Soccer team experiences ‘the world’s game’ on trip to England

Players from the North Kitsap Soccer Club
Players from the North Kitsap Soccer Club's boys U-13 Comets team (in white) pose with their new friends from the Moretonville Rovers Football Club in Buckinghamshire, England.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

POULSBO — What better way to see the world than by playing the world’s game?

That’s Pip Thompson’s philosophy. Thompson, head coach of the North Kitsap Soccer Club’s boys under-13 team, the Comets, took his players and several of their family members on a trip to England over spring break. The trip was a chance for the kids improve their soccer skills and to experience the richness of another culture.

“It was a bit of both: playing against people that eat, drink and sleep soccer, and traveling to a place that maybe they might go back and visit sometime,” Thompson said.

The idea for the trip stemmed from Thompson’s own experience. As a 13-year-old, Thompson, now 41, traveled with a soccer team from his native England to Torrance, Calif. The trip, and the people Thompson traveled with, left an indelible mark on him, one that would shape much of his life from that point on.

“The coaches don’t realize the impact they had on my life,” Thompson said.

In his early 20s, Thompson backpacked through Europe and later Central and North America, finally settling in Seattle in 1993. After a stint in the U.S. Coast Guard, he came to live in Poulsbo, where he began planning his next big trip.

It took about two years for Thompson and his wife, Carolyn, to plan and organize the Comets’ European excursion. But it was worth the effort. Thompson wanted his players to experience international travel at the same age he was when he came to California, hoping it would have a similar impact on their lives.

“It’s a good age,” Thompson said. “They’re old enough to appreciate it, but not to take it for granted. Thirteen is just perfect.”

The 65-person group, 17 of whom are soccer players, left North Kitsap on March 23 and returned April 4. While in England, the team toured several cities, including London and Dorchester, where the town crier gave them a lesson in the village’s history.

“It’s a completely different experience from being here. It’s older,” 11-year-old player Reese Newman said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go to England, and I thought it was amazing.”

The players also got to know some of their European counterparts. They played a handful of friendly matches against English youth teams.

“It was really challenging and made us play harder,” said Jordan Green, 12. “There was a lot of action in it. There were a lot of chances to make good friends.”

Thompson also had the chance to meet up with some old friends on the trip. All but two of his teammates from the group that traveled to California half a lifetime ago greeted him in England. Thompson hadn’t seen some of them in more than 20 years.

“That was my highlight, was meeting the team I went with,” he said.

The Thompsons also organized a tour of the famous Wembley Stadium in London, and the players attended a soccer clinic with trainers from the English Premier League’s Fulham United Football Club, as well as a Fulham match.

“It was probably one of the best trips I’ve ever had,” 12-year-old Evan Waller said. “Before this, I never left the country, so it was really big for me. I would definitely go back if I had the opportunity.”

The Thompsons are already busy organizing an exchange that will bring a group of English players to Poulsbo next year. They hope to take another North Kitsap U-13 team to England in 2012.

Joining the North Kitsap team on this year’s trip were two soccer players from a school in Tanzania sponsored by Sluys’ Bakery owners Marion and Loretta Sluys, who bankrolled much of the trip.

“You should’ve seen the smiles on their faces when they got off the plane,” Marion Sluys said of the Tanzanian boys. “They were amazed at the big buildings, amazed at how old everything was.

“It was a neat experience for us as well as the players. It was just a good all-around trip, for soccer and for education.”

Thompson and the North Kitsap Soccer Club also plan to bring trainers from the Fulham club to Poulsbo this summer to host soccer clinics.

Thompson hopes the impact of the trip will stay with his players the way his own childhood trip stayed with him. He would like them to continue that mentoring tradition as they grow up.

“Hopefully one of these people will do this again,” he said, “maybe in 20 years.”

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