A bloody good time across the pond
Basalt senior Trevor Brown’s eyes were fixed on the Old Trafford pitch for the duration of Manchester United’s Premiership game with Blackburn.Teammate Ryan Zubizaretta was in awe as he watched a crowd in excess of 76,000 hang on every pass and shot from their beloved Red Devils. “I’ve never seen 76,000 people be so silent at one moment, then erupt all at the exact same time,” Zubizaretta said Wednesday. “Here in the States we like our sports, but it’s nothing like England. Those diehard fans seemed like they’d give anything to go and watch their team play.” Brown and Zubizaretta were not in America anymore. That sentiment became clear at multiple junctures during the Basalt boys soccer team’s recent Spring Break trip to England. Twenty-one players and three coaches took part in the one-of-a-kind nine-day jaunt in which they captured the sights and sounds of London and the surrounding countryside, trained in some hallowed locales – from London’s Kensington Park to pitches in Chelsea, York and Manchester – and squared off with some of the country’s promising young teams. Soccer’s cultural significance and its inherent connection to every aspect of English life was not lost on those who took part.”Soccer is everything to them,” Brown said Wednesday. “Everybody you talk to has a favorite team they support until the end and through everything. They hate everybody else, especially their rivals. They are so passionate.”Head coach John McDermott, a native of Nottingham, grew up in such an environment and sought to share the experience with his players. A similar trip with his Gentlemen of Aspen rugby teammates in 1977 met with great success.
McDermott first divulged his intentions to his team following Oct. 10’s home game with Colorado Rocky Mountain School. Five months later, thanks to the support of parents, sponsors and various fundraising efforts, logistics finally became reality.The payoff was instantaneous, McDermott said, as he ushered his wide-eyed players through the streets of London. For many, this was their first trip abroad. “It was like being back in school again,” he said. “The look in their eyes was priceless.”The team climbed the lion statue in Trafalgar Square and attempted to find out how many players they could fit in a red telephone booth. They took a boat tour down the Thames, which afforded them great views of the parliament building and the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster – known to the masses by its informal name, Big Ben.Players joked with the armed guards outside Horse Guards Parade, and Kevin Newland posed with an anti-war protester (see photo). In between, they kept a running tab of the city’s many fast-food chicken joints.”Every few minutes you’d see a chicken village, a chicken hut or a chicken cottage,” Zubizaretta joked. “They must love their chicken.”As for one of the country’s other “delicacies,” Brown still hasn’t forgotten his first – and most likely only – run-in with fish pie. “It looked like potatoes on top smothered in some white sauce,” he remembered. “Then I saw this other suspicious thing. I can’t believe I ate it.”While they spent a few days sightseeing – and tasting – in London, there was little debate concerning the trip’s main purpose. The players learned that fact when, soon after spending multiple hours on a flight from Indianapolis to Heathrow Airport then slowly working their way through customs, they were bused to a turf field in North London for an impromptu first training session.
From London, the team traveled to the town of Chelsea for training and then a game with a U18 team – a feeder program for Chelsea’s Premiership squad. Football Club Basalt was soon introduced to the game in its purest – and roughest – form. Paul McQueeny still has cleat marks embedded in his lower legs to prove it, McDermott said.”They didn’t take it easy on us, that’s for sure,” Zubizaretta said. “It took some time to adjust to the physicality aspect of the game. They were really good. I really don’t know how we tied.”The Longhorns surrendered an early goal, but rebounded. Brown, matched up with a center midfielder who was 6-foot-5, 200 lbs. and sported a beard, managed to score the equalizer in the second half. “He was huge. It was like running into a brick wall,” Brown said. “Every one of the guys was really big, like football players would be here. It was a little intimidating.”From Chelsea, the team traveled to Manchester for a training session, then moved on to York. After training with Middlesbrough, they took on York’s U18 squad.Playing three games in four days took its toll. York won, 2-0. “They were so much scrappier,” McDermott said. “They’d do anything to win. They showed no mercy. There were elbows flying and shirts being pulled. Here, everybody would’ve been red-carded.”
Basalt scored first in its third and final game with Manchester’s U18 team, but fell, 2-1. “Those first three minutes were more like a rugby game than a soccer match,” Brown said. “And you can cuss as much as you want over there. The English kids really take advantage of that.”They showed us what English soccer is all about. We expected it to be tough, but we should’ve won. It was disappointing that we followed up one of our best performances with two of our worst. But we were in England, so we couldn’t be down for too long.”A trip to Old Trafford helped ease the frustration. And while they were captivated by the goings on inside the stadium as Manchester steadily pulled away in the second half, the sites outside were equally as impressive. The team’s interest was piqued as they watched a group of youngsters toss the ball around.”Some of the stuff those 6-year-olds were doing I’ve never seen in my entire life,” Zubizaretta said. “All of our jaws just dropped.”That sentiment was echoed the following day when the team attended a game between Coventry and Birmingham. At Old Trafford, they were seated in a box; here, they sat right in the middle of the two supporters – the perfect vantage point from which to pick up on all the crowd’s hand gestures and sayings, McDermott joked. “It wasn’t even a Premier League game, but fans from 5 to 80 years old were screaming at the other fans,” Brown said. “Soccer is bigger here than any sport I’ve ever seen.”That fact was repeatedly hammered home for the players during their nearly 500-mile trip throughout England.
McDermott hopes the experience is one his players will not soon forget.”I hope they learned the proper way to play football,” McDermott said. “There are no survivors on the field. It’s a physical game. I hope they come back with an appreciation for a harder game with a higher degree of skill level.”It was a good bonding experience. Everyone enjoyed it – you couldn’t help but enjoy it.”Brown, who is bound for Santa Clara University next fall, felt the same way. The opportunity to bond with his teammates some 4,6000 miles from home is one he will cherish. It is one that has him wishing he had one more year of eligibility left.”I’m starting to feel that way,” he said. “I spent a lot of time with all these guys and had a lot of fun. We went through a lot on this trip and I think it’s going to have a positive impact. This team has a lot of potential, and I’d love to hang around for another year. I’d have to go back in time and fail some classes.”Zubizaretta, who is planning on playing club soccer at the University of Colorado, thinks otherwise. His experiences in England, one in which he learned about a new culture and developed a stronger appreciation for the sport of soccer, have helped dull the disappointment of his injury and his team’s subsequent state semifinal loss to Colorado Academy last fall. This trip was the perfect cap to his four years.”I got closer to some kids I never thought I’d talk to after soccer,” he said. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I wouldn’t want things to end any other way.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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When mountain culture enthusiasts and athletes descend on Vail for the 20th annual Mountain Games from June 7-12, they will carry on a tradition that dates back to the 1970s in Eagle County and was once deemed illegal.