April 23, 2018
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English soccer players, coaches enjoying Maine

By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff

The Watford Football Club plays in the Championship League in England.

That is the league that is right below the Premier League which has the likes of well-known powers Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool.

One of Watford’s claim to fame is rock icon Sir Elton John used to own the team and is an honorary lifelong president.

Eighteen teenage boys and three coaches from the St. Clement Danes School near Watford have come to the Bangor area as part of an exchange program with Blackbear United teams.

Since 2006, Blackbear United has both hosted teams from the St. Clement Danes School and sent teams to Watford.

Players stay with host families, visit the sites in the local areas and play a lot of soccer.

“It has been amazing,” said 15-year-old Luc Lee, who is making his first trip to the Bangor area.

“We went down to one of the lakes and the views are amazing. Everything is so open. In England, it’s very congested.”

Watford is in Hertfordshire and is 17 miles southeast of London.

“It’s great to see everything so spacious. And, obviously, the weather is a lot better than it is in England,” added Lee, who is a center back.

He said his first visit has more than lived up to expectations so far.

“It has been a lot better than I thought it would be,” said Lee. “I didn’t really know what to expect. I had a few vague ideas. I didn’t expect the lakes to be so big. Everything is so much bigger. And the people are so welcoming. You’ve got really nice people over here.”

Michael Chapman, one of the English coaches, said where they live, there “aren’t any lakes or anything like that” in the vicinity.

“And the sea is a good hour and a half or two hours away. It’s the North Sea and you don’t want to go in it,” said Chapman. “It’s nice for the boys to experience riding on a speed boat.”

Josh Burks and Alfie Barrett are 16-year-olds who are making their second visits to Bangor.

“I came two years ago and I couldn’t wait to come back,” said Burks, who is a central midfielder. “It’s good to see the different cultures. There’s a lot of differences between England and America, like the food.”

“I love it here,” said Barrett, who is a right back. “I really enjoy the people. Everyone is nice and friendly. We get on well.”

The trip will last 11 days and the English team will play six games including ones against Hampden Academy, John Bapst of Bangor and Bangor High as well as one against a club from Mount Desert Island and another from Blackbear United.

Each player had to raise 900 British pounds ($1,467) to fund their trip.

“We thought the price may put some of them off but it didn’t at all,” said Chapman.

Chapman came two years ago and said he loved the idea of coming back “because of the hospitality. The local community is very supportive. This is like a home away from home. They make us feel very welcome.”

Chapman pointed out the trip is valuable for their youngsters in many ways.

“They’re experiencing a new culture and it teaches them to respect other cultures and everything else that goes on,” said Chapman. “It’s very good for team cohesion as well.”

The players have had the chance to play on artificial FieldTurf at Hampden Academy and Bangor’s Husson University which is a rarity in England where virtually all of the fields are grass.

And they’ve enjoyed it.

“I love it because it’s so flat,” said Lee. “It’s a lot faster than grass. You notice it. It skips off the surface a bit more.”

“It’s nice. It makes it easier to play football,” said Barrett.

The English are also excited about having some Maine lobster.

“My host family has told me all about it. I’ve heard it’s world-famous lobster. I’m really looking forward to it,” said Lee. “I love lobster. I’ve had it at home.”

“I’m a very big fan of seafood,” Burks added.

As for the soccer, Barrett said the teams in the Bangor area are getting “better and better each year.”

Burks said it is important for them to play well on the trip.

“It’s our national sport so we have to be passionate about it, especially when we come over here,” said Burks.

He added that they are eager to show people here how the game is played in England.

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