ball for Louis to finish with confidence.
We couldn’t have asked for a better start from our young Saints. Game two soon came around against As Marck. We made friends with an elderly French Gentleman at the Loon-Plage tournament back in Easter, and were delighted to see him again.
He followed us last time and supported every game. He also gave us information about the opposition which was very handy. He told us that Marck were a very strong team who played excellent passing football. We wanted to build on the previous game and did so with another superb performance, Louis again getting the vital goal.
We were in a superb position going into game three against Calais. Calais were completely different opposition and very direct. Despite flowing football from TNS, it was Calais who opened the scoring, converting an overhead kick after we failed to clear a corner.
It looked like the Saints were going to suffer their first defeat, until James took matters into his own hands, pulling off a surging run before putting the ball in the bottom corner in the dying moments.
It was a vital point with teams taking points off each other and the group in the balance, meaning that we had qualified with a game to spare. However, we wanted to make sure we topped the group.
In the final game we faced off against Dijon FCO, another team competing currently at the top end of the League 1 in France. It was a thrilling game with Dijon taking the lead, again from a second ball not being cleared and them finding the net.
It was a very entertaining game and both teams created chances. Henry in goal pulled off a couple of fine saves and Alfie and Jake came close to scoring. It looked like this would be our first defeat of the tournament, as we spurred chances. However, the never say die attitude of this group shone through and Louis scored an equalising goal, again in the final moments, to the celebration of the full team.
That concluded the first day of football. We eagerly awaited the draw for the final 16, finding out that the opposition was RC Lens, another top team from France.
It was an early start with a 7:30am breakfast before being collected at 8:30am. A very early start but the boys still had so much energy.
Soon our game arrived, on the main pitch at the Tournament. The boys were prepped well and warmed up well by the coaching team ahead of the game.
We told the players to play without fear, play our way, get at them early and start with a tempo that they won’t be able to handle. We couldn’t have asked for a better start, with Louis again on fire, scoring an excellent goal.
It was a superb team goal too, Henry into Ollie at centre-back, Ollie into Ethan, Ethan out wide, a switch of play into Louis who scored an excellent team goal. Playing out from the back, through the thirds, true to our DNA, against top European opposition was great to see and it’s brave football that we teach the players to play.
Lens soon got a hold of the game and scored two well worked goals. They were technically very good and they showed their qualities – the reasoning behind their youth system developing players and their qualification from their group.
Our young Saints continued to play and created some excellent chances, with Louis questionably being called offside despite starting in his own half when through on goal. We struggled to get the rub of the green from the officials at times, as often they gave fouls with very minimal contact. It was another challenge for our players to adapt to though, which I like.
The game soon came to a halt when influential midfielder and team captain James suffered a nasty knee injury. James is a strong player and was in agony and it was a real worry. Kieran took James to Hospital to get an x-ray and get checked over. The hosts of the tournament were excellent and we thank them for helping James.
The game resumed but our Saints seemed deflated and despite creating a couple of late chances were unable to score and lost an exciting game 1-2.
It was important that the boys picked themselves back up, as they had been great all weekend thus far. We were eliminated from 1-8 so now competed in 9-16, for final placement.
We were drawn against Le Cannet, who had been eliminated themselves losing on penalties to West Ham United. Cannet were another direct side and they had a player taller than me who took everything, from goal-kicks to free kicks. This was another challenge for our players, but one we stood up to well.
Oliwier was superb in central midfield and battled really well, despite struggling with a foot injury. Ollie Sumer scored what can only be described as goal of the tournament. He picked up the ball on the half way line on the left wing, cut inside and unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot, cannoning in off the cross bar. At the other end, we defended really well, with Charlie being solid and playing out well under pressure.
Our next game was drawn and we faced Lille, another top team from France. We certainly hadn’t had much luck with the draws, but it’s good for our players to face off against top teams.
Lille were very, very good. Whether we started to become leggy or tired, as the players had been through a lot already, we struggled to match Lille’s energy. They were emphatic, didn’t give us any time on the ball and they were very good with it. They ran out comfortable winners at 4-0.
It was disappointing and we spoke with the players afterwards that in that game they failed to match their standards that they set themselves. I know it’s difficult but we always seek more from our players, as that’s the only way they will develop and reach their potential.
Soon it was time for our final game, playing for placement 11-12th. We were up against Stade Lavallois, another team who had played well over the weekend.
We asked for a reaction from the last game and we definitely got that. James Li was causing problems down their right on the counter attack. We scored an excellent team goal, which was the decisive one in the game.
With our centre-backs being marked from Henry’s goal kick, Ethan dropped in to receive on then half turn. He played the ball out wide for Alfie, who slipped in Louis first time. Louis made an excellent run and his shot across the goal was saved well, only to find the advancing Seb taylor who scored an excellent team goal.
We held on late to win the game and finish our tournament in 11th place. As the final whistle blew, James and Kieran returned from hospital, with James having thankfully only suffered bruising to the knee and not as bad as we first feared.
The final was contested by RC Lens, who had knocked both us (2-1) and West Ham (2-0) out of the tournament. They lost an entertaining final 3-2 to SM Caen.
We made our way to the closing ceremony and were surprised and delighted to have been awarded the fair play trophy. When I asked why, they stated it was due to the work ethics and passing football of our team. I was so proud to hear that.
We travelled back on the Ferry with West Ham and also Kent Schools. Our boys made friends with the Kent Schools. It was brilliant to see, and they had some wicked little characters in their group, they bounced off ours.
As we conclude and reflect on the weekend, I can see nothing but positives.
To see the players develop socially, with themselves and others, was one of my main objectives prior to the tournament. Football is a universal language; it unites and brings people from all backgrounds and cultures together. Wherever Jake Duppa goes he makes friends, even with boys who don’t speak a word of English. Just like in Spain the other year, he’s a great kid.
We challenged the boys in different ways over the weekend and they all responded brilliantly. This was some of the boys’ first time away without their parents but you wouldn’t have been able to notice. We asked the players to fight for each other and to drive each other. They certainly did that.
I think this group are in an excellent position going into the new season.
Thanks to all the travelling parents and families for supporting the boys and also Kieran and Danny for their excellent support and mentoring of the players over the weekend.
Thanks finally to the hosts of an excellently ran tournament and we look forward to returning next year.