European Soccer Tour – Day 9: The beach and Texans vs CE Jupiter

Our final day in Europe dawned as clear and as bright as the others we had shared in Spain. The weather has been incredible. The schedule for this day included a quick trip to the beach Рwe planned to spend just an hour there Рfollowed by lunch and then matches against Club Esportiu J̼piter.

We road the subway downtown and walked to the beach.

Walking to the beach



The beach

The boys hit the surf and many of us parents dipped our feet in as well. The water was cool and refreshing.

The boys in the surf

While I was standing there, knee deep in the Mediterranean, an older Spanish gentleman (in a speedo, of course) approached me. He had noticed my Texans Soccer T-shirt and asked me in broken English how the soccer was in Texas. Turns out he had lived in Texas in the early 1970s and was interested in the growth of soccer in the United States. We engaged in conversation and this gentleman, who’s name is Laurentito (roughly “Larry” in English) told me his life story. He was a soccer player when he was younger, and “would have gone professional” if he hadn’t badly broken his arm during a game (here he showed me a nasty looking scar on his right arm), causing his father to forbid him from playing anymore. He talked about goals he had scored with his left foot, and then moved on to other topics, including his Dad’s arrest (I think) during the Spanish civil war of the late 1930s, the time as a youngster when he was raised by priests, his own six month stint in prison as a political prisoner in the late sixties, his relocation to Dallas, and the fact that he had flown as a flight engineer on sub-hunting surveillance planes. He had married an American woman, but she died of a brain edema (here Laurentito shook his head. “many, many mistakes made by the doctors”). They had had two children together: a son who is in Barcelona and a daughter currently working in New York. He also only has one kidney, and that a transplant – here he showed me his left arm, which had nasty lumps on it due to dialisis treatments. It’s amazing how much you can learn about someone in a short time. I thanked Laurentito for the conversation and he was kind enough to pose for a picture.

In the background, you can see a matronly woman . . . and you can begin to understand an aspect of Barcelona culture-shock that began dawning on me after a few minutes in the surf. Modesty does not necessarily come with age and, besides the older set, not all of the young, slender and shirtless people evening out their tans on the beach were men.

I have to hand it our boys. At least from what I could observe, they were mature about the sights on the beach. Thankfully, we were only there a short time. Soon they moved from the surf up onto the sand and, naturally, began to play soccer.

Soccer on the beach

We finally left the beach and partook of another excellent Spanish buffet.

This was so good

We then travelled back to our hotel to rest and prepare for the evening’s games before travelling out to the field. As was the case in Sabadell, the stadium was in excellent condition, and had an artificial surface. The club we were to play against, CE Jupiter, has been around for over 100 years.

CE Jupiter’s facility

In the stands we posed with the flag.

The parents

On this tour I have observed the interesting custom of watering the fields right before games, and sometimes even at halftime, with high-powered water jets. This seemed strange to me when I saw it in Sabadell, since with artificial turf there is no actual grass to be watered. One of the Mercantil parents told us at the time that watering the field makes the ball move more rapido.

Watering the artificial turf

The boys posed for team pictures before the game.

Posing with the flags

I thought that our guys came into this game with a more confident and ready attitude than they had shown prior to Mercantil, and, in talking to them, to a man they were guaranteeing a win.

Getting ready

Below are some action shots taken during the game.

Getting back on defense

Blake heads the ball

Getting the ball upfield

Corner-kick defense

This is Callum, our Scottish goalkeeper. He rocked.

We played a great game and won 5 to 2. Well done boys!

Shaking hands after the game

Following the game, the coaches each chose a “man of the match” from the opposing team. The Spanish coach chose Assem (that’s pronounced “Awesome”, and no, I’m not making that up. What a great name!) as the man of the match from the Texans. That was two awards for Assem in as many games, which is, well, pretty awesome.

Assem, man of the match

We then settled down to watch the older guys play. They did fabulous, winning 6 to 1. So, our overall record in Europe, counting games played by both teams, was 6 wins, 2 losses. Outstanding!

I snapped a few other pictures while I was there. This one is of Pablo, one of our players, and his sweet sister. She actually lives in Barcelona and joined us for much of this part of the tour.

Pablo and his sister

Note the beer on the table. As in Sabadell, this youth soccer facility had a working bar. The Spanish parents actually seemed relatively laid-back about soccer (at least for these “friendlies” matches) but I can’t tell you how relieved I am that they don’t serve beer at American youth soccer matches. Not so laid back and, trust me, that would not be a good idea.

Enjoying a cerveza after the match

Our time in Europe was swiftly winding down. We headed to a fancy Spanish buffet restaurant that Austin had booked us for to have our final meal together and pass out some awards from the tour.

Our last meal together

Marc, our Spanish soccer tour guide, received a T-Shirt from J.R.

Bryant was the best younger player from the England games

Avery was the best older player from the England games

Assem received the award for the best younger player during the Spain games

Andrew was the best older player for the Spain games

Renee was named the best overall player

Below are the last two pictures I took, centered around the fine young Scottish players who had joined us on the tour.

Callum, Thomas, James and Scott

Some of the boys posed with the Scotsmen. A lot of friendships were forged on this trip

Following this we went back to the hotel and went to bed, with a very, very early morning wake up call ahead of us and a long trip back to the United States.

Though it was very tiring, this was a great trip. The memories of getting to share this tour with Blake are priceless to me. I had a great time, Blake-man, and I’m so glad we were able to do this together. What an experience!

