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Junior sports club under 14 girls trip to Valencia

FRANK’S REPORT – A CHAIRMAN’S VIEW

On Friday May 19th, 2017 the Formby Junior Sports Club Under 14 Girls’ team set off on their four-day trip to Valencia in Spain. The eleven girls, plus twelve adults and team mascot met at the club’s headquarters at Deansgate Lane.

Before leaving, the first three of hundreds of photographs to be taken during the four-day trip, were snapped with a backdrop of the clubhouse. The first photograph was of the very proud and excited girls in their new bright red and black tracksuits. These had been provided, as so many other things had been, due to the fund raising efforts of the parents, the girls themselves and the many kind people who donated money for the girls to go on this great adventure.

The second photo which as Club Chairman I was invited to join the team on, brought back memories of the first ever FJSC trip in 1975 when the FJSC Under 17 Boys’ team went to the United States of America.

The last photograph was of the entire travelling contingent. This included the very kind parents who had given up their time to travel and support the club, the team and their daughters.

It was the start of what turned out to be a trip that everyone luckily enough to be on the coach to Manchester Airport will always remember.

Looking out of the coach window on the motorway memories of the USA trip came flooding back to me. I remembered that my dad, Jim Rourke went along as Club Chairman and President and I was the young team manager and coach. The saying coming round full circle had definitely happened. Now forty-two years later here I was, FJSC Chairman and travelling together with my wife Marg, following in the same footsteps as my dad all those years earlier. Even more of a concern to me was Jim was only sixty-three in 1975 and I’m four years older than that now!

Another thought which went through my mind was that the boys on the first ever trip are now all in their very late fifties. Also on the same adventure was a twenty-two year old assistant manager who although not on this trip is now the Club’s Treasurer. Perhaps even more worrying was the last statistical thought, as I looked around the now noisy coach. How many other people on the coach were actually alive back in 1975? Anyway back to the trip.

All went smoothly as we waited to board Ryanair Flight 2604 to Valencia. The only concern was that waiting with us in the lounge there appeared to be five slightly suspicious looking pilots and a strange looking air stewardess. They all appeared to be also ready to travel with us. Worries were soon dismissed however, when it was found out that the pilots and “stewardess” were in fact members of a weekend stag party.

The flight went well and everyone exited the plane at a very hot Valencia apart from our eleven girls who had already arranged to be the last off in order to pose on the steps of the aeroplane for an Olympic style photograph. This was the first of many agreed and sometimes secret plans that the girls hatched out together.

The first of many first class coach journeys saw us arrive at the Holiday Express Hotel. This was near to the new City of Arts and Science which is recognised as one of the twelve Treasures of Spain with its fantastic modern architecture. A quick unpack was followed by the first of three memorable evenings in which the girls ate together and then had fun time and the adults were able to get to know each other over some excellent Spanish meals.

Day Two was a free day. For most, the morning trip around the home of Valencia FC, the impressive and world famous Mestalla Stadium was the favourite destination. This was the start of the wonderful way in which all those connected to Valencia Football Club treated the visitors from Formby, England.

The girls discovered that the Mestalla, the third largest football stadium in Spain, was steeped in history. It was built in 1923 with a capacity of 55,000. Over the years Valencia have won La Liga on six occasions as well as winning many cups at home and in Europe and also being Champions League Finalists twice. Photographs of famous Valencia managers were proudly displayed including three very well known Premier League managers, namely Claudio Raneri, Rafael Benitez and Ronald Koeman. The girls also sat in the dugout and some of the parents even pretended to give news conferences in the pressroom. It was at this point that I think the girls only really became aware that the team they were to be playing very soon where from one of the world’s top football clubs. Wow!

Some of the party, like Marg and myself, explored the old city centre of Valencia with its winding narrow streets and small squares with beautiful and quaint shops. In the afternoon the majority of the party went to the sandy beach called La Malvarrosa. Later in the evening everyone went out together for a brilliant Spanish culinary tapas experience. The girls however all decided to have pizzas. The waiters were very impressed when many of the girls who have been learning Spanish in school, used the opportunity to try out their Spanish. To conclude the evening a group of local students wearing traditional Spanish folk costumes entertained us all with some Spanish songs, Viva Espana and even a version of Hey Jude.

The next morning the girls travelled in the Levante team coach to the tremendously impressive Valencia Academy Football Centre. Levante is the city of Valencia’s other major club. On arrival the girls were shown into a very plush changing room and were introduced to one of the Academy's top people a lovely lady named Marina. Looking across into the dressing room opposite, the girl’s could see each set of kit very neatly set out for all the Valencia girls that the FJSC girls were to play.

