Earlier this year, Homes For Islington and The Arsenal Foundation funded a trip for a group of under-16s to play in the Atreus Premier Cup in Greece. The team was assembled at short notice from academy and development squads, and included talented 16-year- old winger Brandon White…
“There was an open trial at Market Road, and more than 150 teenagers tried out. I made it through to another trial from which 15 players were selected to go on the trip.
“The team came from a variety of Arsenal schemes – I’d been to Kickz, the social inclusion football scheme at Rosemary Gardens – but we bonded quickly. We trained weekly and played against other Arsenal in the Community groups. It was hard work but we were determined to make the most of the opportunity.
“We needed to gel quickly, so we played friendlies against sides from Coventry, Walsall, Brighton and Oxford. This was good not just for the football, but because it gave us an opportunity to travel together and really get to know each other.
“After three months of preparation the day had finally come, and we met early at Emirates Stadium to travel to Gatwick. Lots of us were excited because we’d never been to an airport before, let alone on a plane.
“Once we’d landed in Athens we got a coach to our apartments, had dinner and went to bed after a long day. The next morning we had a training session, then did some sightseeing.
“The first match of the tournament was between Athens and Olympiacos. At the opening ceremony there were flags, speeches, the national anthem and it was game on. Olympiacos won 1-0, then it was our turn.
“We were disappointed to lose 1-0 against the district team of Argolida, especially as we felt we were the better team. The next day we had two games and sadly lost them both, 5-0 to a very good Olympiacos side and 3-0 to Athens.
“We were down but the coaches reminded us we’d only been playing together for a few months and had done well against teams that had been together for years. That made us feel better, and we had to remember we’d gone from playing at Rosemary Gardens to big stadiums in Greece.
“It was an amazing trip, and a great experience to play against professional academy sides from another country. It’s shown me the different qualities and styles other players have and had a positive impact on me – what I want to achieve and how to get there.”