Imagine you’re a young footballer on an overseas placement with your colleagues and suddenly you find yourself facing the host country’s national team.
Well, that’s exactly what happened to the elite football group from Chester-le-Street’s Park View Academy of Sport during their Turing Scheme trip to Italy.
Just before returning home to County Durham, they found themselves lining up against an Italy Under-19 team that included players attached to big-name European clubs such as Juventus, AC Milan and Roma – and what’s more, they managed to earn a hugely impressive 1-1 draw.
The group were among 327 sporting students from Park View who visited Italy in 2022 across five visits – all funded by a £727,000 grant from the Turing Scheme. Trips were originally also planned to Switzerland and Hungary but were hurriedly switched to Italy because of Covid-19 travel restrictions and the war in Ukraine.
The game against the Italy under-19s came about when the elite football group’s stay at Novarello, a specialised sports centre near Milan, coincided with the national under-19 squad being there in preparation for the upcoming European Championships.
Experience of a lifetime for players and coaches
Despite socialising and chatting with the Italian coaches and players, a match initially seemed unlikely. However, Park View’s trips had been arranged by UK-based Italian Francesca Lorenzet and her company Design Your Time, who managed to pull off the unlikely and set-up the encounter.
Park View head of sport academies, John Gamble, said: “It was literally just being in the right place at the right time, and through the networking of Francesca, that we managed to get this game against them. It was like a fairytale for our lads. Even though they are good they’ll probably never get the chance to play at that level again.
“We got on so well with the Italian coaches, that they want to come and see how we work in this country. So, we must have had some impact on them!
“Not only for the lads, but for myself and the rest of the coaching team, that experience will live with us for the rest of our lives. It was remarkable.”
Despite falling 1-0 behind in the game, Park View secured a draw when young defender Ebenezer Addo equalised in the 88th minute with a thundering long-range shot.
The match created considerable interest back home, including coverage by the BBC, and, in part because of that, Ebenezer has since secured a semi-professional contract to play for non-league club Cheshunt while studying engineering at university in London.
Other trips saw more footballers as well as rugby players, cricketers, athletes and rowers travel to the city of Padua as the base for a range of team building outdoor adventure activities and cultural visits as well as insights into training methods, strength and conditioning, sports science and future career paths related to their specialist sports.
Lewis Pendleton, director of sport at Park View, said: “Fundamentally for us it’s about providing life-enhancing opportunities.
Life skills that will last forever
“It was about challenging the young people, taking them out of their comfort zone and away from their sports and seeing what they could do, and I think the places and the activities that we went to and undertook did that.
“You can pass a BTEC, you can pass and A-level, and those things are vitally important for your progression in life, but the skills you learn from teamwork, from living with people for 13 to 14 days, building outdoor dens, doing outdoor sports, communication, cooking – they’re life skills that you take with you forever.
“I think the players, the students, have got so many tangible and intangible benefits out of these trips. When you’re an aspiring athlete it’s hard – the time you spend in the gym, the time you spend training, trying to chase a dream, to do your studies, to see your mum and dad and be a brother or sister.
“It’s hard to balance all those things and with these experiences they learn a lot. If you travel abroad a lot you have to pack your bag, you have to learn to wash, you have to learn how to clean, you have to learn to eat properly and that’s an insight into what life could be like as a professional athlete.”
One student who certainly found a tangible benefit from the experience was aspiring rugby player James, who was in a wheelchair when he started at Park View after suffering several fractures in a fall from a cliff while visiting Scotland.
Understandably, that experience left James fearful of climbing again – but one of the activities he undertook in Italy was climbing a cliff.
“When I was in Italy climbing up a cliff was a way to challenge those fears and overcome them,” he said. “It was very scary at first and I wasn’t very confident but when I got to the top I felt a lot better. It was a relief and all the nerves had gone. Those fears that I had have started to go and this has really helped.”
Find out more about FE/VET funding opportunities with the Turing Scheme