European Soccer Tour – Day 8: Camp Nou and some rare free time

As you probably can tell from these posts, down-time (and even sleep-time) was in short supply throughout the tour and so a lighter day was probably needed. Day 8 was just what the doctor ordered.

We had breakfast at our usual time, 9:00 am, and then we road the subway down to Camp Nou, which is the stadium where we watched the Barcelona – Real Madrid match two days earlier. “Camp Nou” is (I think) Catalan for “New Field”, which is an ironic name for a fifty-three year old stadium. The actual name of the stadium for most of its history was Estadi del FC Barcelona, but it was largely referred to by its nickname, Camp Nou, and that nickname became the official name in recent years.

Leading the tour was Marc, a native Barcelonan and pro player on one of the city teams. He also works at the coaching school for the Espanyol professional club. Marc was with us during most of our time in Barcelona

Marc, in front of Camp Nou

We started in the Camp Nou museum. FC Barcelona was founded over 100 years ago, and is one of the all-time most successful football clubs in the world, so the museum is jam-packed with memorabilia. To put this in context, FC Barcelona is analogous to the New York Yankees in fan-interest, heritage, and winning legacy. Imagine a museum dedicated to the history of the Yankees (and surely one or more exists) and you’ll get an idea of the intense interest that was shown by the visitors to the Camp Nou museum.

The memorabilia room

The first room was lined with hundreds of cups that have been won by the team, and display cases full of artifacts and memorabilia from the past.


Hundreds of cups

Here is the Champions League cup won recently by the team. I don’t know who this young lady is, although the young man in the Texans shirt is Anthony, who is on Blake’s team. People were lined up to have their picture taken with the cup, so there was always going to be someone I didn’t know in the picture.

The tour moved on through the locker room and then down to the edge of the Camp Nou field.

Field-level view of Camp Nou

Professional soccer differs from American football in many ways, including where the teams actually sit. As in the NBA, rather than being across the field from each other the substitutes sit on the same side of the field. At Camp Nou, they get some really nice chairs.

The subs sit here

The tour continued up to the press box, where I snapped this picture.

“More than a club”

The tour ends in the FC Barcelona store, where one can spend an incredible amount of money on replica jerseys, especially if one is feeling expansive and generous and one has a soccer-playing son who loves jerseys and reminds one of the once in a lifetime nature of the current adventure.

Following the tour, we journeyed back to the city center at la Plaça de Catalunya, and were given free time for the next few hours. Blake and I decided to grab lunch together. Surrounded by the glories of delicious and exotic Spanish cuisine . . . we opted for Subway. This was Blake’s choice, and probably a wise one, because it granted us a quicker meal, plus – oh wonders! – an ice dispenser and free refills. Following this, we went back to the Plaça.

Blake at la Plaça de Catalunya. Note the replica FC Barcelona jersey

La Plaça is really big

Another view of la Plaça

Surrounded by Spanish history and culture . . . we headed straight for the Nike store. We had some jerseys to personalize, after all.

Street view, walking to the Nike store. Look at that blue sky!

There are Barcelona FC jerseys to be seen all over Barcelona. Couple this with the fact that professional soccer clubs change their uniforms, or “kits”, pretty much every season* . . . my guess is that 50% of Spain’s GDP is made up of FC Barcelona jersey sales alone.

We left the Nike store and enjoyed some Italian gelato at a shop near the Pla̤a. At 3:30 pm the boys were bussed off to training, and the parents were given the rest of the day off. Surrounded by cathedrals, amazing gothic architecture, and history . . . I opted to head back to the hotel room. I was pretty tired, and РI hate to admit it РI was also kind of peopled-out by this time. If I had it to do over again I would have gone and visited the Gaudi cathedral I mentioned in my last post.

I had an idea that I would rest until around six and then get adventurous and eat at a restaurant near the hotel. At six I walked around for awhile and discovered that there were, evidently, very few restaurants near the hotel. I finally found one, walked in, and asked for a menu like the clueless gringo I am. It was at this point that I discovered that Barcelona restaurants don’t even think about serving dinner until 8:00 pm, which helps explain the 11:00 pm start of the Barcelona – Real Madrid game and the average start of our meals each night at around 10:00 pm. Everything in Barcelona seems shifted about two or three hours later than in the U.S.

I finally gave up and went to the supermarket nearby the hotel, aptly named Consum, and bought some fruit, snack bars, and some waters. The man at the checkout didn’t speak English and I, of course, only know how to say no hablo espanol, but I found out through pantomime and both of us talking loudly to each other in unknown tongues that a) if I wanted a bag to carry my groceries I needed to buy one and b) I had messed up the system by not weighing and pricing my fruit myself. He was very patient and polite and called in some help to get me squared away. I did my best to express my apologies, saying pardon repeatedly, which I’m not sure actually means anything in Spanish, and finally pointing at my head and saying no comprendo. And how.

The boys had a good training session. Blake relayed how he even got shouts of ole! for some of his moves during practice. Their confidence appeared to be restored after yesterday’s beating.

I spent my evening in the hotel room, posting my Day 6 update, reading and resting. Blake and I both went to bed relatively early and got a much-needed full night of sleep.

One day left.

* the teams don’t generally change their colors, at least on their home jerseys (they usually have two or more “away” kits that they are more apt to re-color), but they do change the design. For instance, the stripes on this year’s Barcelona jerseys are more narrow than last years. It’s a brilliant marketing strategy.

European Soccer Tour – Day 7: Barcelona and Texans vs CE Mercantil

Back home now, catching up on the final updates . . .

