The West Coast United under 12s team is back from what can only be described as the trip of a lifetime.
It all started in the early hours of Saturday July 16, when the team of 14 young footballers, along with four siblings and 17 adults, boarded a coach en-route to Dublin Airport to catch an 8.35am flight to Oslo, Norway. From there we travelled on to Sweden by coach.
Our first stop was Kungalv – home town of West Coast coach Jessica Hansson – about 20km outside of Gothenburg. Here at Hotel Fars Hatt is where the parents and siblings would be located for the week. The team, along with the five remaining adults, travelled on to Gothenburg.
Katrinelundsgymnasiet, an Elite High School in the centre of Gothenburg, is where we would be based for the week, along with some 50 other teams from all corners of the world. After settling in and blowing up and making up the beds, we met up with the rest of the gang again that evening in the city centre for a tasty meal at Joe Farelli’s, a Hard Rock Cafe-style restaurant. Here we were joined by Jessica’s parents and family friend Tomas. Tomas in heavily involved with the Gothia Cup and made us feel like VIPs during our stay.
An early night after a long day travelling was in order, although try telling that to 14 excited 10-12yr olds!
Although we had no game till Monday morning, we got up early on Sunday morning and made our way to Heden, our match centre, for an early morning training session, before meeting up at the parents’ hotel for a lovely breakfast. Although the best of the weather was to come in the following days, the kids wasted no time trying out the hotel pool.
A trip to the medieval Bohus Fortress followed, where the kids tried out archery, stilt walking, sword fighting and knights’ armour. We also took in a boat tour around Gothenburg later that day, before heading back to Heden.
As well as being the location of our matches, Heden is the heart of the tournament, with a large event and exhibition area, food court, leaders’ lounge and skills centre where the team, as well as some of the adults, enjoyed the challenges on offer.
Our opening game on Monday was against Makati FC, a very strong team from the Philippines who were on their annual European tour and were one of the pre-tournament favourites. They won the Barcelona cup, beating Barcelona 3-1 in the final, and then played in a tournament in Denmark, finishing third before coming to the Gothia Cup.
They also played here last year as u11s and made the quarter finals. In contrast, our boy’s only competitive football has been an eight-game league between September and March of this year, plus a handful of cup games, so they were up against it!
Our boys gave it their all, but not surprisingly we were well beaten by a superior opponent. Although the boys were upset at the loss, when we got back to the school we talked about the things we had learned and the things they needed to work on for the next game. After lunch we visited Universeum, a science museum including a five story indoor rainforest.
Later that evening came one of the highlights of the week – the opening ceremony, where we joined more than 50,000 spectators in the Ullevi Stadium for a show akin to an Olympics opening ceremony including a parade of nations and spectacular fireworks display!
Tuesday was match day two, and next up were Stenungsunds IF, a Swedish Club whose senior team play in the Swedish second division. Our young boys showed great character both individually and as a team to shrug off the previous day’s defeat. They took on board the lessons learned and followed their instructions to go out and play some great football.
They won the game 3-2, with a first half strike from Dara Coyne followed by a second half brace from Conal Hennessy. Needless to say, the boys were on a high for the rest of the day.
Wednesday saw us take on Enebybergs IF, another Swedish club from near Stockholm. With Makati FX beating Stenungsunds IF in the game before ours we knew we were guaranteed third place in the group, a position we were happy with as second would have put us in a draw with some very strong opposition for the knock out stages.
So we used the opportunity to play our full squad of 14 players, changing the whole team bar the keeper at half time. Although we did score in the second half, through Cooper Johnson, we lost 7-1 having been down 2-0 at half time. We also lost Nicole Bann through injury only minutes after coming on at half time.
After lunch we all chilled out in and around Heden, before meeting up in the afternoon when Daniel Conroy’s dad treated all the kids to a meal and ice creams in McDonalds to mark Daniel’s birthday. This was followed by birthday cake in the main arena at Heden where our friend Tomas’s team were playing.
After the match, Kealan, Jack and Jake presented Tomas with a West Coast United polo shirt and pennant as a thank you gift for all his help. The evening was spent watching movies back at the school.
Thursday was match day four, and our first knock out game against another Swedish team from near Stockholm. Kick off was 9am and temperatures pitch side were already mid 20s – not something us west of Ireland folk are used to.
The team found it tough playing in that heat, and we lost the game 8-0 against a strong opponent.
Our tournament was over, and we spent the rest of Thursday on the beach (rocks!) at Marstrand, Sweden’s answer to Cape Cod, about an hour north of Gothenburg.
On Friday most of us spent the day at Liseberg, a theme park in the centre of Gothenburg, for some white knuckle rollercoaster action.
Saturday was a day of leisure and we all had dinner at the local Chinese in Kungalv with a presentation of diplomas for the team members and a surprise Gothia Cup T-shirt signed by the team for the coaches before the long trek home on Sunday.
I know I speak for everyone when I say this trip has been an experience of a life time. The team of 13 boys and one girl did themselves, their families and their club proud both on and off the pitch. The experience they have gained during this trip will stay and benefit them for a long time to come.
On behalf of all who travelled I would like to say a very special thank you to Jessica and her family in Sweden, who went above and beyond all expectations to ensure this was a trip to remember!