Sunday, December 16, 2001

London Soccer Academy Visits England

Mariners Net talked to the Club's Canadian visitors today.

The visitors - from London - are led by Cam Vassallo, the Director of the football academy, and Jurek Gebczynski the coach, who also coaches the semi-pro senior side called London City.

Jurek was impressed by the atmosphere at Blundell Park. "It's a professional environment," he says. "Everyone here is aiming to be professional about soccer."

"Back in Canada we don't have a large stadium like this, and we don't train every day."

He explained that in Europe football was the number one sports, but in Canada it has to compete with the established sports of ice hockey, baseball and basketball. Football is not a great professional sport there but "it's seen as a great recreational sport, not something to pursue as a career, so the programme for soccer is not as advanced as it is for the other sports."

However, there are now 800,000 registered players in the country, which is twice as many as there were ten years ago.

Ian Knight explained, "The Canadian League is semi-professional - it's about the standard of our own Conference League."

Cam Vassallo, the Director of the Football Academy, said, "Canadian boys dream of playing football in England. It's the place to go to be at the top."

"Competition is getting better," said Jurek, "and there are a number of talented players, but they're not close to a professional environment like this," he added indicating the whole of the Grimsby Town set-up.

Town's youth policy is geared up to developing players. This is not apparently so in many Canadian teams. "In Canada the whole emphasis at youth level is short term - on winning the next game, rather than looking further ahead."

Jurek knows that some of the lads that have come across from Canada for ten days will have games with Town's youngsters and find it tough. He cannot do everything in Canada that Grimsby Town can do here, because he takes the 'elite' team, and that means he is taking youngsters from several clubs, so things such as team structure and tactics on the pitch have to go by the board.

"That's what one of the things we'll be doing while we're over he," says Jurek enthusiastically. "Football can be a serious way of living, and the boys need to see that in practice."

"Our dream is to develop boys," says the Canadian coach. And then he went on to talk about Tyler Hemming, one of the brightest prospects who has already been to Blundell Park for assessment.

"Tyler was missed by the bigger Canadian clubs because he was from outside of the big cities. But when he did sign as a professional, he became the youngest ever in Canada!"

Clearly, Tyler Hemming is keen to break into English football, and he will get his opportunity to convince the Mariners that he is their man early in the New Year.

Saturday, December 08, 2001

Academy going on field trip

December 8, 2001 - Academy going on field trip - By MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

No one really knows if somewhere in the group of 16 London Soccer Academy players heading to England tomorrow, there will be another Tyler Hemming.

The players and English First Division side Grimsby Town certainly hope so.

Hemming is the 16-year-old Londoner who played for London City of the Canadian Professional Soccer League. He's also a member of the Academy. He turned heads with Grimsby Town when he attended a tryout in October. He is expected to return to Grimsby in March, when he may be offered a contract.

Grimsby has a working relationship with the Academy, which under the tutelage of London City coach Jurek Gebczynski, works with players of all ages from all teams to improve their skills.

Ian Knight, Grimsby's director of youth development, has made several trips to London looking for talent. On one, he found Hemming. What was a dribble has become an open tap. This time around, he's focused on eight individuals.

"He identified eight younger boys he wanted me to get over," said Cam Vassallo of the Academy. "The idea is that they can't make any promises to 13- and 14-year-olds right now. But they wanted them to get a taste of what it's like to prepare them for the future couple of years down the road. (Knight) is very interested in the young ones.

"We aren't under any illusions. Younger boys will go over and find it tough. Hopefully they will impress them enough to ask them to come back."

Grimsby also allowed the Academy leeway in bringing other players it felt had potential for the purpose of scrimmaging. Eight others will go. The 16 players will leave tomorrow and return Dec. 21.

The boys will pay for their flight to England, while the eight invited by Knight will have their accommodations paid for.

"Our idea is to develop them to the standard of European players," Gebczynski said. "Our problem is the highest competitive league we have is the CPSL. We have to bring up those kids where they can easily play in the CPSL at the age of 15, 16, 17. Then we are pretty sure they might be able to compete."

Gebczynski believes the trip is important not only for the development of the players, but also to give them an idea of the standards in Europe. It's one of the reasons he's going as well.

