Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. soccer players get Premier League thrill of a lifetime

A young team from St. John's marched in England among their heroes.

Boys carried flags for their heroes in England last week

Coach Bernie Manning, right, said a lucky contact helped the under-15 St. John's team onto the pitch with some of the world's most famous soccer stars. (Paula Gale/CBC)

A St. John's soccer team had the field trip of a lifetime last week after they were tapped to march in the final game of the Premier League season in England.

In a pre-season tour for the Feildians Athletic Association boys' under-15 team, the teens played five matches and basked in the history and culture of one of soccer's most famously obsessed countries — and marched in front of a crowd of 35,000 manic fans.

The honour was comparable to skating with the team flag before an NHL game, said their coach, Bernie Manning.

One of the team's tour operators "had great connections," said Manning, and was able to arrange a few minutes of fame for the Feildian boys.

The "football immersion" trip aimed to gear them up for the summer season.

"Everything was either watching, learning, training," Manning said. "Everything we did was all around soccer."

'Crazy' experience

"The competition's stronger over there," son Finley said of the team's matches against English boys' teams. "They're playing all year round."

But after the training, a treat: The 18 boys donned Leicester City and Chelsea jerseys and walked out in front of a full professional-league audience at Leicester's King Power Stadium on Sunday.

"Right before the players came out, we walked out with two banners," explained Finley. "Crazy. So many people watching."

His teammates described the thrill of standing on the same pitch that, moments later, would be graced by some of the sport's legendary players.

"Being that close to someone so famous, it was pretty cool," Ethan Strickland chimed in.

Josh Peddle recalled the excitement of seeing people "you've only ever seen on TV" mere metres away.

"You've only ever dreamed of seeing people like that," Peddle said, a hint of awe in his voice.

The players on the field that day aren't popular only across the pond, Manning added; strikers like Jamie Vardy are famous around the world.

"For the boys to march on and be next to them is a memory they won't soon forget," he said.

"Not very many people get that opportunity."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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