Soccer Academy Inc. of Manassas, Va. pride themselves on being one of the few companies to offer adult soccer coaching. Earlier this month, the organization returned from what they hope will be the first of many trips abroad as 15 men and women travelled with them to London, England.
A five-day trip that combined taking in the local sights with watching three games of top-level soccer, it was the brainchild of the organization’s president Paul Ellis and Steve Lovgren, who wanted to offer those attending an experience they would not forget.
The group departed the United States on February 26 and returned on March 3. On their visit they were able to see Tottenham Hotspur take on Dnipro of Ukraine in the UEFA Europa League, QPR play Leeds in the nPower Championship, and Tottenham face Cardiff City in the Premier League.
Staying at the Thistle Hotel in Kensington, just a stone’s throw from QPR and Chelsea Football Clubs and on the edge of Hyde Park, it was a diverse group with some hailing from as far afield as California. As Lovgren explains, the organizers of the trip were driven by a desire to take in all they could in a nation famed for loving its soccer.
“We had tickets to three games in five days, and the overall aim was just to get the atmosphere of the stadia – the chanting, the singing, the food on offer, the beer,” Lovgren told SoccerWire.com. “We also went down to Soho and several other areas and had a great time.
“The owner of Soccer Academy, Paul Ellis, is English. We also have a gentleman who works inside the office called Craig Scott who is Scottish. So we have two guys from the UK, not to mention that since we’ve been around since 1981, we have had a huge amount of guys come over from the UK to work who come to camps with us.
“We’ve been getting into adult residential camps and adult day camps over the past many years, and we wanted to offer something for adults that wasn’t just during the summer.”
As well as immersing themselves in the London soccer scene, the trip also included a good deal of sightseeing, with a Friday morning double decker bus tour allowing the group to take in all that the city had to offer. Many even chose to extend their stays to accommodate and add to what was a fast-paced schedule.
“It had been the first time in London for many of them,” Lovgren said. “Some people came and stayed two days early and left late. One person was here for a week and went to France, some people visited friends and family, so it was really neat what they were experiencing.
“We saw the Changing of the Guard, everybody went to that, which is a nice sight at Buckingham Palace. The double-decker bus tour, as cheesy as they are, was a lot of fun. We had some great guides. There wasn’t much time for sleep, and when we weren’t sleeping we were at a bar!”
Another highlight for the group was a stadium tour of Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea. As the team rides high in the Premier League under Jose Mourinho, the visitors from Soccer Academy were able to take in a stadium that has stood in West London since 1876 and been occupied by the Blues since 1905. One thing they were particularly struck by is how well maintained the ground is, especially considering it has stood in some form for well over a century.
“That stadium, as old as it is, it’s amazing how modern they’ve kept it,” Lovgren said. “We got to walk into the press room, we got to walk into the dressing-rooms and we saw the jerseys hung up. The guide took us through all the rooms, showing what it was like for the players. The grounds crew were furiously working there, they had these tents over the goalbox area with heat lamps on it. They were cutting the grass and scraping and making sure it was perfect, and I don’t think everybody knows how much time and effort is put into making these grounds perfect for television and for these teams.
“Stamford Bridge is in a very nice section of town, it’s very yuppy, and it’s nice. You can see why Roman Abramovich put money into that place and why Jose Mourinho likes it.”
In all, the trip was deemed a huge success by both the organizers and those who attended. On the company’s official website, trip attendee Linda M. called it a “grand adventure”, while Lourdes S. said: “Thank you Soccer Academy for a fun trip. I enjoyed it. Everyone that with us were wonderful. I would like to specially thank Steve Lovgren, Paul Ellis for watching out for us ladies & Linda (my room mate) for putting up with me.”
“A lot of people were commenting on how enjoyable it was, how they’d always dreamed of seeing live games,” he said. “We gave them a Championship game, a Premier League game and we also gave them a Europa League game, so it was quite a nice variety. To be able to see Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane and also Loftus Road is a nice little tour.
“The nice thing about future trips is that we can mix it up and it could be like a whole new trip. We’re talking about future plans of possibly Edinburgh in Scotland, then maybe taking the train down to Manchester and finishing up again in London. We could do maybe an Arsenal game to give people the experience of different stadiums and to do different things.
“There’s a lot of possibilities, there’s hundreds of stadiums and teams in England, Ireland and Scotland. We even joked around about going over to France!”