WESTMINSTER (Exclusive to ColoradoRapids.com) - Colorado Rapids Assistant Coach John Murphy talks exclusively to ColoradoRapids.com about his recent trip to London in his latest column. Check it out below!
Hey fans well it was quite an exciting day at the Pepsi Center on Friday! With the announcement of our new brand and our relationship with Arsenal I have been asked to review my recent trip to the UK and provide some insight on what the Rapids can expect when we "cross the pond" in March for our pre-season trip to London. (Editor's note: the Rapids will be hosted by Arsenal in their preseason trip to the UK from March 8-14).
My plan was simple before I left: check out the hotel and facilities in London for a possible pre-season trip get up to Scotland for a two-day coaching course and get in as many games in-between as I could. Along the way there would be the expected pint with an agent in a small pub somewhere and a possible dodgy meat pie but that goes with the territory of this job……
My flight from Denver to London was a bit long but on Wednesday morning last week I was working my way through commuter traffic on the Underground to King’s Cross train station in the heart of London. After watching the world go by in the station over a "cuppa" tea I traveled north to the ancient city of Saint Albans which will be our base during our stay in England.
There on the outskirts of town lay the famous Sopwell House. This hotel is a remodeled mansion out in the English countryside that has a quiet elegance. The Sopwell House has also hosted some of the best soccer teams in the history of the game for events such as the World Cup Finals European Championships European Cup and FA Cup. The hallways are strewn with framed jerseys and pictures of teams from all over the world and it really adds to the charm of the place. But despite its aged exterior the hotel has all the amenities a professional team would need including a modern gym pool and 2 restaurants.
The Arsenal Training Center is in St. Alban’s and less than ten minutes away from the hotel. As a soccer fan (despite your allegiances) when one thinks of Arsenal you think of tradition and a culture of success. I was happy to say that after spending a few days at the training ground that assumption would be considered an understatement.
The two sessions I watched were both run by manager Arsene Wenger and his coaching staff with members of the first team in preparation for an upcoming FA Cup match that Sunday vs. Bolton. Training was short sharp and the players were demanded to perform at a high level throughout. Despite the heavy fixture list and the cold weather the players showed true professionalism with not only with their effort but their enthusiasm; they just seemed to be enjoying themselves.
With Arsenal in four competitions (League League Cup FA Cup and Champions league) it was a true testament to players and coaches alike to keep it fresh and energetic. On both days the staff were nice enough to invite me for lunch for the opportunity to speak with Mr. Wenger and his assistants in the restaurant. It was a pleasure to spend some time with them and humbling for me personally that they were so accommodating and open during my stay.
I was up early Saturday morning for a quick flight up to Glasgow Scotland for the second part of my journey. Lots of things and people to see but first I caught the Rangers vs. Hearts game at Ibrox that afternoon. Along the same lines as Arsenal Rangers and Ibrox stadium are iconic symbols of football in the UK. Ibrox built in 1923 was considered one of the first modern stadiums built in the world and despite renovations over the years still maintains that aura. The game itself was a hard fought 0-0 draw but the class just oozed out of every corner of the stadium particularly the Director’s Box Trophy Room and some of the reception lounges I had the chance to experience personally.
On Sunday and Monday I took part in the opening session of the UEFA Pro Badge. This course was hosted by the Scottish Football Association at the National Sports Center on the west coast of Scotland. Despite being here many times before I still can’t get over the views of the town of Largs and the raging Atlantic Ocean. Lars Largarbeck Head Coach of the Swedish National Team and Kevin Keegan former England international and National Team Coach were our keynote speakers for this session. Both were informative and provided insights that only those working at the top of the game can provide. The remainder of the time were spent in a classroom setting going over group projects to be done via conference calls and email.
The course will last 18 months and will involve distance learning via internet and several visits to the UK. Eighteen coaches are on the course many of them working in top clubs throughout the UK including Rangers Celtic and Chelsea. (On a side note most of them had questions for me about MLS and the growing interest in Great Britain due to the Beckham signing.) It will be a demanding course but Fernando and theRapids have been supportive of this professional development opportunity. Their support is greatly appreciated and I hope the course will be a benefit not only to me but to the club as well.
Finally to top the trip off I traveled back to London checked in a hotel and literally sprinted over to the Emirates Stadium for the 2nd leg of the Carling Cup Semifinal between Arsenal and their hated rivals Tottenham Hotspur. (BTW if you ever go the Russell Square Underground station make sure you take the elevator: it's 171 steps up a spiral staircase to the exit!! I almost sweated through my suit Chris Farley-style).
The 1st leg ended 2-2 so this game had a lot to live up to. I wasn’t disappointed. The match ended 3-1 to Arsenal but the whole experience was amazing; the new stadium the crowd the match were all top class.
In closing it was a great trip but made even better with the news of the Rapids' club-to-club alliance with Arsenal. Now that the announcement has been made it is my hope that this new relationship between the Rapids and Arsenal can grow and be mutually beneficial for both clubs. I feel that both sides have a lot to offer and that we can work to reach new heights together.