On Friday the 7th of June, the TNS FC Academy took an U15/16s (2018/19 age groups) mixed squad to France, to compete in the ASCQ International U16’s tournament, writes Kieran Lee-Birch. Accompanying the team was myself and Ash Russell.
Friday mainly consisted of traveling. We left The Venue in the early hours and travelled down to Dover on the team bus, before getting the ferry from Dover to Calais. When we arrived in Calais, we then had a one and a half hour journey into Lille. Friday evening was mainly spent chilling at our hotel.
Personally I don’t mind the travelling, I believe the best time to get to know your players is away from the pitch. The long bus journeys are a great opportunity to chat with your players and see what makes them tick. The more we understand each individual, the more we can assist them with their development.
On Saturday, we played in an initial group which consisted of four teams. How we got on in this group would then determine our seeding for the actual tournament on Sunday. The group consisted of ourselves, the tournament hosts U.S. ASCQ, FC Wiehl from Germany and English National League side, Bromley.
Before the fixtures commenced, myself and Ash went through our expectations for the tournament with the group. We did not mention results once, instead we set individual and collective challenges. That way we could monitor our success as sometimes results can be misleading.
Our first game was US ASCQ which we won 1-0 thanks to a great solo effort from Reece. Our second game was vs FC Wiehl which we won 4-1 thanks to a Reece double, Nick header and Webbo finish. Our last group game was vs Bromley which finished 1-0 after a wonder strike from Reece. Three wins from three secured top place therefore we would be a top seed going into the full tournament on Sunday.
The lads were in very high spirits on Saturday evening. We went out for a meal together and then went back to the hotel to watch the Women’s World Cup. A strong team culture is vital in my opinion; the closer we are off the pitch the stronger we will be on the pitch.
On Sunday, we began the group for qualification into the finals. Our group consisted of US Lesquin, AS Mark and Wasuehal. We began the group with a 0-0 draw vs Lesquin. The second game was against AS Mark which finished 2-0 thanks to goals from Ash and Reece. We finished the group fixtures with another 0-0 draw vs Wasquehal, meaning we topped the group once more.
On Sunday evening, we enjoyed a walk into the city centre for a meal. We then went back to the hotel to watch the Nations League Final. Our time away from the pitch was such a laugh. We have some great characters in the group who made the trip such an enjoyable and memorable experience.
Monday was finals day. In the quarters we met Tatabanya from Hungary. The lads put in one of their best performances of the tournament and booked their place in the semis thanks to two goals from Reece. In the semis we met Bromley, a solo goal from Nick and another very solid defensive performance was enough to book our place in the finals.
Due to the tournament running behind, and the final being delayed, four of our players unfortunately missed the final as they had to catch their flights. This left us with a bare eleven for the final so we knew it was going to be a difficult match. We played AS Mark in the final who we had previously beaten 2-0 in the group.
This game was a completely different affair; we had to play without the ball for large parts. Several last-ditch tackles and match defining saves from Jack got us to a penalty shootout. Three out of three successful penalties and two top spot kick saves from Jack meant if Tom scored his penalty we would be champions. Tom buried his spot kick and was instantly mobbed by his teammates and Coaches. The celebrations continued throughout the trophy presentation, on the ferry and during the bus journey home.
To conclude the trip; it was another great experience and opportunity for our players. Obviously it was great to win the trophy, but ultimately for me it was in the manner we went about everything. On the pitch we played attractive possession based football, we remained true to our playing principles for the entirety of the tournament and out of possession there was a real collectiveness about us. Off the pitch we had a real laugh and further strengthened our relationships with each other.
I would like to thank our travelling ultras (parents) for their superb support throughout the tournament, it was greatly appreciated. I would also like to thank Ash whose knowledge, support and energy all weekend was vital to our success. Finally, I would like to thank the lads for such a great trip both on and off the pitch, they made it a very enjoyable experience and I hope they have created many happy memories that they will be able to look back on in the future, Up The Tins!!!