AFC Lightning Spain Trip – The Experience of a Lifetime
by Jon Williams (AFC Lightning - Boys Director)
On March 30th our U12 Development Academy team set-off for the trip of a lifetime. Coach Mike and coach Jon greeted the players and families in Madrid on April 1st and the team quickly hopped on a train to our first destination of the trip, Sevilla!
After checking into the hotel and getting some lunch/downtime. The families headed out into the city to walk around and check out the sights. The cathedral de Seville was certainly an eye catcher for most with its unique architecture and history. The boys were impressed but they knew what was coming in day 2 of their trip!
Day 2, we travelled early to watch Sevilla FC play Sporting Gijon at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium. A beautiful stadium and the atmosphere was fantastic. Sevilla were in 3rd place while Sporting Gijon were facing relegation. This made for a very tactical game that our players were able to watch and learn from!
Later in the evening, the families again went for a bit of sightseeing but this time to Plaza de Espana. An incredible piece of history once again that our players and families were able to come face to face with. After this, we saw the Esperanza de Triana, a beautiful church with artwork and craftsmanship that is rarely seen anymore.
After an awesome match and some unbelievable tours, it was time for the players to get down to business.
Day 3 was the start of a 4-day circuit of training and games against La Rinconada, Sevilla FC, San Jose de Riconada and San Roque De Lepe. First up though was the chance to have a training session with the Sevilla FC youth academy staff at their training grounds. It was great for the players to have a chance to work under the coaches who are helping to produce some of Spain’s next big talents!
After a quick lunch and siesta, the boys travelled to Rinconada to play their first game of the trip! The players got to experience playing 11v11 for the first time and it was great to see how they transitioned from the 9x9 game, a much smaller field, into the bigger sized field and ball that they will be playing with starting next year!
Day 4 started with a quick breakfast and then off to the training fields with the AFC Lightning staff. A quick review of the previous game and some light technical work and the players were beginning to feel excited about their next challenge….. the Sevilla FC 04 game! It was great to watch this game as you could clearly see the level that these Sevilla players were currently at and the level they will be at in the near future. Once again, we would like to thank Sevilla FC for their incredible hospitality towards!
Day 5 started with another quick training session to get the boys loose as the trip and the games began to wear on them. However, the energy levels were quickly restored as the boys set off for a tour and history lesson on one of the great clubs in not just Spain, but in Europe…. Sevilla FC. The players especially loved being able to sit in the dug out where some of their favorite players have once sat!
Day 6 started once again with a training session to make sure the players were stretched out and ready to go for game number 3. Before game #3, the families were able to get out to Santiponce to see the historic Roman Ruins that were built in 206 BC and still standing to this day!
This time, the boys would be playing San Jose la Rinconada and to make this game even more special, flyers were created and sent out around the city that the AFC Lightning boys were in town and came to play!
After the game, it is customary to exchange jerseys with the other team. While we could not do this, the boys were still able to swap kits for a quick picture and show that soccer is truly a universal game and the sportsmanship that comes along with the game!
Day 6 was a day to get some much-needed sleep as we were moving on to our next destination, Lepe! After travelling to Lepe, checking into the hotel and getting some rest, we headed to San Roque De Lepe to play our last match of the trip. It was a great game and we could clearly see the growth of our players as they were now used to this level and speed of play. After the training, the players were invited to watch San Roque’s first team (professional) train up close. They were amazed at the speed of play, decision making, and communication of the professional players!
Day 7 was certainly a day for all to relax and decompress a bit. It was our last day in Lepe and some went to the local beach, to see the famous port in Lepe, and others to just relax. Day 8 will be a memorable one as our next stop is Madid, Spain and more importantly, our entire group going to see Real Madrid x Atletico Madrid play in the Madrid derby!
Day 8, after a once in a lifetime experience to see not only one of the biggest derby games in the world, but to see players (and coaches) who will go down as some of the true greats of all time, we were able to take a stadium tour of Real Madrid – The Santiago Bernabeu. The tour showed just why Real Madrid is widely considered the best and biggest club in the world. The history, trophies, famous players, and what it means to play for Real Madrid gives you goosebumps.
And so concluded our AFC Lightning trip to Spain. Everyone met up one last time to catch the bus together to head to the airport and make our way back stateside. An experience like this is invaluable in so many ways, from the experiences on the pitch and seeing what the game, speed, and culture is like in a soccer-crazed country to seeing pieces of history, the camaraderie that was forged, and the memories that will live with these families forever.