Day 7 of our tour dawned clear and bright in Barcelona. This place really has beautiful weather – and a cheerful Spanish nonchalance toward air conditioning. We were pretty warm all week.

the view from the back of our hotel, the hotel Alimara

We ate breakfast at 9:00am and then hopped on the green line. Conveniently, the subway’s Mundet stop is just a short walk from our hotel.

This guy got on at one of the stops, stood right in front of me, and serenaded us for awhile.

He was pretty good

We disembarked at Passeig de Gràcia and began walking through the beautiful sun-kissed streets of downtown Barcelona.

Barcelona’s pretty

Barcelona is a beautiful, clean city, framed in bright blue skies with cooling breezes blowing off the Mediterranean. It offers grand vistas from nearly every tree-lined downtown street. Though only a two hour flight south, Barcelona is a marked change from England. The British people are – speaking very generally here – handsome but in a homely, blue-collar way. They are as comfortable and familiar as a pint over bangers and mash and lovely though somewhat hard-bitten. They differ from Barcelonans as their chill northern overcast differs from the bright Spanish sun.

The people of Barcelona are beautiful; the women are striking, the men toned and athletic. Their tans are the very definition of golden, and remarkably even, which makes sense after one observes some of the local customs on the Barcelona beaches, but more on that (perhaps) in a later update. Though Barcelona’s weather can be hot, Barcelonans (unlike this pasty-white Norteamericano) don’t sweat, they glisten. I was struck by how young the city seems; at times I wondered if we had somehow stumbled into a Latino version of Logan’s Run.

As we walked down Passeig de Gràcia we came upon Casa Batlló, which is a creation of the famed Barcelona architect and artist Antoni Gaudi, descriptions of who’s work resulted in our modern adjective gaudy. But that does him a disservice. Gaudi’s creations are breathtaking and naturalistic, and they almost look as if they have grown up from living stone. The Casa Batlló, also called the Casa dels Ossos (house of bones), is on the Illa de la Discòrdia (the “Block of Discord”), and what a cool address to have, no?

La Casa Batlló

We continued on to the Plaça de Catalunya, which is the city center of Barcelona, filled with sculptures and a large fountain, where we caught our tour bus.

The Plaça de Catalunya

The city tour was interesting, mainly featuring views of Barcelona’s architecture and descriptions of the great changes that occurred in the city in preparation for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic games. Below are some pictures snapped on the tour.

The Cathedral of Santa Eulalia

A view of Barcelona’s port. Note the ubiquitous McDonalds signs

Blake fell asleep during the tour. It’s been a long few days

Arriving at the coast, the tour guide noted that in recent decades the beaches were mainly populated by shanties, before the Barcelona renaissance that reached its pinnacle in the Olympic transformation. The shanties, by the way, have been “removed” so that the lovely beaches could be established. In another instance, when we passed a park, the guide noted that the families that had been living on the park land were “evicted”. Disconcertingly, what became of those families and the occupants of the shanties was not reported to us.

One of Barcelona’s many beaches

We passed by the Peix, a beautiful golden fish sculpture by Frank O. Gehry that catches the sun each day

The Peix

This sculpture by Antoni Llena is called “David and Goliath”

We stopped for ice-cream and a bathroom break near Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral. This cathedral was an obsession for Guadi in the final decades of his life. His work on it started in the late 1800s and continued until he was killed in 1926 after being hit by a tram. As you can see in the image below, it is still under construction, more than 100 years after work was begun. The effort on it has been stopped several times, due to interruptions such as the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s, among other things.

This cathedral is breathtaking, and looked to me like something you might find in Tolkien. It appears nearly organic in its structure, and is my favorite Barcelona building. I now wish I had taken the opportunity during the next day’s free time to go inside it.

The Sagrada Familia cathedral

A closer view of the stations of the Cross on the front of Sagrada Familia

Following the bus tour and lunch at La Vaca Paca, a Spanish bufet restaurant (I may have already mentioned it, but Spanish food is delicious), we went back to the hotel so the boys could prepare for a match that night against CE Mercantil.

We loaded the bus and headed to Sabadell, a town about 20km from Barcelona, which is home to Mercantil. We arrived at the soccer pitch, which was very nice, featuring artificial turf, locker rooms, showers, and – a bit foreign to American soccer parents but a feature at both stadiums we played at – a concession featuring a working bar. Spanish soccer moms do enjoy a cold cerveza to go with their cigarettes in the stands during a match.

The Mercantil logo

We became acquainted with some of the Mercantil parents, communicating primarily through translation provided by Flora and Martha, some of the bilingual Texans parents. The Mercantil parents were very nice. The mentioned to us that on the current FC Barcelona roster there are eight players who came from Mercantil, which should have been a warning to us for what was about to happen.

Mercantil parents

Before the match we took a team picture with the Mercantil players, who were wearing FC Barcelona colors. Another overlooked warning sign.

The Texans and EC Mercantil. A custom here, from what I can gather, is to pose with the opposing team’s national flag.

Below are two action shots taken during the game.

Blake on the throw-in

Fighting for the ball

Basically, and I don’t know how to state this delicately: we had our behonkuses handed to us on a hubcap in this game. The final score was 7 to 1, Mercantil. They were just an extremely good team, and they played in the same style as FC Barcelona. It is a more elegant, skilled and possession-based brand of soccer than what we saw of the British style, which is more direct and frenzied. These boys were very good.

