June 2, 2008

Holy Cross Men's Soccer Travels To Barcelona

June 2, 2008

Photo Gallery

Shortly after the completion of final examinations this spring, the Holy Cross men's soccer team embarked on a trip to Barcelona, Spain, home of FC Barcelona and one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. It was from here that Ferdinand and Isabella launched Christopher Columbus on his exploration to the new world. This trip was one year in the planning and organized by Harvard Sports Management. The trip was made possible by the generosity of numerous alumni and friends of the College. For six nights and seven days, the student-athletes were provided the opportunity to visit this incredible city and compete against outstanding talent in Spain and Southern France. Sites visited included the monastery at Montserrat, the Mediterranean resort of Sitges and Camp Nou, the stadium of FC Barcelona.

Here is their story, told by the student athletes:

Day 1 - Tuesday, May 13, 2008
From Jerry Dickinson

Hola! Greetings from the beautiful city of Barcelona. My name is Jerry Dickinson, captain of the men's soccer team.

We finally made it to Spain after a long day of traveling. The team was at first a little tired from jetlag, but we overcame that quickly once the excitement of being in Barcelona began to build. We met Jan (pronounced "Yan" or "Yawn"), our tour guide, at the Aeropuerto de Barcelona or the Barcelona International Airport, boarded our tour bus and headed for some beautiful sites in Barcelona. The weather forecast here did not look promising a few days before we left for Spain, but we've been blessed with sunshine and 70 degree weather on our first day.

Our first destination in Spain was La Sagrada Familia, a massive Roman Catholic Church designed by the famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. We took a few team pictures at the church and were well informed about the site by Jan. It was an unbelievable structure that towered over every other building in its vicinity. Jan told us that it would take another 50 years to completely finish building the church.

After a few hours of taking pictures and checking out the city from a picturesque view from atop Barcelona, we headed for a Spanish buffet that served traditional Spanish cuisine. The food was excellent and we even ran into a few English speaking tourists in the restaurant. After lunch, we mingled briefly with a few locals who were interested in who we were and what we were doing in Spain as an American soccer team. Language was not too much of a barrier for us, because we have five players on the team who can speak fluent Spanish and many others who are proficient. We did have a few difficulties with translation, because in Barcelona the predominant language is Catalan, which is similar to, but technically a different language than Spanish. However, all the Catalan people appear to speak Spanish as well.

Finally, we traveled to a local training facility to have a short practice session with Coach Comrie. This was our chance to prepare tactically and technically for our first game against Montanesa FC, a Spanish Division 4 team, on Wednesday. We ate dinner after the training session and checked into our hotel, named Hotel Ronda located in central Barcelona.

It was a long, but exciting first day for the team. A combination of site-seeing, food and training kicked off our visit to Spain. But we definitely needed some rest after being up for over 24 hours.

Now, the "freshman perspective" on Day 1:
From Kyle Miller

Welcome to BARCELONA! The first thing we heard loading onto the bus after the 8 hour flight. Our tour guide for the week, Jan, had to be the most enthusiastic person I have ever met. Meeting Jan was an upside considering for 6 of us, we had no bags, so when Jan came onto the bus and started yelling about everything, despite us being tired and a bit angry, he cheered us all up.

It was a beautiful day, around 75 degrees and the sun was shining. After getting settled on the bus, we immediately went for a ride around Barcelona on a small tour. Jan took us to the top of a mountain that overlooked the entire city. It had to be the biggest city I have ever seen, just expanding for miles and miles. It looked like it would never end. After getting team picture after team picture, after some old people got mad at us for taking 25 pictures next to a statue because they wanted to take a picture next to it, after being amazed by the sight of the city, we packed back onto the bus for a trip throughout the city.

We passed monument after monument, amazed by the sight of it all, and finally stopped in for lunch. We went to a buffet, which proved to be great because the meal on the plane did nothing to conquer our hunger. After eating lunch, we piled back onto the bus and headed for La Sagrada Familia. It was Beautiful. The sculpture and fine detail was insane. No wonder it has taken centuries to construct. It was one of the most amazing sights of the trip. We stayed there for about 25 minutes, took a few team photos, and piled back into the bus to go to a training session. Sleep. The one thing we all did on the way to our training session. Everyone but maybe 3 of us were passed out cold. Jan was still yelling into the microphone, but it did not matter. We were all out cold and nothing was going to wake us.