Even in the warm up training and coaching session it was obvious that the opposition were of outstanding ability. The two teams were led onto the artificial perfect playing surface pitch by the referee in his very official looking green top. It was just like the Champions League but without the music.

The very large Valencia squad wearing the famous white shirts and black shorts of Valencia shook hands (Premier League style) with the nine fit girls of FJSC plus the two FJSC girls who were unable to play due to an injury and illness sustained prior to the trip. Due to these unfortunate circumstances the match was changed to an eight-aside game. In sweltering heat and with only one substitute to rotate the FJSC girls’ played exceptionally well. The Valencia girls were fantastic. It must have been like playing Real Madrid or Barcelona but in fact it was Valencia.

To put this into context there are eight hundred thousand people living in Valencia and Valencia Ladies are the third best team in Spain and recently were watched in a home match by seventeen thousand spectators. The result was inevitable but somehow this did not matter. Within seconds of the final whistle being blown and the applause and cheers from both sets of supporters, all the girls of Formby Junior Sports Club and Valencia Club de Futbol shook hands with beaming smiles on their faces as if they were all old friends. Mobile phones immediately appeared like magic and all the girls became immediate friends using Instagram and other technical devices far beyond my comprehension.

The sight of seeing all the girls from two nations coming together so naturally, talking to each other even if not fully understanding the context of their conversations, smiling, showing such happiness and instantly becoming friends through one common goal – the sport of football with stay in my memory for ever. It was the highlight of the entire tour.

The girls all received orange Valencia souvenir bags as goodbye gifts. One of the items was a Valencia scarf, which were all worn in the afternoon despite the high temperature when all the party returned to the Mestalla to see Valencia play Villareal in the final league match of the season.

We all arrived early to find our seats for the match. After negotiating the steep steps up to our reserved seats we were able to watch the two teams pre match warm ups. The crowd as kick off time approached grew in number but all the noise, chanting and singing was emanating from a small section above us at the very top of the open stands where there was a solid mass of jumping on the spot supporters wearing everything which was bright yellow. It made sense as Villareal are called the Yellow Submarine. This loud and excitable continuous chanting lasted for the entire match.

Villareal scored in the first minute and went on to win 3-1. We all supported the home team but despite the encouragement from the Valencia crowd the result was a little disappointing but the whole experience of a foreign match was again a great memory. We even saw the large Valencia mascot – a giant bat which on this occasion did not do what it was supposed to do and bring the team good luck. Before we left the stadium some of the girls had already received photos and messages from their new Spanish friends on Instagram.

We visited the beach for the last time, walked along the popular La Malvarrosa promenade and ate in another very welcoming restaurant to complete the very busy but immensely enjoyable day.

Even on the final morning at the hotel everyone made time to sunbathe, go for a walk or visit the large shopping mall, which was adjacent to our hotel.

Another smooth journey to Valencia Airport was followed by a comfortable flight back to Manchester. The safe journey home to Formby was soon over. Parents and friends greeted their loved ones and goodbyes were said. It all seemed to have come and gone so quickly but the second ever FJSC trip abroad had been a great experience, which had been thoroughly enjoyed by everyone.

It was fitting that on the Twentieth Anniversary of Girls’ Football at Formby Junior Sports Club such an adventure had been organised and had taken place.

The trip was an outstanding success and was brilliantly organised by Tina Hamilton and Ian Robinson. The preparations before the trip were planned in great detail. The efforts to raise enough funds to make it possible for all the girls to go to Valencia had been successfully achieved.

FJSC wishes to thank all the girls’ parents, the girls themselves and many very kind people in the Formby area, including many shopkeepers who made donations in the form of raffle prizes. The collective effort raised nearly £2000.

Congratulations to every girl who went on the trip. They were all a great credit to Formby Junior Sports Club and their families. Well done to Sammy Godsall, Molly Graham, Lily Hamilton, Abby Hobbs, Ella Lawson, Josie McIver, Holly Pearson, Lucy Robins, Rachel Robinson, Erin Smith, Freya Walsh and team mascot Dominic Hamilton. We know that they had been wonderful ambassadors for FJSC because Valencia FC have invited the club back again in the future.

A big thank you also is extended to all the adults who went on the trip. This support helped the organisers’ day-to-day plans enormously and was very much appreciated.

My wife Marg and myself would like to thank all the parents and girls for making us feel so welcome on a trip which had everything.

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