Westport FC’s Over-30 team just returned from the trip of a lifetime. Invited to London by Ivan Gazidis — former Westport FC player, former colleague of Mark Noonan ’83 at MLS, and current CEO/GM of Arsenal — the group spend a long, amazing weekend in England. Here is Dan Donovan’ ’82’s report:
When Ivan heard that Brian Sullivan ’82 was diagnosed with cancer, he told Sully to get through it — and he’d have the whole team over.
Sully fulfilled his part of the deal, and Ivan came through as promised.
Our team made its way overseas, and on Friday, April 3 we gathered for lunch and a beer or two at a proper pub, the Grapes. Mike Brown ’83 quickly rechristened it the Sea Grape, after the Over-30’s old haunt in Fairfield.
Following a visit to Buckingham Palace and a double-decker tour of London, there was more general debauchery and a lot of laughs through the night, the sort you’d expect when old friends get together.
Before Saturday’s early-morning kick-around, Ivan arrived at our hotel. He presented Sully with an Arsenal jersey signed by the entire team — the only time he has made such a request of the side. For once, Sully was speechless.
A morning run was followed by short goal in Hyde Park, including Ivan. Unfortunately, he did not offer anyone a contract.
Saturday afternoon was spent at The Emirates, Arsenal’s stunning new stadium. Ivan took Westport FC into the locker room, then out through the players’ tunnel onto the field. Though even Ivan could not allow anyone to step on the pitch, it was an awe-inspiring moment. Calling it a carpet would be offensive.
After many photos we repaired to the gift shop, to outfit all our kids, show Ivan our gratitude, and revive the British economy. Arsenal won its match 2-0 over Manchester City, while Westport FC soaked up the special atmosphere of a Premiership match.
Dinner that night was at a great Chinese restaurant recommended by team manager Matt Porio. A few Oxford Old Boys alumni team members — our foe the following day — joined us. Forsaking football for a bit, a number of FC players headed out to a sports bar to watch the NCAA Final Four. The bar was packed with American students, reminding us that we are old enough to be their parents.
Sunday morning’s match was at a big, flat field at the Honourable Artillery Company, a military facility in the Financial District. While not quite The Emirates, it was certainly more than adequate for Westport’s aging squad.
The Oxford Old Boys were coming off a 9-1 victory against the current Oxford squad, and they were big. But we realized early that we could run with them, and worked the ball around well while maintaining possession nicely. We had several very good chances.
Oxford took a 1-0 lead toward the end of the first half, on a penalty kick. But Westport equalized when Mark Noonan ’83 tooled two defenders, and was taken down for a PK.
There was more good play in the second half. It seemed we would break through when, against the run of play, Ivan (who, reminiscent of Pele’s last game, played the first half for Westport and the second for his alumni Oxford squad) tucked in a cheapy.
FC continued to apply relentless pressure, but could not crack the net. The final score remained 2-1. After a quick beer with the Oxford guys, we headed to the airport and home.
It was a great weekend. These don’t come often, and lots of sacrifices were made to make it happen. But it was fantastic.
And the entire experience was anchored in one thing: Westport soccer. To think that Sully, Noons, Brownie, Guy Claveloux ’83, Todd Coleman ’84, Jono Sollinger ’86, Nathan Bird ’89, Alex Deegan ’91 and I — joined by a bunch of great guys connected by Westport soccer like Edwin Leon via Rich Horosky ’84, Edwin Chapman via Todd, Steve Halloran via Brownie — would get together to plan this trip through our soccer family more than 20 years after we all graduated, went off to college, built careers and had families, is truly stunning. It’s a testament to what Westport and Staples soccer is all about.
PS: On the plane ride home, Dr. Jono Sollinger asked everyone to name the highlights of the trip. Each of us mentioned the opportunity to be with the boys again. And each of us is pissed we didn’t win, despite schooling Oxford. After all these years, the competitiveness that resulted in numerous FCIAC and state championships, college play, and even the pros (Deegan) — everyone still has that incredible desire to win.