The Gothia cup is an annual event held in Gothenburg Sweden since 1975, attracting girls and boys teams from all over the world. This year there were teams from 75 different countries taking part. In the U14 section alone there were approximately 150 teams. The standard is high. Many international players have started their careers at the Gothia Cup, including Alan Shearer and current Arsenal favourite Emmanuel Adebayor. Taking part for the first time were Buntingford’s own stars from the under 14 squad.
“They went away a group of boys who played football together on a Sunday and came back a team”. These were the reflections of Steve Harler, manager of Buntingford Cougars U14 squad on his return. Although they didn’t bring a trophy home for their football everything about the week proved positive – the standard of football, playing against academy teams from around the world, the Liseburg amusement park, the opening ceremony, the friendships formed, even the spirit and singing on the trams and buses travelling between the games was a highlight.
Opening group game on the Monday morning was against Swedish side Tegs SK2. Cougars took the game to the Swedish boys and did everything but score a goal. Playing on astroturf the ball moved fast and this benefited the Cougars passing style. In the second half with the temperature rising rapidly, the fitness of the Swedish boys was telling and they broke the deadlock with a fortunate rebound that sealed the points. Defeated but not disheartened Cougars went into their second game later that day determined to demonstrate they weren’t just there for the fun. Playing another Swedish team from the city of Nyokopings, Cougars dominated the game from start to finish. Cougars thought they had scored their opening goal of the tournament when Alex West put the finishing touch to a majestic Cougar move only to have the goal disallowed for off-side. However Scott Piggott did put away his first goal of the tournament to give the Cougars a well-deserved victory.
Tuesday saw Cougars equal second in the group playing the other joint second team Kvarnby, yet another Swedish side. This was a physical game played on grass, with neither side showing any quarter to their opponents. Kvarnby took the lead after a period of stalemate, but Cougars were soon back in the game when Scott Piggott squeezed the ball past the Kvarnby ‘keeper. In fact just as the other games Cougars dominated the first half and went into half time the leaders after Michael Holland scored a wonder goal from the edge of the area. The Kvarnby ‘keeper kept his team in the game when Cougar pressure could have added one or more goals. In the second half Kvarnby equalised with a goal that looked dubiously offside. With two minutes to go and a draw the likely result, Kvarnby took the lead, which they held to take the points.
Wednesday’s game was the group highlight taking on the Venezuela academy team, who headed the group. The footwork and passing skills of the South Americans was something to behold and very different to what Cougars were used to. However Cougars had the opening chance with Michael Holland, with time on his hands, putting the ball wide. With the Venezuela boys having scored fourteen goals from two previous games the Cougars did extremely well to keep the score level at half time, but a “spanish roasting” from their manager saw them step up two gears to put five past Cougars in the final twenty minutes. Defeat in this game saw Cougars playing for third place and a last 64 draw against Danish side Alloorg Chang. Cougars once again dominated this game completely and put six goals past the Danish side. Scott Piggott scored four, Michael Holland and Alex West the others.
Thursday’s challenge, and Cougars sixth game in three days, was against Swedish outfit Noorstrands IF. This team had finished third in their group and had played two games less than Cougars. This difference was telling and although Cougars had chances in the first half, Noostrands eventually came out winners 2:0. Out of the competition but heads held high, they had played some of the best youth footballers in the world and finished in the top thirty-two. Not bad for a team of lads most of whom have played with the Cougars since they were six and come from a small rural town in East Hertfordshire.
Thursday evening saw the boys and family groups enjoy a slap up italian meal in Gothenburg and end of tour presentations. Manager’s player of the tournament went to ‘keeper Tim Rice for some excellent performances, with Mark “Kruncher” Kennedy receiving a special award for comedian-of-the-week and lead vocalist on the buses and trams. The boys also made some presentations of their own to Steve Harler and Darren Sewell for managing the team and Simon Rice for organising the trip. See the album of photos.
They even brought a trophy home for best-behaved team at their accommodation school! The team enjoyed their experience so much that they are planning another tour in 2009.