Hayward: European Trip A Success

Academy players return from visit to Germany and Poland

EXETER CITY academy manager Simon Hayward has branded the Academy’s trip to Poland and Germany a huge success following their return to the West Country on Sunday.

The club offered forty-eight players the chance to travel to mainland Europe with the intentions of developing the players’ ability and experiencing football and the culture abroad.

Hayward believed the tour had a real positive impact on the players.

“It was a good trip and a good experience for the players," he said. "We had opponents who tested us with a mixture of styles and it is something we will certainly look to do again in the future.”

The excursion was made up of three squads for the Grecians, which consisted of personnel from five different age groups ranging from the Under-11s to the Under-15s. In Europe, academy age groups work around birthdays from January-December, as opposed to England’s September-August, so matching age groups with their opponents proved to be tricky.

With a busy schedule of three matches in five days ahead of them, the players and staff flew out to Poland last Wednesday, and travelled straight to the city of Krakow from the airport to prepare for their first fixture.

Wisla Krakow are a well-known top-level Polish club, and City stood toe-to-toe with their counterparts with them across all three age groups. Exeter’s youngest team, which contained players from their Under-13s down to their Under-11s, played fairly well. Whilst the middle group, involving players from City’s Under-14s and Under-13s, also gave a good account of themselves.

The Devon outfit’s oldest squad, made up of players from the Under-15s and Under-14s, perhaps caught the eye, with a 3-2 victory against the Poles. Despite being anywhere from nine months to twenty-one months younger than their opponents, they triumphed 3-2 in a competitive game. The visitors were required to be at their best physically to match the older team, and despite being on the end of some cultured refereeing decisions, goals from James Dodd, Jack Sparkes and Patrick O’Halloran meant the City team won.

In between a 300-mile trip to Germany for the tourists, an educational trip to Auschwitz took place, with the players all paying their respects to those who had lost their lives there. The boys were a credit to the club for their focus and respect during their visit where they all were all shocked, yet enlightened by what they had learnt from their stop-off.

After their call into Auschwitz, a change in schedule meant Exeter faced the youth side of SC Borea in Dresden, Germany, as opposed to the original plan of games against Sparta Prague. In similarities to the League 2 club, despite their small stature, Borea possessed a good track record of producing talent through their youth system and have the current German Under-21 captain as one of their Academy graduates. Across the three matches the German opponents provided a stern test for the Englishmen.

The youngest Exeter City age group won in a comfortable manner with a 7-0 triumph, whilst the Under-14s and Under-13s side came up against unfamiliar tactics never really deployed against them before. Despite being the better side, City’s youngsters drew 2-2 with their opponents after missing a number of guilt-edged chances.

The senior Grecians squad also faced a specific Borea gameplan, with direct long balls evident in the way the German’s searched for their goals. It provided a different challenge for the City team, but they controlled proceedings throughout the game, and they went deservedly 2-0 up by half time. However as they spurned chances to extend their lead, the home team took their chances to turn the match around and lead 3-2 in the final minutes. An exciting finish saw Exeter level terms in injury time, with the action packed match ending 3-3. Will Dean, Harry Gardner, and Jack Sparkes were on the scoresheet for the visitors, however the squad left Germany disappointed they couldn’t turn their dominance into a win.

Returning to Poland, the Devon party travelled to Slask Wroclaw, another top division Polish powerhouse. With the most senior City side playing teams nine to twenty-one months older than them in the first two fixtures, they contained the older players by three months in their final clash because the 2001 birthdays Slask Wroclaw team are regarded as one of the best in Poland at their age.  However, against well-regarded opponents, the Grecians perhaps saved their best performance for last.

In another game that they primarily controlled, with a good intensity in their play, the English club led 2-0 at half-time.  While the Exeter side dominated the first half primarily due to their high pressing after the break the dominance was due to high quality possession football.  There were times where the young Grecians strung together between thirty and forty consecutive passes and demoralised their Polish counterparts. City scored once more to end up comfortable 3-0 winners. Theo Simpson, Lewis Wilson and Patrick O’Halloran scored for the Grecians, with the coaches of the Slask Wrocalw team very complimentary towards the performance and abilities of the young City players.

It meant that as the group headed home the reflection on the trip was really positive from coaches and players alike.

Academy manager Simon Hayward: "The trip was great. We went out with forty-eight players, and each and every one of them were tested in a number of ways. The oldest age group were undefeated on the tour, despite facing a mixture of opponents.

"The senior team stood up to the variety of tactics they played against. Two sides were well-drilled passing outfits, whilst the other tested us with their direct play. The boys had to adjust to their style of play, and every member of the 17-man squad contributed to the success of the team.

"We believe at the academy that our priority, above and beyond the football, is developing well-rounded young men. To that end, our trip to Auschwitz was eye-opening and extremely informative, and I hope it is something the players remember for the rest of their lives. We had forty-eight young players who behaved in an exemplary manner, were attentive, asked questions of the tour guide and they did the club proud with the way they paid respect to the atrocities that took place on that site.

"All of the players had insightful comments after we left Auschwitz, but one comment stood out when one of the boys told me he was ‘shocked that one group of human beings can decide that it is ok to persecute another group of human beings just because they are different.’  He cut right to the heart of the issue. As much as we learned from the football experience on the tour if our young players are learning important life lessons then this trip was successful on a whole different level.