I got some coaching from Flora on how to say the word “team” and then said to the Mercantil parents sitting near me, “Tu equipo es muy bien” (your team is very good). They looked a little confused but smiled politely back at me. My guess is that I mangled the Spanish and they may not have understood what I said.

Our older boys played the next game against Mercantil’s older team, and lost 3 to 0. Mercantil is just a very good team. As Callum, our loaned Scottish goalkeeper stated after our game, “they were a very good side”.

The Sabadell Mercantil facility. It was very nice

Before we left, one Sabadell nino who couldn’t have been more than 8 years old was shooting goals against some of our players, and making many of them, even though the goal was stuffed with seven or eight of our guys at a time. Every time he shot, he would squeal out a high pitched “MESSI!”.

Needless to say, we left with nothing but respect for our competition. I was proud of our boys. They played hard and with a lot of heart. In their defense, they have had a long week, have been doing a lot of travel, and were playing on an unfamiliar surface in an unfamiliar stadium, at the end of a very busy day after a previous night where they got to bed about 3:00 am. After running the table in England, both of our teams had now tasted defeat in Spain. But there is another game, and perhaps redemption, coming on day 9.

We ended our day with a late dinner at La Fresca, another Barcelona Bufet. It was fabulous.

European Soccer Tour – Day 6: Barcelona

Day 6 of our tour was a very full day. We left our hotel and Bradfield College early in the morning to catch a plane to Barcelona, leaving merry olde England behind. England was a great experience, and one more familiar to this particular American’s sensibilities thanks to the language and more common heritage. Spain is, at this point, an unknown.

We arrived in Barcelona in the early afternoon. And what was this? The sun actually appeared, and delivered warmth. The skies were blue. The chill and overcast of Britain has been left behind. We boarded our bus and rode into Barcelona.

Riding into Barcelona

Austin led us to a restaurant downtown and we had a traditional Spanish buffet meal consisting of salad, potatoes, vegetables, breads, meats, pasta, pizza, frozen yogurt . . . basically a lot of variety and all of it good. We then rode to the Almira hotel on the north side of Barcelona.

Walking to the hotel

We didn’t have much time to rest. The boys had a short training session with a Spanish coach as we parents settled in. On the menu for the evening: the Spanish Super Cup (SuperCopa) final between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. The game was scheduled for what in the United States would seem an insanely late start- 11:00pm – but I’m finding out that that’s just prime time here in Barcelona.

The game, by the way, was a hugely anticipated match here. It’s hard to convey how devoted this city is to futbol. The members of FC Barcelona are revered here, and Real Madrid is a despised rival. It promised to be a great game (and trust me, it was – more on that later).

We took the green line subway south, and walked through the streets of Barcelona at quick pace to a Tapas bar for some pre-match food. Laid out on the table it looked a little sketchy, but I quickly discovered that it was quite good. Austin had the top floor reserved for us and we ate heartily. The food consisted of potatoes, meats, and vegetables, with soda, water and beer available to drink (for those parents that wanted it. As far as I know none of the kids snuck one, and I was quaffing Coca-Cola).

Riding the subway to the game. It got much more crowded than this the further we went

Eating at a Tapas bar

We then walked, at a very quick pace, to the stadium. It was nerve-wracking for me to think of all these boys and parents walking in a strange city, without a clear idea where we were and hoping not to lose anyone as our tour guides nearly jogged on ahead of us. But somehow we all arrived together.

Walking to the stadium

The boys with their tickets. We had good seats, about 20-25 rows up on the field level

The game was held at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium, which has the prestige of Yankee stadium or Madison Square Gardens in the States. We’ll get a tour of it in a few days.

It was now about 10:00pm, a full hour before kick-off, and the stadium was already nearly full.

Blake and Lucas

The crowd was very hyped, as you can imagine, as start-time approached. Finally, we were ready for kick off. Below are pictures I took during the game.

Ready to start

Early game action

Celebrating Iniesta’s goal!

Me and Blake

Halftime. We saw goals by both Messi and Ronaldo

Messi, the great one

Late in the game, Fabregas subbed in. He was Arsenal’s captain up until a few days ago. He got a big ovation

Tied! I was worried that the game would end 2-2, which meant overtime and possibly PKs. It was already very late

Messi scores! Here he celebrates a few seconds after


Late game action

Real Madrid appeared to be trying to hurt Messi and other Barcelona players during the game. This scuffle ensued after a late, hard foul on Fabregas

Champions! The place went wild at the end of the match

The team, celebrating. They walked the stadium, danced in the center, etc. The fans were going crazy

This was an absolutely fantastic game. Incredible. Austin told us that he’s seen “probably a thoosand live soccer matches” in his day, and this was the best one he’d ever seen. Spanish soccer is the best we’ve seen so far. I’d never seen such a display of soccer skill before.

In the wee hours of the morning we walked back (at an incredibly fast pace) to the subway. It was a complete milagro that we didn’t lose anyone. I guess I could keep track of the boys, and especially my boy, by the fact that many of them were wearing Barcelona jerseys. Oh, wait, everyone was wearing a Barcelona jersey! But, somehow, we didn’t lose any of the young guys. We finally got back to the hotel and crashed. It was such a full day, but very good.

Walking back

Tomorrow, bus-tour of Barcelona, and a match against a Spanish team.

European Soccer Tour – Day 5: Three Games

Catching up on updates . . .

