Monday, August 25, 2014

Wandering The Old Country

     Life often takes you on some wonderful journeys. Often these opportunities present themselves in unique ways. Recently I had the pleasure of having an overseas adventure, and the circumstance surrounding it was as unique as any I've ever had. And thus, I found my wife and I boarding a plane to jolly old England. I've long hoped to one day jet across the Atlantic to spend some time in the British countryside shooting high, fast flying pheasant, but sadly this would not be my purpose for travelling. So while the glorious 12th came, and went while I was in England I was not to be found on the grouse moores. My travels, in the ASO sense of things, was off topic. I was in England to watch soccer.

     Regular ASO readers know that when it comes to interests outside of my regular country pursuits I'm a rugby guy. England being the home of so many shooting sports, and the original home of my favorite breed of gun dog, the English Springer Spaniel, surely there is bound to be something there to captivate me, but it was not to be. So why soccer? That's easy. My nephew, Shoki, (wife's side of the family), plays for Sanfrecce Hiroshima JY, and he and his mates qualified to play in the Premier Cup, an international U-15 soccer tournament hosted by Manchester United, and held at their Aeon training center in Sale, with the final to be held at the home of MU, Old Trafford. The chance to support Shoki, and see family from Japan who were also making the trek to England was a no brainer.

      The Premier Cup was great. Manchester United provided an absolutely top notch venue, and while it may have been lost on me, I was made to understand by several of the Manchester locals I chatted with, that I was extremely fortunate to be admitted in to the Aeon training center, an area that is secluded and considered quite off limits to the public on most days. Coupled with the fact that Man-U allows the final to be played in Old Trafford, taking the pitch in that venue sure to be the dream of many of the kids present, I say hats off. The soccer matches were quality, too. Each of the 20 teams, from various countries, played 2 matches a day for 3 days, the intensity of which equalled the recent world cup. Not being a real soccer fan, but having an appreciation and understanding of the sport, I can say that watching pitchside provided a heightened sense of excitment, and made for some really enjoyable days, made all the better because they were shared with family.

My wife supporting the team

My BIL Ken, and nephew Shoki

      In many (most) parts of the world, soccer, and soccer teams are structured around either schools, or professional teams. The Youth teams present, for the most part were the AAA version of the professional team whose uniform they wore. Shoki, and his team were no different. Sanfrecce Hiroshima is a professional team (and league champions) from Japan. Shoki, after a series of tryouts, was selected, and he and his mates benefit from the support, and training that the Sanfrecce organization provides. After 3 days, and 6 matches Sanfrecce Hiroshima JY had a record of 3 wins, and 3 loses. The boys had been bested by the teams from Mexico, the Netherlands, and Brazil. They had however gotten the better of the teams from South Africa, South Korea, and the host team Manchester United. At the end of the tournament, their 3 & 3 record was good enough to deem them the 11th best U-15 team in the world. Not bad for their first ever international play. And I couldn't be prouder of Shoki and his mates. What of the final, held at Old Trafford? As it turned out, after spending almost the entire game of their heels, Dynamo Moscow FC  scored the only goal of the game  with less than 2 minutes left to beat Valencia FC (Spain) for the championship. And I now get to say I saw a soccer match at Old Trafford.

Sanfrecce on the move

Shoki holding it down against S. Africa

A japan supporter from NZ

Sanfrecce family and players

     My week of travel didn't conclude with the final at Old Trafford. The family and I boarded a train bound for London where we would do some sight seeing, and blend into the never ending sea of tourists. The train to London was where my need to see the English countryside grew even more. The first leg of our trip took us from Manchester to Sheffield via a route through the hills of the Peak District. The urge to jump off the train, strap on a pair of hiking boots, and start walking was floating around in my head all the way to Sheffield, but would not materialize this time. London was on the itinerary, and London it would be.

     London was,....interesting. In many ways I was underwhelmed, but I may be a little poisoned, as I travel to Tokyo frequently, and it's hard to find a more mind blowing, exciting city than Tokyo. As we walked London I enjoyed taking in the many historic sight, and beautiful architecture. But I kept thinking of the old NYC saying "It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there" and thinking that London is probably the opposite, a great place to live, but tough to visit ($$$). Strangely, London gets into your blood, and while I could have cared less if I ever saw London again as I was leaving, I now feel a desire to return and explore more of the city growing in me. In particular I'd like to better explore the Greenwich area of London. While in Greenwich we visited the park, and walked to the observatory atop the hill in the park where one can straddle the time line dividing east and west. But it is the maritime museum, and the many authentic looking pubs down below that are of interest to me.

 A few London pics

     After a few days in London, the call of the wilds, or at least the countyside was sated. Our final day in England was spent driving out to, and around in the Cotswalds, and this was where I was finally awed in the way I was hoping I would be. The villages, and countryside were fantastic. While I was unable to actually get off any of the roads, and into the hillsides I couldn't have had a better day nor introduction to the England I wanted to see. We ate some great pub food, enjoyed local beer and cider, and even had afternoon tea. We left England knowing we'll be back, and that we'll be spending the majority of our time in the countryside on foot.

A few Cotswald pics

     Of course I couldn't visit England and not come away with a few handy tokens, and a bit of sporting gear. So when I had the chance to visit Farlow's in London, and an outfitter in Broadway in the Cotswalds I took it. And yes, I spent a bit of money on a nice cap, a sweater, pheasant motif handkies and some flies. Not standard sporting gear here in the US, but handy items none the less.
A bit of gear I bought, including an England rugby jersey

 A few wet flys

     If you are planning a trip to England, I've got a little snippet of info, something that I discovered while travelling there.  England has a reputation for having lousy food. I found this to not be true. Conversely, one can have a lousy meal whatever the city they find themselves in. Well, having served in public safety for 19 years there is one thing I can tell you; cops and firefighters know where to eat. In both Manchester, and London when it came time to seek out a good lunch spot I made it a point to inquire with the local bobbies, and was always pointed in the right direction.
This was a great spot in Manchester we were directed to by the local bobbies
Oh yeah, don't forget duty free on the way home


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