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In the wake of 9/11, the Borough of Knowsley, outside Liverpool, adopted our city and our club, purposely sending their team across the ocean to play in Manhattan, at a time when some teams in Westchester feared crossing the Triborough Bridge! They brought with them gifts to our Scholarship Fund, gifts to our bereaved Fire Department families, a warm spirit of friendship, and brilliant youth soccer. Since 2002, the annual Knowsley visit has provided many of our high school boys teams both a cultural and soccer exchange, as they have practiced with and played against the team, and hosted these young men with “homestays” in their homes.
In 2011, after their weekend staying and training with MSC, U19 Knowsley Youth brought the Dallas Cup the U19 trophy home to Liverpool. It was Knowsley's first championship in 21 years of attendance at the prestigious tournament.
More about Knowsley
The Metropolitan Borough of Knowsley is a working class suburb adjacent to Liverpool, in Merseyside, England, with a population just over 150,000. It was formed in 1974 by the merger of several districts in the county of Lancashire, and is comprised of the towns of Kirkby, Prescot, Huyton, Whiston, Halewood and Cronton.
For about 20 years, as part of its youth development and recreational program, Knowsley has been sending a select U-19 Boys team to the Dallas Cup, perhaps the premier international youth soccer tournament in the US. They used to stop first to train in Ohio.
But after 9/11, our friends in Knowsley felt a need to reach out to us here in New York City, in an offer of friendship and camaraderie. For the citizens of Knowsley, World War II is a real memory. In England’s darkest hours, America stood by them. Now, they wanted to stand with us. The Borough Council directed that the event planner, Dave Mercer, find a youth soccer club in NYC and send their boys here-- not to Ohio or even to Westchester or Nassau, but to Manhattan.
And reach out they did: At a time when people throughout the world shunned air travel, our hotels were empty, and visitors were negligible, when some Westchester parents were afraid to send their kids across the Triborough Bridge to play on Randalls Island, Knowsley – in an act of bravery, gratitude and friendship – sent its youth across the ocean in an airplane to NYC to show their solidarity with us. They came with an official entourage of a dozen or more borough officials, including the Mayor and Leader of the Borough Council. And they came bearing gifts -- $10,000 for our scholarship fund and for our bereft firefighter families, raised a nickel, dime and quarter at a time, in bake sales, car washes and tips for bagging groceries. There was not a dry eye in the room when the Mayor, recalling the image of American soldiers in World War II Liverpool, presented the Borough’s scholarship fund check to an MSC parent who was widowed in the tragedy that brought the team to New York. They also presented a commemorative trophy, made in the local Jaguar plant by some of the very boys on their squad, who worked there as apprentices.
What did they ask in return? Little enough: a practice; a scrimmage; transportation to and from the airport; and homestays -- homes where the boys and the coaches could stay for free, rub elbows with real New Yorkers and perhaps learn a bit about our country and our city.
What started as a memorial has become a tradition. What started with hands reaching out has become an embracing friendship. We have welcomed Knowsley boys and their coaches into our homes. And those of us who have traveled there (including an MSC team that played in the mid-summer Knowsley Int'l Youth Soccer Tournament), have been welcomed into theirs. While some of the trappings have changed, the essentials of the Knowsley Friendship weekend remain the same: a practice, a scrimmage, and homestays with high school boys. In recent years, Councilwoman Gail Brewer has hosted a reception at City Hall for the Knowsley team and officials, together with the host Manhattan Soccer Club teams and their parents.
For Knowsley, their annual trip presents an opportunity to expose their boys -- many of whom have never been outside the Liverpool area and some of whom are already out of school and working -- to a world they might never see. This is a trip to challenge their imaginations, raise their horizons, and perhaps even see one or two recruited to play soccer by a US college or university and change their lives forever. (Nine boys on the 2008 squad were recruited!) The stop in New York City has become a critical part of their annual trip, because of all our great city represents: diversity, energy, and opportunity.
For MSC, the annual Knowsley visit presents an opportunity for our high school players to train with and match skills against players at the highest level of youth soccer; for our teams to observe a higher level of play to which to aspire; for our boys to meet with, learn from, and develop friendships with boys from another country, whose culture and even language can seem very different but who have a common bond in their love of soccer. It has been an opportunity for our coaches to see and learn different training techniques. And it is an opportunity both to show off our city and our Club, and to repay the generosity of our friends who came to our aid, lifted our spirits and extended their hands in what was truly a dark hour for us.
The Knowsley boys are of course very skilled soccer players. But they are not chosen for their skill alone. They are selected because they will be good ambassadors for their community. Over the course of months, the adults in charge evaluate the conduct, self-discipline, and reliability of the many boys who try out for the team, as well as their performance on the pitch. The boys we host delight us, and we will delight them. They will teach us a whole new way of speaking English (if we can understand them at all). They are grateful for our friendship, and we unfailingly follow their progress and root for them after they fly off to Dallas -- as they rooted for us in their own tournament, when our team visited them!
We encourage high school boys teams to get involved in the Friendship Weekend in whatever capacity they can. We always need host families. We encourage younger teams, as well as high schoolers, to consider travelling to Knowsley for its International Youth Tournament, which attracts teams from all over Europe and the world. It will be held July 26 to 31, next year. Applications will be available on line at the end of September. See http://www.lksoccertournament.com