Our fifth day in England was chock full of soccer: three games – or “matches” as they are called here – including two featuring the Texans and later that night, Arsenal versus Udinese in the first leg of the Champions League Qualifier

Blake’s team had the first match at 10:00 am, against Reading FC’s Youth Academy. We parents arrived at Bradfield and headed to the soccer field, or “pitch” as it’s called here, and discovered that no one was there, except for some sheep.

They weren’t actually on the pitch, but in an adjoining field

We were wondering what to do, and I was, unsuccessfully, trying to call Austin on his cell phone (still confused about English phone numbers, country codes, etc) when Gary, our other Fantastic Scottish tour guide, came running down the path. We were in the wrong place, and the “petch is reyht down the way, to you’re reyht and past a wee dip in the groond”.

I snapped this picture of Bradfield as we were on our way over (the boys playing on the pitch in the foreground are not our boys).

Bradfield College

We hurried over and made it to the game just as the boys scored their first goal. Our Dallas Texans trainer, J.R. (who is British) told the boys that this team was going to hand it to them, but we made a good start of it and played the match well. We were a “good side” as they say here. Here are some images of the game.

Game on

Blake with the ball

More action

About to send it

Look at that scenery. It’s like playing in the Shire


Some second half action

The Texans played tough and ended up winning 3 to 2. Blake played the whole game and did a great job at left back.

The two teams in an after-game photo

A tradition in “friendlies” like this one is for each coach to choose a “man of the match” from the opposing team. The Reading coach chose Anthony, who, as always, played some great defense at center back.

A-Train, Man of the Match

Following Blake’s game we had lunch, and then the older boys took to the field and were victorious over Reading FC’s older club, winning – if memory serves – 3 to 1. The Texans are undefeated in Britain, having won all four matches. Well done!

After the match we gathered in a clubhouse adjoining the nearby cricket field for another English tradition, afternoon tea.


Following this, we had some free time at Bradfield while the boys got out of their uniforms, or “kits”, got cleaned up, and then we all piled on the bus and headed for London to watch Arsenal take on Udinese, an Italian team.

The game was at Emirates stadium, which was the biggest stadium we’d been to thus far, seating perhaps 60,000 people. The game was a Champion’s League qualifier, to be played in two legs. This was the first leg, to be followed up with a second leg at Udinese in a few days. The team that wins the round qualifies to compete in the Champions League tournament

I need to digress a minute here to explain the concept of “legs” to American sports fans. Actually, rather than explaining, let me give an example: suppose in the NBA playoffs, Boston and the Lakers squared off, playing one game in L.A. and the other in Boston. The winner would be decided by aggregate point differential. So, if Boston beat the Lakers by 10 in L.A., and the Lakers beat Boston by 4 in Boston, the Celtics would win the overall match because their overall point differential is plus 6 versus the Laker’s point differential of -6. In the case where the overall differential matches exactly – say, for instance, L.A. beat Boston 100-98 in LA, and Boston beat the Lakers 90-88 in Boston – the team that scored the most point in the other team’s crib wins it all (again, Boston). Hopefully that makes sense, but I realize that it probably seems kind of strange to American sports sensibilities.

In any event . . . Austin passed out tickets and ten pounds to each of us, so that we could get some food at the match.

Austin, passing out tickets and pounds

Blake and I first hit Arsenal’s team store and then bought some very affordable pizza and sodas at one of the stadium eateries before taking our seats. Below are some pictures of the match.

We had good seats

The boys, before the game started

Arsenal and Udinese in action

Theo Walcott of Arsenal scored the winning goal. This was the celebration

It should be noted that this was also the only goal we saw scored by a Premier League team the entire trip.

Following the match, the boys posed by this display in Emirates stadium.

The Texans would get my vote

We then trudged a mile or two (or ten, it seemed) to our bus through the dark streets of London and headed back to our Hotel and Bradfield. We got back just before midnight, facing an early wake-up for a 7:00am departure to Luton airport and Barcelona.

European Soccer Tour – Day 4: London

Today was the day for our group to head into London. London, by the way, is overwhelming. It’s huge, and bustling, cram-packed with people and history. You’re daft if you think you’ll do more than scratch the surface in just a few hours, and we barely did.

Below are pictures I took of our day, with some explanatory notes.

We began our day near the Tower of London, where we grabbed a quick snack following the ride in.

Eating Subway

This was followed by a boat ride on the Millennium Dawn up the river Thames. Since today was our first sunny day in England, Austin, our Fantastic Scottish Tour Guide, warned us to wear sunscreen. “Ayngland’s soon is vary hot aynd ya maight ge’ a soonbern”. I don’t know if he’s ever been in Texas. Houston’s sun will char you to a crisp in under ten minutes if you’re not used to it, with our combined blast-furnace/sauna weather conditions. We smiled and nodded politely. If anything, I turned more pale today under England’s sun, which was quickly covered up by dark clouds in any event.

On the river

Along the way we saw many items of interest, including the oldest artifact in London. This is Cleopatra’s Needle, and it is about 3,500 years old. It comes from Egypt, built a thousand year’s before Cleopatra’s time and moved by her to Alexandria in 12 BC to be set in a temple built in honor of Marc Antony. The needle was presented to Britain in the early 19th century by Mohammed Ali (no, not that one – I mean Mohammed Ali, King of Egypt at the time).

Cleopatra’s Needle

The team beside the river Thames

We disembarked the boat and walked toward the heart of London. We passed Big Ben. You might be interested to know that the name doesn’t refer to the clock itself, but to its humongous bell.

Big Ben is connected to the British Parliament building. Austin, our Fantastic Scottish Tour Guide, remarked that Scotland got its own Parliament about ten years ago, but they don’t have much power.

