In the fall of 2001, the University of Chicago men's soccer team took to the road for its second preseason trip abroad in the history of the program. The team toured Scotland, Wales and England for a total of twelve days which included four matches against semi-professional and amateur teams in and around the cities of Glasgow, Scotland, Wrexham, North Wales and London, England.
The 2001 Chicago team had the itch to go overseas after hearing about the tour in 1997 to Scotland that their predecessors had taken and began plans for making it happen. Arranged through Joe Totman at Harvard Sports Tours, Inc., the schedule included a mixture of training, playing and sightseeing around Britain. Fundraising was planned and initiated by the players themselves beginning with on-campus work for the athletic department at men's and women's home basketball games as well as NCAA Division III men's tournament play. In the spring the players helped train a local youth team called the "Southside Strikers" and finished off their money making endeavors with two days of hauling hurdles and raking long jump pits at the University Athletic Association Outdoor Track & Field meet. Although these events helped, the majority of the fundraising was a done through a raffle in which grand prizes was $1,500, $1,000 and $500 were awarded! Parents, friends and generous alumni participated and the team sold over three hundred $50 tickets. The upperclassmen ended up paying approximately $400 per person (first years paid $800 since they were not able to participate) which covered airfare, accommodations, transportation, food and a additonal things like tickets to a professional game and a team travel package.
The team began the first leg of their European adventure by gathering in Chicago for two days of pre-tour training on campus prior to their departure. After getting themselves organized, the players boarded a flight for Glasgow, Scotland. At the end of a long flight, the team bused to their local accomodations in Edinburgh and began an experience they had been planning for two years.
Based at the Heriot-Watt University Halls of Residence on the outshirts of Edinburgh, the team trained twice daily at a local campus site which included laundry facilities, a dining hall and convenience store. The "Maroons" would rise, eat and practice in the morning and had personalized tours of the city and Edinburgh Castle by means of their "A" team comprised of our tour guide John Gosnell and the coach driver Mike Lewis of Harvard Sports Tours, Inc. They both lent a local flavor (both originally from Wales) and family atmosphere to the tour which made it easy for everyone including the coaches. Of course the main reason for the tour was to play, and play the "Maroons" did!
The first match was against Scottish Second Division foe Queens Park FC, the oldest amateur club in Scotland. Prior to the game the team was treated to a tour of Hampden Stadium by Tommy Wilson, the organizer of the game who works with Queen's Park. He's a friend of Coach O'Connors and one of the Scottish Football Associations three Youth Development Officers. It was quite a thrill for the players to hear Tommys stories about the history of the national stadium as well as of his playing days in the Scottish Premier League and as a Scottish Youth International. After a few photo's and a short ride to the training ground, the team warmed-up for their first competition on foreign soil.
After conceding a goal in the first five minutes of the game, the Maroons tied the match on a free kick goal by Ben Johnson '02 (White River Junction, VT) from an assist by classmate Pat Calleo (Mineola, NY). Going into half-time 1-1 seemed to be comfortbale position to begin the tour but a second half 10 minute lapse spelled doom as Q.P.F.C. scored three times and capped the scoring with a penalty to make the final 5-1. Although the score didn't reflect the quality of play in the match, the players were disappointed and vowed to get things back on track at their next opportunity
The second match of the tour was against Oswestry Town F.C., a Welsh League team managed by one of the assistant national team coaches for Wales. The evening match was played in a quaint little ground but the game turned out not to be one which would be termed as such. A hard fought 0-0 draw was the result but not without contreversy. In the second half a Rob Honkonen '04 (Cincinnati, OH) goal was disallowed for a questionable off-sides. To the credit of the UC lads, they re-grouped and showed their real worth against an opponent featuring many former pro and semi-pro players looking to re-find their touch. Goalkeeper Micah Prochaska '04 (Ann Arbor, MI) was outstanding and impressed many of those watching from the stands. Following the match the team was invited back to the teams clubhouse for a post-game snack and then it was back for a good nights rest.
The very next day the team was out on the field again for the second of three consecutive days matches. The games rescheduled this way due to scheduling problems caused by the English Football Associations cancellation of weekend games because of the England vs Germany World Cup Qualifier. The squad got on the bus and travelled down to England to take on Second Division Wallsall F.C.'s Academy Team. Academy teams are squads comprised of a pool of young professionals 16-22 years old who have been signed to be developed for promotion to the first team or sold for financial reasons to other clubs.
For this match the team was split in half with every player geting the chance to take the pitch for a significant stretch of time. The Maroons showed well and were rewarded for good playwhen senior midfielder Devin Thomas (Brownsburg, IN) made one of his patented rusn forward and redirected a Barret Van Sicklen '03 (Madison, WI) cross for a 1-0 lead. Although the Chicago boy's seemed to have the edge, Wallsall pressed hard in the last fifteen minutes and scored a quality goal to equalize in the final five minutes. In the end although the UC boy's didn't get the win, it was a good performance and a total team effort.
Following the game the team travelled south to Manchester where they had a tour of "Old Trafford", the home of English Superclub Manchester United F.C. The boy's walked the halls and sat in the lockerroom used by Man U. superstars Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Frenchman ? Barthez. It was then back on the bus and off to city centre London for their last major stop of the tour. After a nice dinner, a short nights rest and some active recovery in the pool, the Maroons got their tired legs ready for the final match of the tour versus Stevenage- Borough FC. This proved to be the most exciting of the four as the lads left everything on the field.
It was a beautiful day when the game began and both teams played with passion and spirit. The Maroons went down 0-1 on a tactical mistake which SBFC took advantage. The goal looked like as though it was going to hold up but sophomore forward Rob Honkonen had other ideas. After an interception and a nifty combination he hooked up with striking partner Ben Johnson for the goal that evened the match in the final five minutes. Barret Van Sicklen looked as though he had notched the game winner two minutes later when he finished a bobble by the Stevenage goalkeeper. But, a questionable "possession" call by the the referee nullified his efforts. Chicago ended the game 1-1 and the tour with a 0-1-3 record, bringing many good things to the surface which would serve the team well later in the season.
In any tour like this, the team didn't miss out on the historic sites and significance of the countries they travelled. With four full days in Scotland the boy's had time to tour Edinburgh and it's historic castle as well as climb "Arthurs Seat", a small mountain which overlooks the city and Ballmoral, the Scottish home of the Queen Elizabeth and her family. The boy's also attended an exciting Scottish Premier League game between Celtic of Glasgow and Hibernian of Edinburgh at Easter Road. The rest of their free time was filled walking the streets of the city aglow with the excitement of the Edinburgh Street Festival and the remanents of the Royal Tatoo held just a week earlier.
In Wrexham, North Wales where the team stopped off to rest at Northeast Wales Institute, the guy's trained one morning at the local pro teams synthetic pitch. Their hours off were were spent at the Roman town of Chester which features restored period architecture and an ominous wall that surrounds the entire downtown. It served as a nice relaxer amidst three hard days of matches.
The highlight of the tour certainly had to be the teams time London which was jam packed with planned and unplanned events. Beginning with a bus tour of the city, the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace, continuing with shopping, fish & chips dinners and ending celebrating with the rest of England in Trafalgar Square following the national teams 5-1 thrashing of Germany in World Cup Qualifying. It was a sight to behold and not soon forgotten.
All in all, Euro Tour 2001 was one worth the work put in fundraising and with the help of Harvard Sports Tours group, the players and coaches got the most our of their time in Britain. The time and experience the 2001 Maroons prepared them for their NCAA Division III tournament qualifying season had will live in their memories forever.