Coming Together Across the Pond

Quin Nelson

There’s no better way to get rid of jet lag than getting knocked around by a professional British soccer team. We, the Whitman men’s soccer team, took the field for our first game in England, where we were blown out by Paulton Rovers FC 5-2. As we stood on the rain-ravaged field after our loss, it was clear we had a ways to go if we wanted to win.

It is not the loss that has stuck with me months after our trip, a three-week tour of games and sight-seeing throughout England. I remember the aftermath much more vividly; we met as a team, rehashing our mistakes and strategizing on how to get better. It was our first step to becoming a true team, something that we continued to discuss throughout the trip. We kept playing, kept meeting and kept getting better. The fact that we had the privilege of playing at small, proud football clubs that were over 100 years old was never lost on us.

Strides Across the Pond
Photo Contributed by Mike Washington

These little clubs are literally a world away from the often troubled and detached nature of soccer in the United States. Most major American cities hardly care about their professional soccer teams, but these English villages felt pride and ownership of their clubs. The communities stood proudly behind their clubs but also embraced us with incredible hospitality, despite not having the slightest clue about Walla Walla’s location. They even cooked us a meal after every game, although I don’t think I’ll be able to eat sausages and chips ever again.

Strides Across the Pond
Photo Contributed by Mike Washington

And remarkably, this was only half of our trip. When not playing or traveling to games through England’s rolling hills, we were sightseeing and enjoying all England had to offer. No one did this better than sophomore goalkeeper Baker Conte, who holds the record in souvenirs purchased and reveled in England’s tourist destinations with child-like wonder. The rest of us had a wonderful time as well, visiting London, Stonehenge and Old Trafford, Manchester United’s stadium. After seeing the immaculate field, the statues of past United legends and the throngs of tourists milling about, traveling to Old Trafford felt less like a trip than a soccer pilgrimage.

The most wonderful thing about England is how everything is built on a rich foundation of history. This was most apparent when we went to head coach Mike Washington’s hometown of Weston Super-Mare and climbed a hill to Saint Nicholas’ Church, built in 1080. In the midst of our busy few weeks, standing atop the hill was a welcome moment of quiet.

With our season having just begun, we now face another uphill journey through the Northwest Conference. As a team with little past success, we have high hopes without much history to build on. But we have the privilege of creating our own history, and with high hopes and this great trip under our belts, we plan to do just that.

Whether or not we succeed remains to be seen, but after returning from England I am confident we will climb this hill as a team united.