We arrived at the stadium we were training at and went through a session. We were all dead but managed to finish it. After the session we headed out to dinner, Jan still his excited self. And finally after dinner we headed back to the hotel to check in and fall asleep.

Day 2 - Wednesday, May 14, 2008
From Andreas Andrews

Today we woke up very early in preparation for our long extravagant day of traveling, sight seeing, shopping, which concluded with our first game against a division4 professional Spanish club named Montanesa.

After breakfast, we took a half an hour trip via train to the city of Sitges, one of the most picturesque coastal villages in the Mediterranean, where many of soccer's elite choose to make their home. After exiting the train, we walked five minutes down to the beach where we took pictures of the magnificent ocean. There was a historical church along the water which was still in tact from one of the battles that the Spanish had with the British. After walking as a group for a little, we went off on our own for two hours.

We were able to shop, look around, and just appreciate the difference in culture between Americans and Catalans (The region of Spain that Barcelona is located in). The streets were very small and filled with people, but one of the most shocking traits was how young and modern the city was. One would expect that a small town would not be like that. Although it was modern, it still maintained that historical significance and beauty to it. Afterwards, we met up for lunch at a restaurant called Boccalino. There we had our choice of turkey, chicken Milanese, and fish. I chose the fish which was accompanied by a salad. It was a savoring meal that left us full until we played our game that night.

After lunch, we went back on the train to our hotel so that we could take a nice nap before playing that night. The bus picked us up from the hotel at 6:45pm and drove us to the stadium. For being a division 4 team, the stadium was more than most colleges would have in the U.S. The only qualm I had was that the field was turf. My personal favorite is grass, but that is only a minor issue. We had a great game as a team, we played solid defense and for not practicing as much as we could because of finals conflicts, I thought we did better than fine. Although we lost the game, we learned a lot about the speed of play and the movement off the ball of each player. It was a great learning curve to go through.

After the game, we had dinner at around 11:30pm at an easy buffet where we had multiple choices. Our last activity was bedtime and it was well deserved.

What an incredible day!!!! I look forward to what the following days bring us!!!!

Day 3 - Thursday, May 15, 2008
From Peter Whooley

Day three in Spain was a tremendous day that started with a trip to one of the world's most respected football clubs and ended with a great game against one of Spain's Fourth Division Teams, FC Santboiana

After the morning's breakfast, our fleet-footed tour guide, Jan, led us on a walk through the streets of Barcelona. We then took a short train ride to Camp Nou, the home of FC Barcelona. The club celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1999 and has become one of the world's greatest football clubs. Their stadium houses seats for 96,000 with a capacity crowd of 110,000. The stadium was unlike any other we have seen here in the US and it was truly an honor to walk through.

We were able to walk right up to the field and see the view that so many world class players have seen. We also were able to walk up the varying seating levels and through the Press Boxes. We took a lot of pictures in front of the immaculate field and the amazing stadium. Our tour through Camp Nou culminated with a walk through the club's prestigious President Lounge and the Historic Museum; we spent a great deal of time admiring all the different trophies, photographs and personal belongings of the legendary players who have all helped make FC Barcelona what it is today.

Once we left Camp Nou we took a brisk-paced walk over to a great restaurant. Each of enjoyed a beautiful dish of one of Spain's most renowned dishes: paella. After a filling lunch, we took a quick subway ride back to our Hotel for an `hour kip' as Coach Comrie would say, meaning a `good nap' before our second game. We were scheduled to play against a top Fourth Division club, FC Santboiana.

The game with FC Santboiana was a great test for us. In the first half we played against FC Santboiana's full team. They were a tremendously skilled team that played at a speed much greater than any of the teams we have previously played here in the States. We were forced to play much faster and smarter as we fell down 1-0 by halftime. In the second half we faced the club's reserve team; another highly skilled and very fast team that greatly challenged us, however, we were able to take the second half by a score of 2-1, for a final result of 2-2. F.C. Santboiana was a great host to us and provided us with tremendous competition. They will surely serve as motivation and inspiration for us to play at a much higher level for when we strive to achieve great things come the fall season of 2008.

Day three ended with another great meal at one of Barcelona's many Mediterranean restaurants. After another full day we were ready for bed and returned to Hotel Ronda to turn in for the night.

