Soccer, or futbol as it s known in England, is not just the country s most popular sport, but in some ways it s the only sport.
It commands unequaled attention.
Fifteen of northwest Ohio s top high school soccer players recently spent their spring break getting a first-hand look during a 10-day trip to the United Kingdom. The consensus feeling is the flight across the Atlantic was far more than just a field trip overseas.
It served as a confirmation of sorts for those who considered soccer the ultimate sport.
It was more than I expected, said St. John s Jesuit junior Michael Langdon. I really didn t know what to expect. It s a lot more popular than I thought it was. Soccer is more than a game there. It is life.
Greg Doyle, a Perrysburg sophomore, agrees the trip was an eye-opener.
The people go to work, come home and watch soccer, Doyle said. Soccer to them is like life and death.
Langdon and Doyle journeyed to England as members of the Greater Toledo Futbol Club a local select club soccer team. GTFC boys coach Paul Holdgate, who was born and reared in England, proposed the idea of taking some of his players back to England where the sport was founded in the 19th century.
Holdgate has lived and coached in the United States for a decade. It had been a vision of his for about two years to establish such a trip.
Soccer is still very new here and it s competing with three or four sports here, Holdgate said. In England, it s the No. 1 sport. It s the main sport there. Everyone plays soccer there.
Along the tour through parts of England the club visited the stadiums of several well-known professional soccer teams, including the home fields for the Manchester United Soccer Club and Highbury Arsenal Soccer Club. They even attended three professional matches.
Holdgate arranged for the team to play against some of the amateur club teams. He wasn t disappointed when GTFC prevailed only once in five matches.
It was all about educating the guys, so we weren t too worried about the results, Holdgate said.
Langdon found the foreign competition playing a style of soccer he was not accustomed to seeing in the U.S.
I think the game there is a lot different than the game over here, Langdon said. They play a lot faster and are more physical than over here.
Southview sophomore Tony Tricozzi said soccer in England is played at such a higher level than in the U.S. that he believes the players all came back benefiting from the visit.
It was shocking to see how the culture was so different and how much it revolves around soccer, Tricozzi said.
The trip to England also involved sight-seeing of famous places. The boys witnessed the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. They took photographs of the London Tower.
The group also found out the U.S. dollar is worth approximately half of England s pound. A McDonald s Happy Meal cost about $10.
However, purchasing soccer jerseys proved to be the best deal. A Manchester United jersey went for roughly half the price it cost in the U.S., according to Langdon, who, along with his teammates, returned to northwest Ohio with more jerseys in their suitcases than when they left.
The whole experience was amazing, Langdon said. It was exciting for all of us and I d go back in a second.
My overall experience was absolutely unforgettable, Doyle said. I ll never forget it for the rest of my life.
Holdgate, who played soccer professionally for three years, intends to make the trip an annual event for GTFC. You could see the progress throughout the week in the education about the game and you could tell in their ability throughout the week [that they were learning], Holdgate said.
Contact Donald Emmons at:email@example.com or 419-724-6302.