Packed and ready to go, just one sleep until the Guildford Hockey Club U12s embark on their tour to Barcelona to play in the El Real Club de Polo de Barcelona Torneo Internacional de la Inmaculada – Trofeo Marga Monegal. To describe it as a sleep is a stretch of the imagination given the alarm clocks were set for 3am to ensure prompt arrival at Terminal 3 by 4:45am for the first flight out of Heathrow.
Incredibly all 107 touring athletes and associated adults made it on time, although British Airways baggage system hadn’t woken up and so all the bags were stacked chaotically on the terminal floor after we checked in and there was an expectation that it was unlikely all the bags would make the flight!
We arrived in Barcelona on time, with all our bags, coaches waiting and a swift transfer to our very smart hotel ... the Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I. Luggage stored and after a few wrong turns through the horses of the Polo club, we found the hockey pitches and prepared ourselves for the first match. Coffee in hand we were ready! The U12s had 9 teams from across Europe split into 3 groups for the initial stages of the tournament. Our group included Sevenoaks and Spanish Club de Campo.
Sevenoaks was our first match at 1pm, a team that had thrashed us a gazillion to nil only a few weeks ago at Charterhouse. From behind the coffee cups it looked like the same team had travelled and so the girls needed to hit their stride straight away. The whistle went and Guildford were definitely up for the fight and the teams looking evenly matched, with one exception the Sevenoaks centre midfield player, Phoebe, a tall strong blonde girl who had great technical ability, strength and speed. Within a few minutes she had scored but this made Guildford more determined as the girls fought harder and harder. We had our chances but in the end they were just too strong and we lost 3-0 - never the less a massive improvement compared to a few weeks ago. A special mention to our defenders Tabitha, Annabelle and Darcy and goalkeeper Poppy who had ‘blinders’ to keep us in the game.
We then had a 6 hour gap to our 8:30pm match in which we enjoyed pasta and pizza for both lunch and dinner! Of course there was also time for the girls to visit the spa for a relaxing swim.
The floodlights were on, the temperature had risen and the atmosphere felt electric for our match against Club De Campo. The girls were focussed and pre-warned about the anomalies of Spanish reffing, especially when playing an English side. The game was tense, combative and fairly even for the first few minutes but then Guildford started hitting their stride and the goals started flowing, every 90 seconds another one went in as Guildford pinged the ball around with increasing ease. At 6-0 the ref blew the whistle to end the game, some 7 minutes early! The opposing coach storms onto the pitch and screams at him in Spanish, words I can not repeat here. Nonchalantly he shrugs his shoulders and walks off. This was to be the defining moment of our tournament as goal difference would determine which second placed team would go through to the top half of the draw, with the remaining 5 teams competing for positions 5-9. After all the group games were complete, Guildford were second placed with +3 goals, RC Polo +4 and RS Tenis +5. On the basis we were scoring every 90 seconds those lost 7 minutes denied us the goal difference to go through to compete in the top half.
A few bottles of wine and copious beers later and the injustice still didn’t relieve for the parents but the girls were having fun going up and down to the 15th floor in the glass elevator and evading the sporadically checking parents as they shuttled between their rooms.
We were all on parade for the ‘opening ceremony’ at 11:15am on the Saturday morning in which all the teams marched down a welcoming tunnel of our hosts RC Polo, followed by obligatory team photos. Our first match on Saturday was at 3pm against our hosts and was expected to be a tough one. Tough it was as the skilful Spanish team pressured us as much as we pressured them - it was a thrilling match flicking from one end to the other at breathtaking speed. Emily H broke the deadlock and a few minutes later Camilla broke through passed to Charlotte who put in a sublime cross for Sasha to tap in. It remained tense to the final whistle but victory was ours 2-0.
This was the last of our really competitive matches, the girls were now playing very slick hockey and sharing the spoils amongst themselves as they racked up 7 goals against Canterbury under the floodlights and then on Sunday they scored 7 against Club de Campo and saved their exhibition hockey for poor RGC Covadonga scoring 11 in the 20 minutes - a number of girls saved their best for last with Emily B driving through the middle on multiple occasions, Sasha, Charlotte and Camilla producing wave after wave of attack, and Emily H on hand to score a number of goals. In the final minutes both Annabelle and Tabitha were thrust up front to also score a goal each.
The girls should be very proud of themselves, not only did they make us proud by the way they conducted themselves throughout the long weekend, they only lost one match, their first and won the other 5 and scored an amazing 33 goals and conceded only 3 - all in that first game. So whilst we were officially 5th, we feel we were unofficially 2nd!
We owe a special thanks to our coach Charlotte Craddock, who quietly got the best out of our girls, the fairness in which she rolled the substitutions, the rotation of positions and the precious tips she gave each player ensured this was a very valuable tournament for everyone.
As we basked in the sun, our mission complete, news reached Barcelona that a snowstorm had hit western England and Heathrow was having significant delays - our 8:30pm flight home delayed to 10:30pm ... but it never took off. The ensuing 'fun' of finding new flights, hotels and eventually getting home is a whole other story......
Poppy (GK), Charlotte, Camilla, Emily B, Annabelle, Emily H, Darcy I, Sasha, Tabitha
Coach: Charlotte Craddock