“And hayre’s the Bri’ish Parliament belden’. The Bri’ish Parliament doosn’t have mooch pow’r neyther. They just doo wha’ever the Whate Hoose teylls ’em ta doo.”

The Parliament building

Outside Parliament is a statue of Oliver Cromwell, who executed the wee king Charles I in 1649.

Oliver Cromwell

We passed by Westminster Abbey, which had a line about a mile long to get inside.

Westminster Abbey

We then walked through St. James park toward Buckingham Palace.

Some of the boys at the gates of Buckingham Palace

At this point the group split up into smaller groups. The group I was with chose to take a double-decker bus tour. I snapped some pictures as we went along.

This isn’t the best angle, because I was fiddling with my camera and the bus was moving kind of fast, but the picture below is of the Wellington Monument in Hyde Park, which is a statue of Achilles. It was made in 1822 of melted down cannons captured from Britain’s enemies, in honor of the first Duke of Wellington.

The Wellington Monument

To Arthur Duke of Wellington

and his brave companions in arms

this statue of Achilles

cast from cannon taken in the victories

of Salamanca, Vittoria, Toulouse, and Waterloo

is inscribed

by their country women

Placed on this spot

on the XVIII day of June MDCCCXXII

by command of

His Majesty George IIII.

We also passed the Marble Arch. Historically, only members of the Royal Family and the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery were allowed to pass through the arch, although I don’t know if that rule still stands or what happens to one who ventures through the arch today, but looking at this picture I imagine it would be pretty hard to police

The Marble Arch

While I’m on the subject of arches, here’s the Admiralty Arch, which was built in the early 1900’s to honor the late Queen Victoria

The Admiralty Arch

The inscription:



(In the tenth year of King Edward VII, to Queen Victoria, from most grateful citizens, 1910)

Our bus ride headed into Piccadilly Circus, which contains (or is near, I haven’t gotten this straight yet) London’s West End, which is the Theater district. I wish I had snapped a picture of some of the Theaters, but this is as close as I got.

Entering Piccadilly Circus. This picture is for Bethany, thinking of the theaters nearby

This one, though slightly out of focus, is for Andrew. He will know why

We passed by Trafalgar square on our way back by Parliament and over the Thames. If I could pick a place in London to spend about four hours, Trafalgar Square, and in particular the museums surrounding it, would be my choice. Alas, we didn’t have time to stop.

Trafalgar Square

Some of the party wanted to ride the colossal London Eye, which is a giant, slowly spinning wheel containing observation pods that provide a breathtaking view of the city. I was with three other dads and we had nine boys with us, so two of us stayed with the boys who weren’t interested in riding the Eye (including Blake) while the other two dads took the boys who were interested in going up in the Eye.

The London Eye

Our view was a little less lofty, although plenty satisfying.

Eating at McDonalds

Blake asked me to take this picture, for his sister.

For Molly

After the others were done riding the Eye, we began walking back to Piccadilly to rendezvous with our group and head back to Reading.

Walking to Piccadilly. The Queen does not look pleased.

Here’s another for Andrew.

For Andrew

And this one’s for Bethany, in honor of her favorite Elf.

“A Diversion”

The boys wanted a picture with some Bobbys, who politely obliged

This one’s for Jill

We ended our day in LillyWhite’s, which is a large sports shop just off of Piccadilly Circus. And then we headed back to Bradfield college. We were a little off schedule and so were met with a group of kitchen workers who were straining to be polite but were obviously irritated that we expected them to feed us at 8:00pm. We ate swiftly on paper plates and departed.

After dropping off the boys, most of the parents headed over to the Queen’s Head Pub. I begged off, feeling both non-social and slightly guilty for avoiding the company, and came back here with the other non-pubbing parents.

It was a great day. Tomorrow the Texans take on another British team, and then . . .we’re headed to the Arsenal game!

Good night.

European Soccer Tour – Day 3: Chelsea at Stoke City

Today we attended our second game of the opening weekend of the English Premier League, featuring Chelsea visiting at Stoke City.

Stoke City, or “Stoke-on-Trent” as it is officially called, is about 140 miles north of Reading, where we’re staying, and some 30 miles south of Manchester, so today included a good bit of time on the bus.

We weren’t leaving until 9:30 or so, but I made sure I woke up by 8:00am so I could partake of the highlight of every morning, the traditional English breakfast. So good!

This will get you going in the morning

Following breakfast, we parents gathered at the bus, already loaded up with the boys, to start our trip. It was about a 2 1/2 hour drive, so I brought reading materials and settled in. One thing several of us have noticed about accommodations in England – and this isn’t a complaint, just an observation: the seats seem smaller. There’s not much legroom on the bus and we are finding ourselves having to squeeze our American-sized bums into stadium seating evidently meant for smaller posteriors.

At the midpoint of the drive we stopped at a side-of-the-road mini-mall which featured a Burger King to use the facilities, buy sodas, and what-not. Notice the inclement weather. I was spoiled a bit on my last trip to England; it was about this time of year, but it was sunny and in the 80s every day. It’s been chilly and damp this time around.

Hmmmm . . . Burger King . . .

We made it to Britannia Stadium in Stoke-on-Trent, home of the Mighty Stoke City Potters. We were given a sack lunch – you’re allowed to take food in, which is refreshing, although, oddly, no drinks. I opened my sack lunch and noticed the flavor of the “crisps”, as they call them here.

Hmmmm . . . prawns . . .