Day 4 - Friday, May 16, 2008
From Alejandro Melean

We traveled to Perpignan, France on Friday, May 16. We traveled by train and stopped in Figueres, Spain, which is located at the Northeast part of Spain right next to the French border. There we visited the Salvador Dali Museum. We were able to walk freely around a two-story art museum that contained some of Salvador Dali's best work. These masterpieces were made up of paintings, sculptures, statues, illusions, etc. What impressed me most about Dali's art were the optical illusions that he created. One painting portrayed a pregnant woman standing next to a bed, but when you looked at the painting from a distance, it looked like the face of a man with a beard. Another painting included a naked woman in the center surrounded by a collage of different pictures. When looking at it from a distance, the figure looked like Abraham Lincoln. The Dali museum was an amazing artistic and educational experience for our team.

After the Dali museum, we traveled to Perpignan, France, which was located just past the French border. We walked around the city for a while to get lunch. Being bilingual, I never really knew what it was like to be in a country where they spoke a language that I did not know. Wesley was our main French to English translator, and Tommy Booth also knew enough French to help us communicate with the townspeople. We enjoyed our lunch and walked around the city of Perpignan. We made some conversation with a few of the French people that were curious to know what all these Americans with white "Holy Cross Soccer" shirts were doing in Perpignan. The French people were very friendly and interested in having a conversation with people from different cultures. We then went back to the bus in order to rest for our third and final game of our trip.

Next we drove towards the soccer field of FC Elne. The field was surrounded by mountains that had clouds covering the tops. It was an amazing view that we could see while we warmed up as well as during the game. We took a pre-game photograph with the other team at half field. We were also joined by our athletic director, Dick Regan, who showed up to watch our final game with a French national team jersey. The game ended in our favor with a score of 4-0. After the game, their team presented us with a trophy and invited us to have dinner with them. We ate in a room where everyone was standing and chatting despite our language barriers. Wes and Tommy helped as translators and some of the Frenchmen spoke some Spanish. We ended up having a great time with the same guys who were our opponents earlier that evening. They even wanted us to go out with them so that they could show us around France, but it was about that time to head back to the hotel in Barcelona. This day was a great cultural and artistic experience for the whole team.

Day 5 - Saturday, May 17, 2008
From Ryan O'Hanlon

Saturday was technically our first day of the "off-season." With the games officially over, we now had a few days to relax before returning home and starting up with our summer workouts. Despite a late return from the game in France, we woke up early on Saturday in order to eat breakfast before we departed for Montserrat, a mountain located in northern Spain, outside of Barcelona.

To get to Montserrat, we took a few different subway cars that eventually brought us to a train station. From the station, we boarded a train headed for the base of Montserrat. From what I remember, the train ride was pretty uneventful and it wasn't too long. Then again, I was asleep for the entire ride so I'm probably as reliable of a source as anyone who reads this. So, getting back to the trip, the train dropped us off at the base of the mountain, which sits a mere 4,055 feet above sea level. Now, for those of you who don't know, Montserrat is not just some mountain that you travel to the top of so you can get a bumper sticker or a t-shirt saying "I climbed Montserrat." There is actually a Benedictine abbey built into the mountain that is accessible to visitors. So, thankfully there was a railway that ascended the mountain and dropped us off. If there had not been a railway and we actually had to hike up, well, I probably wouldn't be around to write this.

I've heard that the train up to the mountain provided some amazing views, and, at points, even looked straight over drops of more than 1,000 feet. I say I've heard because the majority of my time on the train ride up was spent consoling Hef and LeBar and telling them that everything was going to be just fine. But hey, when Whooley isn't around, someone has to take on the role of team mom, so I guess it was my turn.

Once we arrived at the monastery, we were given a brief history of the mountain by one of the women who worked there. We learned the history of the Black Madonna (a statue of the mother of Christ), the music school located in the monastery, and the monastery's publishing house, which holds the world's oldest printing press still in use (first used in 1499). Montserrat has special significance for Jesuit colleges as St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, spent a critical period of his life in meditation at Montserrat. After this info session we went for lunch in the cafeteria, which brings me to a quick side point: if you ever go to Spain, bring snacks. They never give you enough food and what they give you is nothing to write home about. The girls and the food were the two, and only two, things that left me feeling under whelmed upon leaving Spain.

