I get back over to England once every year with the tour that I do and the trip is a UK tour for young American players wanting to see what English football is all about, and as was the case this summer, a group of young American players from Ohio. It’s open for players all over the States, I’ve done it for about five years now and enjoy it every time, it’s a combination of sightseeing, training, and games against local opposition. It’s a real first hand look at the mentality towards the game in the UK.
I could really have split up this in to two articles but they are so intertwined it’s probably better to stick with one; what I really wanted to talk about from the start was Mottram Hall, and my relationship with the place.
My relationship with Mottram Hall goes back almost forty years, to when I played for Manchester United and Tommy Docherty would take us there to prepare for games, it was our overnight hotel nearby Manchester even if we were playing at home. The memories are endless – I don’t have to be there for a minute before the memories come flooding back. And today it’s the place I like to stay most when I return to the UK – it’s so tranquil, so serene, so quiet. I can remember it when it was just a country house, and the extension has just benefitted the area, with the addition of the golf course. The guy who used to own it was called Steve Noah, I can remember the character and enchantment that has lasted ever since.
It was my club too, to keep fit – I remember being there around Euro ’96 when the German team prepared there and had a pitch the size of Old Trafford set up for them to practice on. It’s still used as a facility for pre-season training, while I was there Real Betis and Club Brugge were there too.
I can’t say enough about their hospitality this time around, the staff were really fantastic and could not do enough to help us. It really was the ideal setting for the majority of the tour there and I look forward to seeing them all again in the future.
I loved being back “home”, especially when I went back to Old Trafford and saw so many friendly faces. Of course it helped that we were having a wonderful summer! The stadium has changed so much over the years but the pitch, to me, is where I can visualise everything that happened in my time there. Walking around the “Theatre Of Dreams”, seeing the old tunnel we used to run out on the field and seeing the tributes to the Munich tragedy gives me goosebumps every single time I’m back there. While I was over I did get a few Millwall fans asking on Twitter if I was going to go down to the Den – maybe next year!
The purpose of the tour was to give the youngsters an opportunity to train in England, to see “my” England, play against competitive opponents and be trained by some of the best. I couldn’t do it all on my own and so I do want to take the opportunity to thank a few people; firstly, again, the people in Mottram Hall for providing such excellent facilities, secondly to Chas Osula. I’ve known Chas for a long time, I consider him my right hand man and he is a superb football coach, and excellent at guiding youngsters – I cannot say enough about him and his expertise, it really is invaluable and I’m sure that the kids learned a lot from him during their stay. Richie Hyland was a great help with the coaching (and it made his day when he met Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford) but I just wanted to reserve some special credit for Chas; one of the other coaches let us down at short notice, so Chas stepped in and did the work of two, and did it admirably. I also wanted to thank Stacey and Wayne for their work, they went to a lot of effort to make sure people were looked after and also were the “unofficial photographers” for the trip.
Of course I wanted to reserve a special mention for some of the kids there – they were all excellent in training, more than held their own in some friendly matches before we moved on to a tournament in Keele called the Keele Classic. I think the highlight of the trip, or at least it was for me, was seeing them all at Old Trafford. It was great to show them the history of the club, the changing rooms, viewing the inside of the stadium, and also being able to share and talk about my memories of being there. After they got a few shirts from the megastore it was great to see them all training that evening in them!
On the first Saturday of the trip, the boys took on a couple of local sides in friendlies, one of which was Northwich Victoria, some of you may recall I finished my playing days there… anyway, they brought over their youth team to Mottram and I have to say I was immensely proud of the players as they got a good 2-0 win, more than held their own and really responded well to the training that Chas and I had gone through with them earlier in the week. Though they were all fantastic I did want to mention a few of them, first of all, the goalkeeper, Hunter Cooper, Kelby Phillips, a midfielder who was featured in the local news about the trip here and Will Kelton, an up and coming young forward player who had a trial at Manchester City and Stoke City while we were over. Those three in particular are looking for futures in the game and they all had a great tour – Will is immensely talented, while Hunter looks every bit a commanding goalkeeper even at the tender age of thirteen. Kelby shows a lot of promise and the dedication he and his family have showed to his future in soccer will surely stand him in good stead. There was also a little lad called Preston, who wasn’t even on the tour to play football, but he did fabulously and we made him into a little goalkeeper by the end of it! I can’t mention the boys without mentioning the girls; we had a lot of fun (as you’ll see by the videos that will be coming up on the website in the next few days) and I was really pleased by how they all, as a group, understood instruction and direction, and implemented it into their game. I predict and sincerely hope that some of the kids who came on the tour will have good futures in the game.
There were other aspects of the tour which were wonderful, too. We went to Wales, and Conwy Castle – the views as always were simply breathtaking and provided some magnificent picture opportunities, while a visit to York and the cathedral gave the chance for people to observe the incredible architecture and immerse themselves in the history of the great place. After a long two weeks we finally made the trip home, though I of course went my separate way to Florida. I have some fabulous memories of the trip and of all the kids there, I hope they enjoyed it too and I wish them all the very best.
I also look forward to sharing a small video of some of the events on the trip in the coming days too.
Bye for now, Gordon.