Northampton Town once again took a mixed squad of fifteen under 12 and 13 Shadow and Development Squad players to compete in the Easter Open tournament over the Bank Holiday weekend. This was the third time a Cobblers group have been out to the tournament and it was once again a hugely entertaining and successful tour.
The group left the PTS Academy Stadium on the coach at 2.45am on Good Friday. After a trip on the ferry to Calais and a further bus journey through France and Belgium, we got into the south of the Netherlands in mid-afternoon, stopping in Eindhoven at the Phillips Stadion, home of Dutch giants PSV. After a tour of the ground, the boys had the chance to buy some mementoes in the club shop before we completed the journey with a half hour journey to the hotel, arriving just before 5.30pm local time. Once checked in and with a chance to change into casual clothes, it was down to dinner for the first time. After dinner, we met for a team meeting to go through plans for the weekend and to discuss some tactical information ahead of the fixtures on the Saturday. Despite some tired bodies, the boys engaged really well and came up with some really good ideas to take into the tournament. After a very long day, it was time to get some sleep!
Saturday started bright and early, with breakfast at 7am before departing for our first day at the tournament at 7.30am. We travelled around 40 minutes to Venhorst, who were hosting our qualifying group. The sun was shining and the pitches were in excellent condition ready for our first group game against the hosts. It was a really good performance as the boys put into practice some of the information discussed the night before. After missing several good chances, we finally went on to win the game 4-0, thanks to two goals from Ollie Gale, one for Lennon Humphreys and an own goal. In the second game, our opponents came at us hard and forced Liam Collins into two smart saves early on. After riding the storm, the boys took control and went on to win 3-0 thanks to two more goals for Humphrey and one for Jake Abraham, two of our under 12 players on the tour. This guaranteed that we would go into the finals section the next day but another good performance in the last game and a 3-0 win meant that we finished top of the group, Nana Aboagye scoring a hat trick. Day one’s football ended with us topping the group with a 100% record, 10 goals scored and zero conceded, an excellent outcome against some tough sides!
After the boys had got themselves lunch, we travelled back to the hotel. After changing and the first room check of the tour, the group watched the majority of the Manchester City v Tottenham game together, before using the hotel swimming pool for a recovery session and then having some free time in their rooms before dinner. After dinner, we made a short trip to a bowling alley for a competitive game of ten pin bowling. It was then back to the hotel and straight back to the rooms for a bit of free time before lights out and time for sleep.
Sunday started a little later as we were not due to kick off our first game until 1.15pm. After a later breakfast, the boys had a bit of time to themselves in their rooms and to prepare for the games before leaving the hotel to travel to a different venue in Steevenbeek. Again, the pitches were in excellent condition and the boys prepared really well on what was a swelteringly hot day. The Sunday saw teams who had finished first and second in the other groups on the Saturday compete to win the tournament. We started off against an English team, Cray Wanderers, for our first group game. We started slowly and allowed our opponents to dominate the game.
However, we were hanging in there, mainly thanks to a wonder-save from keeper Ben Parker, and it looked like we may hang on for a point until a lapse of concentration allowed a shot from the edge of the box to sneak in and we were not able to fightback and grab an equaliser. It was going to be a tall order to now win our section and we would need to win our remaining games and hope others would do us a favour. Next up was a side from Denmark. Five minutes in we were 2-0 up thanks to Kaiden Davies scoring both. A penalty brought the visitors back into it before Ollie Gale made it 3-1. After looking comfortable, a mistake cost us another goal to make it 3-2 and then another mistake looked like it would bring the equaliser, but the shot hit the bar and then Noah Edwards made a remarkable recovering tackle to prevent a tap in and keep the score at 3-2, so we were still in with a shout going into our final game against Four Oaks, another English side. We were now back in the groove and we produced a dominant performance to win the game 3-0, Davies grabbing another goal as well as Nana bagging two more to take him to five goals in the tournament. Unfortunately for us, Cray Wanderers managed to see off the other two teams to win our group and we finished 2nd, meaning we went into the 3rd place play off against Dorset JPL, yet another English side. Despite it being our final game and the boys slightly disappointed not to have had the chance to play in the final that their all round play had deserved, they produced probably their best performance of the tournament to dominate and win 4-0, two goals for Charlie Holland added to finishes by Kswary Bajon and Ollie Gale. Although it wasn’t the first place that the boys maybe could have achieved, it was a fantastic way to round off the tournament for us to secure a 3rd place finish out of the 39 teams who had entered the U13 age group! The boys were presented with medals and a cup to recognise their achievement.
With some hot and tired bodies amongst the group, we travelled back to the hotel. Once off the coach, the boys went through a cool down stretching session with our tour physio, Natalie Halliday, before they went back to the rooms to shower and change. As an end of tour treat, the hotel put the boys in the VIP restaurant on their own and they had pizza, fries and hot dogs for their final dinner of the tour, definitely no complaints from anyone about the food!! After dinner, we had a short team meeting to reflect on the tour before the boys headed off to their rooms to pack ahead of travelling back in the morning.
Easter Monday was all about the journey back to Northampton. After breakfast, the boys made sure they hadn’t forgotten anything in their rooms before the boys presented the hotel with an NTFC pennant signed by all the squad. It was then on to the bus and we were off. It was a long journey again, but we managed to get onto a slightly earlier ferry back where the boys enjoyed spending the rest of their Euros, some of them on presents for family! Despite their being a bit of traffic back in England, we finally made it back to the PTS just before 9pm where the parents of the players gave the boys a great ovation when they got off the bus, one that was much deserved for how well they had represented the club over the whole weekend.
And just like that, the tour was over for another year. It had once again been an excellent weekend and the boys were fantastic, displaying exactly the type of attitude expected of Northampton Town players. I know everyone who went on the tour would like to say a huge thank you to all the staff at the Best Western Hotel Nobis in Asten for their wonderful hospitality, the organisers of the Easter Open for the chance to play in it, and to the tour operator, Absolute Travel and Tours, for supporting tour organiser, Darren Norton, in setting up such a fantastic experience for all those involved!