Monday, 27 September 2010 1:29 PM
It is 10pm on the night of 19th August 2010 and after three months of anticipation, the touring party of coaching staff Boyan Mitkov, John Vafiadis, Alex Affanassiev, Mike Karak and fifteen teenagers with stars in their eyes pass through the departure lounge of Melbourne Airport.
Before boarding the flight, Head Coach Boyan Mitkov called the squad together and reminded them of what was expected of them about representing their club overseas, but most of all to remind them to enjoy the experience the next 17 days would bring.
Fast forward 27 hours and arrival at Heathrow Airport to be met by a convoy of various vehicles to be transported to their accommodation Derby due to a late change.
The club’s first opponent on tour was Notts County, one of the founding clubs of the Football League. After a tight and even contest, South emerged with a 2-1 win. The following day, South travelled to Nottingham, where its next scheduled match against the historic side Nottingham Forest. The local side are another major club in English football, who were crowned European Champions for consecutive years in 1979, and 1980, and where the European Cup is displayed proudly in their trophy cabinet. The match resulted in a 2-2 draw for both clubs. It was not the match which was memorable this day but the quality of the facilities of the Forest Academy. An indoor synthetic pitch, two additional synthetic pitches and eight grass pitches that would put the Wembley turf to shame, together with fantastic hospitality from the Forest coaching and support staff. The generosity shown to the South Melbourne club by our hosts would be a feature throughout the tour.
The next stop on the tour was a friendly match against Doncaster Rovers. South recorded its second win for the trip, with a resounding 3-0 win over Rovers. It was a memorable day for young Ben who celebrated his birthday that day and the team was treated on a night out at Pizza Hut.
The next morning saw the squad visit Sheffield that is the oldest team in England and still remains an amateur club who play football for the sheer enjoyment of the game. The fourth tour match saw South take on Sheffield United where unfortunately the team went down 2-1. The facilities and hospitality afforded to the visiting team were excellent and memorable.
Friday was a rest day and a tour of the home of Manchester United, Old Trafford was the highlight for the day. The stadium was nothing short of spectacular and the excitement of the boys was fantastic as they sat in the home dressing room in the places of their heroes.
On the Saturday, the team took on MK Dons with kick off at 11a.m. The early kick off afforded the opportunity to the young South players to watch Derby County play Queens Park Rangers in the Championship League later that afternoon.
After its visit to Hull City, the next match on the tour was against Burton Albion. The match was played at a nearby military base, where the facilities were of the highest quality. An excellent game between evenly matched sides ended in a fair 1-1 draw.
Following a tour of their new stadium, the penultimate tour match was against Chesterfield, where the boys went down to a 3-2 defeat. Once again, the friendliness of the coaches and referee came to the fore and more contacts made for future opportunities.
The final game of the tour was against Derby County, as their impressive facilities were matched equally by their impressive team. Derby were clearly the most accomplished football team the club had played on tour, as their ability and style were a delight to watch.
Following the games against Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United both clubs invited the team for a training session where their coaches could further assess the South players. This was a real sign as to the high regard in which the clubs held Boyan’s team and hopefully more opportunities will follow for some of the South Melbourne squad. It is also a testament to the amazing efforts put in by David for several months in creating so many opportunities for the tour group.
As they reflect on the tour each team member can be extremely proud of their achievements, and all will be better players and people for the experience. In addition, all the players were a credit to the club they so proudly represented. As time passes it will not be the wins, the draws and losses that will stay in the mind of the team but the experience they enjoyed, the friendships cemented and laughter they shared.
South Melbourne FC would like to congratulate all concerned for the successful tour of England, particularly Boyan Mitkov and David Jervis for their efforts.
Text and photos by: Ian Morella.