Soccer players, coaches and parents tour Scotland


August 28, 1998|By Lourdes Sullivan | Lourdes Sullivan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Phil Puccio was talking to Eric McAleer last winter. The subject was soccer, of course.

Phil is a coach for the Savage Boys and Girls Club U-14 team, the Piranhas. Eric, a former professional soccer player in Scotland, is the owner of Premier Soccer. He'd planned to take a group of soccer players from Columbia to tour Scotland and play boys teams there.

That sounded like such a good idea that Phil decided it would be a nice thing for the soccer players of Savage, too. So, a group of boys, mostly from the Savage Boys and Girls Club, their parents and other interested cohorts set about to make it happen.

After a tremendous amount of planning, 19 players and 17 adults went to Scotland from Aug. 10 to 19 to play some of the best teams around.

The trip -- organized by Phil and Eric -- included terrific highlights, thanks to Eric's contacts in the Scottish soccer world.

The group, for instance, stayed at the Scottish National Sports Centre in Inverclyde -- the training and sport center for the Scottish national teams.

According to Phil, the Savage players were exposed to a country where the game is taken much more seriously than it is here.

Soccer is not just a youth recreation in Scotland, it's the country's dominant professional sport, with teams constantly scouting the children's leagues -- some of them sponsored by the top teams -- looking to sign youngsters as young as 13 to apprenticeship programs that lead to professional contracts at the age of 16.

A wide variety of amateur, semi-professional and professional teams feed players to the top teams. Unlike in this country, where serious young soccer players might hope for a college pTC scholarship that could pay for the education needed for a career, young Scottish players hope for a career in the game.

The Savage group was exposed to this as it played such semi-pro youth teams as the Queen's Park Football Club, Duntocher Boy's Club, Preston Football Club (in England), Glasgow Celtic Football Club, Busby Football Club and the Kilpatrick Boy's Club.

To prepare for the tough schedule -- six matches during nine days in Scotland -- those making the trip trained throughout the summer after their regular season ended.

While in Scotland they followed a grueling regimen that began with 6: 45 a.m. practices, followed by breakfast, a bit of free time, some sightseeing and an evening game. Then to bed to do it all over again the next day.

There was time for a little sightseeing. The group visited Edinburgh Castle and toured some of the Scottish lakes. They even managed a day at the beach at Blackpool, England's combination of Ocean City and Coney Island, though with chillier water and weather.

The group also toured the Celtic Stadium in Glasgow, home to one of the country's top teams. They learned it was formed by a religious organization to fund a charity food drive for the potato famine victims in the last century.

This trip was a homecoming for some participants. David Shaw, who had moved to Texas after playing with the Savage club for a year, came on the trip with his old teammates.

So did the two Schuurmans, Mark and Jeff. Last winter, the family moved to Holland when the boys' father was transferred. When the Schuurmans heard of the trip, they arranged to join up in Scotland. The two boys played with their old Savage teammates while parents John and Laura and daughter Brittany took in some sightseeing.

The other soccer players who traveled were Philip Puccio, Neal Bumgarner, Corey Riley, Owen Clark, Joe Conley, Kim Myrick, Chris Riley, Adam Weinstein, Sean Cunningham, Mike Warshauer, Lance Beasley, Mike Binns, Robby Winterbottom, David Stinson, Danny Parrish and Russell Heimlich.

In addition to Phil and Eric, Bill Riley, who coaches the Savage Spartans, came along as a coach.

Among the fund-raisers and sponsors were Pepsi, which donated the uniforms; Old Navy, which donated practice jerseys; Intel, which donated windbreakers and Redland Genstar, which donated a bit of cash for incidentals. Gary Parrish, Dan Stinson, Mike Binns and Kathy Binns also donated to the trip.

Says Phil Puccio, "We were there for nine days and it was one heck of an incredible experience."

Pub Date: 8/28/98

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