I ate the apple instead. On the way we got this picture of the team.

Our fantastic Scottish tour guides then passed out the tickets. Once again, we had great seats: 1st through fifth rows about level with the top of the box on the visitor’s side goal.

Gary and Austin, passing out tickets

Britannia is a nice stadium, more modern than Craven Cottage, We quickly found our seats and noticed that we were surrounded by passionate Stoke fans. I didn’t have a large preference as to who to root for before the game, but I was predicting a Chelsea win. Stoke has only been in the Premier league for a few years and is generally a bottom-half team, whereas Chelsea is more of a powerhouse. But as the game wore on, I found myself rooting for the Potters.

The boys in the stands

One reason that swayed me was the nearby Chelsea fans who were particularly boorish. They were seated behind the goal, to our right. Take note of the heavy security cordon between them and the Stoke fans on their right.

The gentleman on the loudspeaker several times reminded the crowd that they should sit at all times during the game, so as not to inconvenience the other spectators. And while the Stoke fans were loud and passionate, more-so, it seemed, than the Fulham fans the day before, they sat politely almost the whole time. Meanwhile, the Chelsea fans defiantly stood.

It was great being in this section, because English soccer fans sing and chant the entire game, and we had some rousing back and forth between the Chelsea fans and the Stoke fans. A large portion of what was chanted was unintelligible to me; I’m discovering that understanding English is not as easy as I thought it would be, and I’m finding myself having to ask the ladies at shops and waitstaff at the restaurants to repeat themselves. But I did catch some of the words. Some I can’t record here as this is a family blog. On one occasion I’m pretty sure the Chelsea fans were calling the ref a “wanker”. We had a kindhearted Stoke fan nearby who would translate for us periodically.

Incidentally, the Stoke team is called the Potters, and their mascot is, evidently, a Hippo. I know that doesn’t make sense. I suspect a lot of what goes on in American sports doesn’t make sense to the British either. The team has been around since the time of our Civil War, so there’s a long history and no doubt good reasons.

The Stoke Hippo

Some action shots of the game are below. Thankfully, I took some time to understand the settings on my camera and these pictures turned out a lot better than yesterday’s.

Rory Delap, about to throw in. He has a cannon – his throw-ins were practically corner kicks

Soccer is not a contact sport. Ha.

It was an entertaining game. The final score was . . . nil-nil, again. So we have yet to see a goal scored in a Premier game. But the Stoke fans were actually quite happy with the result. They were supposed to get beat, and they seemed satisfied with a draw. The Chelsea fans, not so much. As the Stoke team was walking off the field I saw Chelsea fans shaking their fists at them.

Again, this is incomprehensible to most Americans. It’s pretty hard to picture, say, Philadelphia Eagles fans being happy with a 3-3 tie against the Giants, assuming that ties were even possible in the NFL. But the Stoke fans were riveted to every minute of this game. There were lots of scoring chances on both sides, and the Potters weathered a furious storm of attacks in the second half. So, they get a point in the Premier Leagues standings, which altogether made for a good day for them.

Following the game we were taken to a restaurant that served New York and Italian style food. It was pretty good. I ordered the Cod and Chips, which was, I think, the only traditional English meal on the menu. I’m stuffed.

We got back home around 9:00pm or so. All in all it was a great day

Tomorrow, London.

European Soccer Tour – Day 2: Aston Villa at Fulham

Today was the start of the English Premier league soccer season. For those of you unfamiliar with international soccer, in England the Premier league is basically as big a deal as the NFL is to America. It’s England’s biggest sport, and the Premier league is considered one of the finest soccer leagues in the world.

Through Austin and Gary, our fabulous Scottish tour guides, the Texan players and parents scored really good seats to a Premier league opener today: Aston Villa at Fulham.

My day began at eight. It was so good getting to sleep last night – I slept like a rock for nine or ten hours. Once I rolled out of bed, I had a delicious traditional English breakfast of fried eggs, English bacon and sausage, baked beans, a slice of tomato (pronounced “toMAHto”), toast and English hot tea. We parents had the morning to ourselves, basically, as the boys trained over at Bradfield, and the down-time was much needed and appreciated. We finally bussed over to Bradfield around eleven, and since there was some time to kill once we got there I took a walk and found this little amphitheater.

Bradfield Amphitheater

Around noon we made our way to the dining hall to eat with the boys. Note the stained glass, right above the drink stand. On a related note, I haven’t seen an ice-cube yet in my entire time in Europe.

Stained glass in the dining hall. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of ice cubes.

Following lunch we trooped onto the bus and were off for London!

Fulham and Aston Villa are both middle-of-the-pack Premier teams, but we were expecting a fun afternoon in any event. The Premier league rules are such that each team has to basically earn the right to stay in the league every year. I may post some more information on that later, but let me just say, Detroit Lions, that you should count your blessings.

I like talking Premier soccer with Gary, partly because he’s very knowledgeable, and partly because it gives me a chance to hear some excellent Scottish. I asked him who was favored and if it would be a good match. He expected it would be, but warned me not to be surprised if they played to a draw.

Below are some pictures I shot on the way into London and on our walk to Fulham’s home stadium, Craven Cottage.

Into London

The team walking to Craven Cottage. Love the game faces

A view of the stadium from our vantage point

The boys, checking their tickets to see how good the seats are
and strategizing about the best way to get into the stadium

We ended up with really good seats, about four rows up behind the visitor’s goal. We were surrounded primarily by Aston fans.