After lunch we were finally able to see the church. They say that Montserrat was originally thought to be the location of the Holy Grail. Well, if any church was to be home to the Holy Grail, this was it. My description of this amazing building will not do it justice. The pictures will help, but being there is the only real way to fully experience it. Upon walking into the church, you're looked down on by Jesus and the twelve apostles, each one sculpted with intricate and specific detail. Once inside, the ceiling appeared to stretch to unreachable heights. As you moved forward, towards the front of the basilica, you passed adjacent side rooms that housed various paintings and sculptures of Jesus, Mary, and others. Each piece was done with unbelievable specificity, unlike anything I have ever seen before. Unfortunately, the altar and the front of the church were roped off so I couldn't see everything, and based off the looks of the rest of the building, I'm sure I missed out. Originally, I left the church without seeing the Black Madonna, but luckily we missed our train back, so we had to wait an hour for the next one, giving me time to go back and see the famous statue.

The Black Madonna is a revered sculpture of Mary and Jesus for which Montserrat is most well known. It is said that when constructing their monastery, the Benedictine monks could not move the statue, and, rather, decided to build around it. The Madonna was constructed in the 12th century and is surrounded by a gold altar. It has become a site of pilgrimage for many Catholics, but thankfully I met no line when I traveled to the back of the chapel to see it. The statue itself is fairly small, but is unique as Jesus and Mary are both painted a dark black. However, the history behind the statue, not necessarily its appearance, is what the real attraction is.

After this, it was time to board the train back to Barcelona and, once again, I slept through the whole ride. So, if anything crazy happened on the way back, I couldn't tell you. We then got back to the hotel and rested for a bit before dinner. For dinner, we went to an Argentinean (key word: Argentinean, not Spanish) restaurant. This was easily the best meal of the trip as all food was unlimited. They had every type of meat imaginable in what appeared to be unlimited supply. Dessert, along with everything else was amazing, and it really capped off what was, for me, the best day of the trip.

Day 6 - Sunday, May 18, 2008
From Henry Hulick

On Sunday morning, the team set out for a day on La Rambla - a two and a half mile street lined with small, Spanish stores and quirky, yet entertaining street performers. Although many of the stores on La Rambla were closed on Sunday, it was clear that the street was the hub of tourism in the Catalan city.

For lunch, most of the team was able to try tapas - a traditional Spanish meal that consists of a wide variety of appetizers meant for sharing. After lunch we continued our walk down La Rambla. Though the walk to the end of the strip was very much exhausting, coach Comrie used the walk to symbolize our 2007-2008 season as well as to motivate the team to work even harder in the fall of 2008.

On Sunday night, we attended a La Liga match between Espanyol and Almeria at the Estadi Olímpic de Montjuic. The atmosphere of the stadium was invigorating, and although Espanyol was defeated 3-1 at home, the experience of attending a La Liga match was very entertaining. To top the night off, on the walk back to the subway we were able to see a marvelous water performance in front of the Catalunya National Museum of Art. An enormous water fountain lit by multicolored lights illuminated the sky with classical music playing in the background. The water performance was truly a wonderful way to end a fantastic and inspiring trip overseas

Conclusion - Monday, May 19, 2008
From Jerry Dickinson

On Monday morning, we rose early and had a final breakfast at the hotel. Our tour guide Jan accompanied us to El Prat (Barcelona airport) where we boarded an Air France flight to Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris, connecting to Boston from there.

Our visit to Spain and France has been enjoyable. I hope these diaries give the Holy Cross community a closer and more personable look at what the team experienced in Spain and France. It was truly an amazing adventure into a region of the world most of us have never been. More importantly, it was a pleasure to represent the College of the Holy Cross as student-athletes and ambassadors.

The team has benefited in many ways from this trip. We have grown closer and learned more about each other. After seven days you begin to realize how important each player is to the team and what each player brings to the table. The men's soccer team is now a tightly knit unit of players who fight for each other both on and off the field--the trip to Europe and our performance on the field is testament to that.

The team would like to thank Coach Comrie for his efforts in organizing the trip to Europe and preparing us well for the competition we faced in Spain and France. Special thanks to Holy Cross athletic director Dick Regan, who was the mastermind behind planning the trip. To Scott Gallon, our athletic trainer, we couldn't have been more blessed to have you with us to help the injured players and keep everyone as healthy as you could. And most importantly, we would like to thank the many alums and parents for their donations to help facilitate the expenses. Without you we would have never been able to visit Europe. You truly embody the Jesuit commitment of what it means to be "men and women for others."

From Head Coach Elvis Comrie:
On behalf of the entire team, I would like to thank the incredible generosity of our alumni, who made this trip possible. I would also like to thank Dick Regan as well, for coming up with the idea of going to Barcelona. The trip was absolutely brilliant, and from a soccer and educational standpoint, it was an experience of a lifetime for all of us. Once again, I would like to thank everyone responsible for this trip.