Spurs in Mauritius: Day 3
IT WAS an early start to a very busy Thursday as we paid a visit to Rose Belle North Government School and for many, including myself, these visits are always one of the main highlights of any tour. It was a slow journey though as the roads in the Port Louis area resembled the High Road on a matchday...with road works thrown in.
THE weather here at this time of year can change in a blink of an eye and, blink, it went from a sunny day to a torrential downpour just as the bus turned into the lane leading to the school.
A FEW drops of rain were not going to dampen spirits though and we soon found how much this visit means here as we turned the corner to be greeted by row upon row of people lining the streets, all smiles and waving flags. People were everywhere. If they weren’t in the school, they were peering through the fence or up a tree. Players and officials made their way into the school and were treated to a marching band and various examples of Mauritian culture as the kids, aged about 5-11, waited excitedly, hundreds of them divided into areas around the school.
THE PLAYERS, Martin Jol, Frank Arnesen, Chris Hughton and Hans Segers then split up and each coached groups of between five and 10 children — try to imagine a football pitch with about 15 groups of kids being coached, surrounded by hundreds more children watching, alongside everyone else looking in from the outside and you get some kind of idea. The place was electric.
I FOUND on the 2003 tour of South Africa that this is where the lads are in their element, in amongst the kids with a football at their feet. Robbie Keane showed his group a few of his skills, Andy Reid lined his group up to do a passing drill, Ledley King did the same but with headers, Michael Dawson and Lee Barnard set up a shooting routine and Jermain Defoe stuck Stephen ‘Steo’ Kelly in goal and gave a striker's masterclass. In doing so, he unearthed a little gem by the name of Waled, a slip of a nine-year-old who impressed one of the hottest properties in football with his natural ability to hit the ball (and beat Steo in goal) with his left and right foot. Jermain and Steo then stole the show - as the rest of the groups gathered for goodie bags in the middle of the pitch, they led their group for a warm down, jogging up and down the touchline, stopping every now and then for a stretch. Maybe it sounds soppy, maybe it’s because I’m a father myself, but the sight of these two stars making these kids’ year, let alone day, took a tug at the old heart strings.
AFTER a good half-hour’s signing session where everyone, including the trip’s kit man Terry Agambar (who modestly claimed the kids kept saying ‘get the fat one’), were swallowed up by autograph hunters, it was time to say our goodbyes and move on to training. It later transpired that the school had renamed their playing field 'White Hart Lane' and with Martin Jol, Robbie and Ledley all planting trees to mark the occasion, it looks like we'll have a presence in the school for years to come.
IT WAS a relatively short session with the game on Friday night. Chris Hughton led the boys through some sprints and stretches before a couple of drills with the ball in front of another sizeable crowd. Hans Segers took Marton Fulop and Radek Cerny aside for some goalkeeping work and it was all wrapped up in less than an hour.
AS THE lads went back for lunch, Frank Arnesen diverted to the Anjalay Stadium for an Under-17s tournament. Three teams played a round-robin as Frank made notes with the best player in his opinion invited back to spend six weeks in our Academy. As he watched, Frank gave us a real insight into what he’s looking for. “The four main things are physical, technical, mentality and tactical,” he said — we’ll write that up as a separate piece on the website in the next couple of days. Meanwhile, Frank was keeping his 'pick' to himself for the time being.
FRANK sat next to Mauritius coach Anwar Elahee MBE during the tournament. Anwar was looking after the kids and gladly showed us a copy of the programme from our visit back in 1974 — with his face in the line-up of officials! He’s 74 now and Frank presented him with a signed shirt for his help.
BACK AT the hotel at 5.30pm and it turned out that the noises that sounded like a game of football on the beach were just that as the lads took on the locals! Robbie Keane, Michael Carrick, Michael Dawson, Mark Yeates, Kieran McKenna and Jermain Defoe were all involved and Michael Carrick later revealed that it had finished in an honourable 1-1 draw.
THE DAY ended with a special dinner at Westminster House in Floreal with the British High Commisioner Anthony Godson. Mr Godson gave a welcome speech and told us ‘politics is a national sport on Mauritius, but soccer is a national religion’ before wishing us all the best for Friday night’s friendly. Our chairman, Daniel Levy, thanked Mr Godson for his hospitality and told guests how much the party is enjoying the visit. We’ll have his speech in full on the website tomorrow.