Our view of the field, prior to the game

I tried to take some action shots. I keep forgetting to learn the settings on the camera I brought (it’s Jill’s camera) so though I took a lot of shots during the game, most of them are blurry. I’ll try to get this figured out before tomorrow’s match.

Aston’s keeper, collecting the ball

The game ended up in a nil-nil (or 0-0) tie, which, I realize, seems incomprehensible to Americans. When this happens the teams both get one point for the Premier league standings, versus three points for a win and zero points for a loss. It was not a bad match, and it proved out Gary’s earlier prediction. There were some exciting plays before both goals, but, as he put it, very few positive chances.

Due to the recent troubles in London, there was a larger than normal security presence at the game. We noticed that on any controversial call, all the yellow-jacketed security people would ominously rise and stone-face the crowd, just to keep things from getting too pitchy. At the end of the game, they all stood and ringed the stadium as the players departed.

Not taking any chances at game’s end

After the game we checked out the Fulham team store for souvenirs. While we were doing that, a Rolls Royce pulled up. Its license plate was “AV1”. It turns out this Rolls belongs to Aston Villas chairman.

Blake in front of the Rolls

We walked back to the bus, found our seats and made the one-hour trip back to Bradfield for dinner. Following that, we parents were taken back to the hotel, where I now sit. Sleep, soon . . .

This has been a great trip so far. Tomorrow, Chelsea at Stoke!

European Soccer Tour – Day 1

The year of Max Q continues! It’s been so good (if you need me to explain what I’m talking about, let me know).

Blake and I left Thursday afternoon for Europe with his soccer club, to experience a long-planned (and thankfully, for the most part long-since paid for) European soccer tour. The first leg of the journey went about as well as a long international flight can. Those in the know tell you to take knock-out aspirin to get some sleep on the plane, which I did. It didn’t exactly get me to sleep as much as it made me just feel funky, so when we landed Friday morning in Paris I was feeling pretty worn out.

Ah, Paris. City of romance. City of refined culture and exquisite cuisine. City of smelly, stuffy, hot and run down Charles de Gaulle airport.

We had a five hour layover there. I’m not complaining, because, for goodness sakes, we get to go to Europe and I’m counting my blessings. But five hours in CDG was five hours too long.

We were in the security line to get to our gate, and had been for some time, surrounded by loudly complaining Americans (not in our group) and, of course, the french, when suddenly all the passport gates closed. We were vigorously waved over to another area and the passport lines were cleared and roped off. We shuffled where we were told – not that I could understand a word – along with a teeming mass of people who, like me, didn’t appear to have taken a shower recently either. The French security guards loudly blew their whistles and shouted at us.

Serrez-vous les gens là stupides!

Le mouvement vite ou je vous sifflerai encore une fois!

Vite! Vite! Dépêchez-vous!



Finally, the crisis, or whatever it was, was over, and they let us back in line, which was now in a coil several miles long. The Americans behind me were complaining about missing a flight and urging me to, I guess, trample the people in front of me, so I ignored them and they skipped under the rope to the loud complaints of an ineffective French security guard.

“Let’s just go outside for awhile,” I suggested to Blake. The cooler air outside felt good, and I snapped a picture.

Blake, not feeling particularly happy with Charles de Gualle thus far.

We finally got back in line, and made it through customs . . . which, it turns out, we didn’t have to go through. Seems I had missed a turn when we disembarked and got us on the wrong side of things. Another family was following me and got mixed up in the mess as well. Those who know me well know that “following Bill” is not a recipe for success, and, Jeff, the dad, has been ribbing me ever since for leading them astray.

In any event, we finally made it through security and to our gate and settled down for a long layover. I was so tired I ended up putting my backpack in my lap and using it for a pillow to snatch a quick doze. Meanwhile the boys entertained themselves.

They don’t look tired

The flight to London was very short and comfortable, and after we disembarked, went through customs (I was an old pro at going through customs by now), and got our luggage, we met up with Austin and Gary, our Scottish soccer guides, and boarded our chartered bus bound for Bradfield College, a co-ed boarding school for ages 13 through 18, nestled in the Berkshire countryside near Reading (which is pronounced “Redding”).

Bradfield College

Bradfield was established in 1850, and it has a lot of charm and is surrounded by a lush, beautiful countryside. I love England.

Our boys were scheduled to play a match against a British team from the Ascot United football club.

The Texans (in red) and Ascot United

As jet-lagged and tired from the long trip as they were, and with this being their first time to go up against European talent, we were not expecting a great showing. Boy, were we wrong. It was a great, fun match to watch, and the Ascot parents were very complimentary of our boys. We controlled possession for most of the game, played a stout defense, and ended up winning 4-2. We had the good fortune of having a guest Scottish goalkeeper from one of the teams coached by our tour guides, and he was fabulous. He’s in green, above.

Both keepers did a great job talking up their teams and directing and encouraging the defense. Ascot’s keeper in particular gave us a dose of some great Britishisms during one memorable exhortation.

Keep up the pressure, boys! Pressure!!

That’s how we win mates, WITH LOVELY PRESHAAAH!!!”


I need to figure out the sports-setting on my camera, because most of the shots I got during the game were blurry. But here are two.

The back four, holding the line

Blake, waiting for a throw-in

Following the game, we had a meal together and the boys went to their Bradfield dorms while we parents went to our hotel, All in all, it was a very tiring but good travel-day and day 1 of the trip. The boys represented America well.

Tomorrow, Aston Villa at Fulham.

* This isn’t really what they said, as far as I know. I don’t speak French.