Over the bank holiday weekend, The New Saints FC Academy travelled across to France to compete in the Bourbourg International Football Tournament, writes Jason Brindley.
It is the fourth consecutive season that we have competed in this fantastic tournament. The standard and calibre of teams is extremely high and the tournament itself is really well run.
We travelled down to Dover early on Friday morning with our under 13 age group. Despite the early start, the players were full of energy and enthusiasm. We had a bit of a sing song down on the bus, which made the long journey more fun.
They are a very fun, social group our under 13s. The journey from start to finish was a good laugh.
We crossed the English Channel, complete with the normal Dover shot team photo, full of optimism for the weekend ahead.
When we arrived in blazing hot Calais, we had to wait in the car park away from the terminal as there was a bomb scare. Despite this, you couldn’t tell, as players were still laughing and having a good time, playing card games with the coaches.
The scare was soon over and we met the tournament organisers before heading to our accommodation. After quickly unpacking, it was time to head across to the town hall for our evening team meal.
We were eating alongside other international teams that had travelled over in advance of the tournament beginning, including teams like Dynamo Moscow and Dubai Academy.
This season’s tournament is the biggest they have ever organised. We are honoured to be continually invited to participate.
We soon made our way back to our accommodation, the impressive Sportica complex, for an early evening, ready for the beginning of the tournament the following day.
We woke up early on Saturday morning and had breakfast, before having our team meeting. We discussed our game plan for the tournament and discussed roles and responsibilities within a couple of different formations. Despite the variation of potential formations, our principles of play would always be the same. They never change. We want to play our way, and be brave in play.
We discussed the standards that we set, on and off the field. We split the boys into three groups of four and they were tasked with setting their own non-negotiables. They had 45 minutes to discuss in their groups what they felt was important, before presenting back to the other groups and coaches. They were then questioned or challenged on what they presented.
It’s good that while the staff oversee, if the players set their own standards, it’s empowerment and they hold themselves responsible. It’s good to create player ownership and to challenge them.
It’s easy to say ‘be professional’ but what does that mean to a 12 year old? What does that look like? How do we achieve it?
Sometimes players can spill out words but without meaning and context, so it’s good to challenge them and see them thinking and working things out.
It’s also good to teach the players presentation skills, giving them the confidence to explain and back up their thoughts to a group of players and peers.
It was a very worthwhile task and one we will definitely be revisiting over the season to build on.
The players enjoyed a bit of downtime with a game of basketball. It was fun to see the boys enjoying themselves and showing off different types of skills.
It was soon time for lunch before we headed to the ground for the beginning of the tournament. The sun was blazing hot, so we assembled the team shelter. I would like to say it only took a couple of minutes but it was a bit of ‘to you, to me’ between myself and Ash, while trying to watch a YouTube video explaining how to set it up.
We soon had it up and after a bit of head tennis, it was time for the opening ceremony. The Ceremony was extremely impressive, with all 40 teams being called up one at a time to the applause of a full stand of cheering parents and families.
Soon it was time to get to business and what we had travelled for – the football. Our group contained Troyes Estac, Le Havre, Croix and Bourbourg. The quality of all the teams was very high. Troyes in particular caused us problems in our opening fixture but despite that, the match was very close with both teams creating good opportunities.
We played against Le Havre, a French second division team, in a very good game. It was a bit of a battle, but the boys responded really well, showing another side of their game. Le Havre contained a big lad up top who was taller than me, and was very physical, borderline at times.
Usually foreign refs are very whistle happy, not allowing much in terms of shoulder to shoulder etc. However, I think this ref must have forgotten his whistle, as he let a lot go. It was a really good game though and I was delighted with the character the boys showed.
We played some good football throughout the group stage, which put us in a good position going into day two.
The boys got to make new friends and catch up with existing ones. Over the past few years we have been at the same tournaments as Kent Schoolboys. Kent have a really good team, with some cracking little personalities. It’s good to see their staff as well and also to catch up. Both sets of groups always buzz off each other. Our lads made a point of supporting our friends from Kent throughout.
As day two approached, we had some excellent standard of games against top French opposition. We started off the knockout stage against our friends from Boulogne. We entered a tournament they hosted earlier this season with the same age group. It was great to see them again.
We were delighted to face Stade de Reims, one of France’s top clubs, in what was a very good game. The game was decided by penalties. It’s a good job that we end a lot of sessions with ‘Penno King’. The boys were calm and composed and took their penalties very well.
In the following semi-final, we faced against RC Lens, another top French division team. Unfortunately, in this game we ran out of steam. The long days and heat may have had an effect on us, with energy levels not quite what they needed to be. Despite creating chances, we couldn’t overcome the opposition’s early goal. At the end we spoke with the team about showing desire and determination in everything they do.
We finished our tournament with a 3rd/4th place play-off, winning once again on penalties. It helps when you have two goalkeepers as good as ours, so we were confident going into them. The celebration was funny, with Alfie mimicking our previous team talk on the pitch.
Afterwards it was time for the closing ceremony. Despite the opening ceremony only being the previous day, it had felt a lot longer with what we had done and experienced. We’ve learned an awful lot about that players over the past couple of days, which is very important to help to understand, support and develop them.
We received a very good applause, such was the way the boys conducted themselves throughout the weekend. We headed to Calais with our friends from Kent, with the boys again full of fun and energy.
We shared the Ferry over with Kent and discussed how we can grow and develop our friendship going forward, with some exciting plans. We were then met in Dover by our driver, John, before heading home.
As we conclude the weekend, this has been one of my favourite trips I’ve experienced with The New Saints FC. The players were superb from start to finish, behaved really well and were a credit to themselves and our club.
It was great for our staff to socialise and to get to know the players better. While we train with the boys three times a week and have at least one game, it still doesn’t allow sufficient time to properly get to know the person behind the player. Things like this really help. I could write, and will be, a page on each player on strengths and areas of focus over the four corner model of development.
Then it’s over to me to put theory into practice and to help work on these areas through our detailed training programme, which needs to be tailored for each player.
I would like to thank Kieran and Ash for assisting on the trip and supporting the boys. Also to Nick Stockdale for his running commentary to the parents back home. A job in Teletext and creating suspense is definitely something to consider. I’d like to thank the parents for allowing the boys the opportunity and experience. And also John, for driving us to and from Dover.
And finally the biggest thank you, and the one I mean the most. Thank you to the boys. You were excellent from start to finish and I am proud to be your coach. You are a great group with some cracking personalities. I can’t wait to get back in training, to see you all and to start working on areas identified.
It’s great that we can provide players with these types of opportunities with our Academy programme. The experiences and memories will last a lifetime. We continue to grow and improve all the time. We will only get bigger and better and I know all the players and staff are relishing it.
Check out more great images from the Bourbourg tournament below: