Over the weekend, The New Saints Academy Under 12s travelled to Germany to compete in the Rewe Stockhausen International Football Tournament, writes Jason Brindley. The tournament contained teams from around the globe, with ourselves being the only British team.
We departed from Park Hall Stadium, home of the JD Cymru Premier champions, early on Friday morning. Despite the early start, the players were full of life and energy. Our Under 12s are a fun and social group and they have some great personalities amongst them.
It wasn’t long before we arrived at Manchester airport, before heading to Dusseldorf, Germany. The players all looked smart, with their new kit bags and Legea tracksuits. We wanted to make sure that the players knew that this wasn’t a holiday, we were treating it like our first team, playing in the UEFA Champions League. We wanted to set and maintain our professional standards throughout.
We soon made our way onto our small plane, with propellers. It was the first time away from parents and on a plane for a couple of the boys, but despite this, you wouldn’t have been able to tell. They were full of excitement.
We arrived in Dusseldorf and then made our way to our impressive hotel, our home for the next couple of days. After unpacking and a little bit of downtime, we thought we would go and check our surroundings and explore the local area. We found a local park (with the help of Google Maps) where the boys enjoyed a game of one bounce and played on the swings.
On the way back to the hotel, the boys were waving at all the cars going past, trying to get a wave back, cheering when they did.
It’s easy to forget the age of these boys. Even though we treat them like young men, and they are to an extent, they are still young and full of innocence and joy.
We had a healthy meal for tea, side by side with Wolves and Watford Under 10s who were competing in a nearby tournament. The hotel was like a hub of footballing teams, with lots of different teams from different nations staying over. It was good seeing our boys mixing and making friends with different teams.
Saturday morning soon arrived, and after a healthy breakfast, we were soon on our way to the tournament. The tournament was split over two locations, both containing two pitches.
The tournament contained some huge football clubs, and during our spare time between games, it was great to watch teams such as Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim, Borussia Monchengladbach, Heerenveen and Brondby.
Also in our down time, we enjoyed games of football tennis and bin challenge, as well as making friends with all teams.
Day one finished with teams playing for placement, with teams playing for trophies on day two.
We found day one extremely competitive and challenging for players and there were four very tight and even games. These tournaments are great, as you learn loads about the players, their strengths and areas to focus.
Being away with the players for a few days, you also get to know the player from a personal point of view. It’s great to build relationships, but like I also mentioned, to work out areas to focus on and how to help the player in their development.
We soon made our way back to the hotel for an early night after a long but enjoyable day.
Day two commenced with all teams competing for trophies, dependable on how they finished in their groups.
We got off to a really good start, with the boys playing with flair and confidence. On the first day, we were a little over cautious about the size of the pitch, playing across a full half, and the opposition’s formation.
We adapted ours to counteract theirs, but lost a bit of our normal structure as a result. Normal passing patterns were lost, as players weren’t in their normal positions, so that took a little bit of time to adapt.
We thought that we may as well play our way and let the opposition worry about us, and not the other way around. Once we did that, we really came alive at the tournament. We played some really good football, playing out well against a high press and scoring some really good goals.
We ended up winning our placement tournament, winning 2-0 in the final against a very competitive team. The presentation at the end was outstanding, with the team receiving a huge round of applause from all the parents of all the teams, such was the way the boys had conducted themselves on and off the pitch. I was really proud and delighted for the way they were received. It was a very special moment.
We hardly had time to catch our breath before we had to dash to the airport for our return journey home.
The weekend went by in a flash, yet at the same time we had the most amazing experience and learnt so much about the players. I said to them that no matter the outcome, this weekend would be a success for myself, Ash and Kieran.
We learnt more about the players from these past three days, than over the course of the last three months. Not just from a footballing point of view either, but also personally. We’ve now got a better understanding of areas that we can help improve or how we can support them further.
It’s also worth remembering that they are kids, where they are at in terms of that. Fun being huge, being approachable and engageable is really important. We want to set the standards and make sure that the behaviour management is there, boundaries are vital. It’s a fine line.
As we review a great weekend, personal thanks go to both Ash and Kieran who managed the boys throughout. Thank you to Murray Jones from EuroFootball Tours who organised the tournament on our behalf and looked after us throughout.
Thank you to Matt and Neil, who supported the team and captured the weekend brilliantly, allowing the boys to keep these photos and memories forever. Thank you to all the other parents for allowing the boys this amazing experience. Thanks to John Lumley for picking us up on our return journey, grateful as always.
And finally, thank you to the most important people, the boys. Thank you for the way you conducted yourselves throughout the whole weekend. You behaved superbly and, apart from a couple of minor incidents, were ace. They’re a brilliant group, who are full of fun and energy. They’ve got great personalities and are a really good footballing team. I really enjoyed spending my weekend with them all and the chance to get to know them better.
Check out some extra images from the trip below.