"This is a good arrangement for us because everybody is looking for good players in Europe and with everyone looking, it's difficult to sign them," Gebczynski said. "That's why they look here for players."

Gebczynski is realistic about the possibility of a large group of players making it.

"Some kids will have a hard time over there," he said. "Some might be surprised at how difficult it is to be a professional. If they have potential, they'll be able to work on it. So the trip's a good thing. We want to see how those guys perform in a pressure situation."

Making the trip from North London Soccer Club are Michael Pereira, 12, and Tyler Carey 13. Going from London United are Fidel Villanueva, 14, Sergio Lesik, 14, and Angus Gordon, 14. The Greater London Soccer Club has four players going: Anthony Vassallo, 14, Adam Trevitt, 15, Anthony Mavrikkou, 16 and Brian Yanful, 16. Two players from Forest United, Arnold Kostkowski, 12, and David Kwiek, 13, will be heading to England. Geordan Moogk, 13, of Nucleo Sporting; Dan Barreiras, 16, of Southend United and three 16-year-old players from Windsor, Ryan Mendoca, John Grigorakis and Adrian Jaworski, round out the group.

Putting players in the ultra-competitive and intensive program of professional soccer in England is one way of finding out not only if a player has potential but if he has the desire to work for success. Gebczynski believes that to make it at that level, soccer has to be "in your blood." Skills are great but skills die without dedication.

"This trip might give kids the additional push because they see there is something at the end of the tunnel," he said. "They see the commitment is there. It's what I'm looking for. Cam used to call all those kids to come out to practice and I said, 'Cam, don't do that. If they don't want to come that's fine.' "

And he holds up Hemming as an example of exactly what a player can do with the right combination of skills, attitude and dedication.

Saturday, December 01, 2001

Canadians in Grimsby

Mariners Net London

But these aren't Cockneys by any stretch of the imagination - unless the sound of Bow Bells has travelled 5,000 miles. Because these Londoners are from London in Canada!

Grimsby Town have formed partnerships with two places in Canada, and a number of young football hopefuls and their parents and coaches will be coming over to Grimsby on Monday afternoon.

Ian Knight told the Official Website all about the Canadian set-up.

London is in Ontario, a city about three times the size of Grimsby, and with its own semi-professional 'soccer' club - called London City.

Town's interest though is in its tie-up with the local youth soccer set-up. The children there have to be keen - it may take TWO HOURS to travel to the club for training sessions - but football is now the number one participation sport for youngsters.

Recently the youngsters have tied up with the semi-professional club which plays in the CPSL - the Canadian Professional Soccer League - and the more likely lads train with the semi-professionals.

One of their youngsters - called Tyler Hemming - became the youngest Canadian professional. He came to Grimsby Town last season and impressed the coaching staff here. He will return to Blundell Park in March for further assessment, and with a view to earning himself a professional contract with the Mariners for the 2002-3 season.

The Canadian coaches run similar physical and skill assessments to those of our own coaches, and though this does not give a 100% picture of any boy's talent, it certainly helps Ian Knight and his staff to have some idea of the capabilities of each young player.

Why should Canada's young soccer players wish to cross the Atlantic? "There is no professional league to aspire to," says Ian. And as well as that there are big geographical and climatic problems - Canada being a huge country, with major snowfalls in the winter."

"Nor are there any developmental leagues like there are in the UK - where there are junior leagues, local leagues, semi-professional and professional leagues."

London is the Mariner's second tie-up with a Canadian club.

The first is Abbotsford just outside Vancouver. This came about through a friend of ex-Town player Alec Brader - Barry Crocker, who is the Canadian National Physiotherapist. A group from Abbotsford was brought over last March for twelve days.

The Abbotsford club has teams from under 8s to under 18s, of both sexes.

Abbotsford run a number of teams at each age level, with the elite team being called the "Abbotsford Mariners" which plays in the same strip as our own Grimsby Town.

Last summer, a combined team of players from Abbotsford and Grimsby Town took part in the 'Surf Cup' in California, a truly international side.

With significant liaisons like this, it might not be too long before Grimsby Town have a Canadian playing in the first team at Blundell Park.

A group of players and their families will be at Blundell Park for the next few days, starting today (Tuesday), and Mariners' Net will bring you further reports on them later this week.