The Holland Cup is an international youth football tournament held in Almere, just east of Amsterdam and organised by FC Almere. The event, held over the Easter period, is widely regarded as a leading youth football tournament in Europe and has been run annually for over twenty-five years. Around two thousand teams from twelve countries compete across the various age groups of the event, which is eventually split into the Challenge Cup and the prestigious Holland Cup. One such team who has participated in the tournament, not once but twice, is East Stirling Boys 2002s. Roddy MacPhee, one of the coaches at East Stirling Boys, spoke exclusively to YFS, to share their experience.
MacPhee said: “Our aim from when we started 11-a-side was to develop the boys as best we could, not just in football but in life with experiences such as winning, losing, discipline, friendship, and hard work, so we researched the European tournaments. The Holland Cup was highly regarded and recommended so we felt that taking part in the competition, regarded as the best on the continent, was the one for us. That way we knew we were going to test the team and give them new boundaries to work within.”
East Stirling Boys sailed over for the tournament last year, and the side were pleasantly surprised to win the Challenge Cup. MacPhee noticed the benefits of the experience in his side instantly. “The experience they gained was visible almost straight away through their maturity, understanding and willingness to help and look after each other and the way they converse with adults and coaches. It is extremely satisfying to see them celebrate and be so happy- to see them enjoy tangible success.”
He added: “It’s easy to forget they are only 13 and 14 years of age, children, and we expect so much from them. But without question having experience of playing abroad, competing, winning, taking responsibility for themselves and each other, with the pride in their club is standing them in good stead for the future.”
Already, the team have shown how much they have grown from the experience. The side returned to Holland this year with aspirations of qualifying for the Holland Cup. MacPhee said: “Last year, playing and winning the Challenge Cup in Amsterdam gave them such a different mindset to go and compete in the Holland Cup this year. They were more confident and while last year they had trepidation, this year was excited nervousness with a determination to do well and a belief they belonged there.”
Not only did the Falkirk-based side manage to qualify for the top trophy, but they finished third in their age group, in which seventy-two teams from twelve European countries competed. Out of the seventy-two teams, East Stirling were delighted to finish third, winning their third versus fourth place play-off after losing 2-1 in the semi-final to what MacPhee described as a "powerful French side".
In addition to the tournament, the boys had the opportunity to experience an international football match. MacPhee said, “To further the experience of being in Holland we decided to take everyone on a trip along to the Amsterdam ArenA on the Friday evening to watch Holland v France in a Euro 2016 warm-up match.
"We had great seats and the boys had a fantastic time, laughing and joking around with each other while watching international players play, trying to garner knowledge they could apply to their own game.”
The boys also had some time to explore Amsterdam city centre and MacPhee described it as "a great trip all round."
As the season draws to a close, there are still aims to fulfil with the side hoping to continue their successful runs in the domestic cups and finish in the top three in the league. MacPhee added, “While we currently sit 5th in the league having played fewer games than everyone else due to our cup demands we hope to start making progress in our ambitions for a top 3 finish in the coming weeks.”
Club manager, Jim Callaghan, also shared his pride for the Falkirk-based side, and his belief in their ability. “It’s a huge pleasure to be the manager of this fantastic group of players who every single week show their commitment. They train hard and enjoy being part of East Stirling Galaxy so much. We have great facilities at Little Kerse that helps us in our preparations.
"They are a joy to be around and while they keep me and all the coaches on our toes they are a great group of boys. We obviously give up our time to coach and encourage them, but the reward we get is watching them play and be successful and without doubt they have created some great moments each and every one of us will never forget.”
MacPhee acknowledged the importance of the support that the team and coaches receive from the parents. “We are extremely fortunate to have supportive and understanding parents who are as determined to see the whole team be successful and happy as the coaches are. It would be remiss of us not to acknowledge the support we receive from parents and grandparents that not only wish to see their own successful but to see the support they give to all our boys.”
Hopefully East Stirling Boys 2002’s can use their experience from Holland to fulfil their aims during the remainder of the season and have many more fantastic experiences in the future.