Pinewood set out in their orange hoodies “looking like baked beans”. With eighteen rugby boys and twelve hockey girls, the coach was filled with excitement as we set off on an exciting adventure to Holland. The coach journey was smooth and we were quickly passing by Windsor Castle and arriving at Heathrow. With the opportunity to explore a few shops and grab some lunch, Pinewood were easily spotted in the airport by Holland bound parents and supporters. On arrival, Alfred, our driver for the next five days, greeted us in Amsterdam to take us to our first match.
The next few days were a whirlwind of practices, matches, trips to stadia, canal boat trips, pancakes, bowling, mini golf, premier league hockey and swimming! We were made to feel very welcome at the accommodating hostel as well as by all the hosting teams who could all speak impeccable English!
Here are some comments from the children on the tour:
“We got off the plane and we were all very excited as we hadn’t been to a foreign country before without our parents. We were also nervous because it was the first sports tour for Pinewood.”
“Feeling tired from the journey we walked into the changing rooms before our first match and then we saw the first team kit and all the emotions changed!”
“We went to visit the PSV football stadium which was amazing! We all wanted to become professional football players.”
“On Sunday we went on a canal trip, given that Holland is known or its canals. For lunch, we went to the ‘Best Pancake House in the World’. There were so many combinations to choose from, but we voted bacon and maple the syrup to be the best.”
“We watched a premier league hockey match where we all got our hoodies signed by international players.”
“When we played glow in the dark mini golf everyone was really competitive, especially the teachers, who would give us two shot penalties for the most random of things. The ball went anywhere except the place you wanted it to go!”
“The swimming pool was amazing. I loved the rapids and we all went on it loads of times. I have a lot of memories from it.”
“The best thing about Holland was playing with different people and learning how to save goals better. I enjoyed playing in a quick game and watching hockey.”
“Now I have done a sports tour, I have learnt that I can go away by myself to another country and I can eat two pancakes bigger than me! My hockey has also improved!”
“I had the best experience and I have some amazing memories. I would love to do it all again!”
“I am proud that I was able to communicate with Dutch people and I could play alongside them.”
The girls learnt a great deal from playing games in Holland. We played matches against Eindhoven, H.O.D. in Valkenswaad, and HOCCO in Oisterwijk. The girls had the opportunity to play both 8-a-side and 11-a-side hockey on a full size astro. During the 8-a-side games, Pinewood dominated play and demonstrated their experience and familiarity of playing as a team. Playing 11-a-side was a first for most of the girls in the squad and yet they demonstrated a superb flexibility and deeper understanding of the game as they adapted quickly. Whilst some of the oppositions were a little younger than our touring side, they still showed immense quality in their skills and perseverance. When we came up against players of the same age, Pinewood were challenged by the pace and skill level of the opposition and realised what they could be aspiring to as they further progress in their hockey careers. We watched some senior women train and we noted the intensity that every member of the team gave during their training sessions and the self-discipline to improve on each part of the skill.
Well, they do say that “travel broadens the mind”, and so it did on this occasion! From the point of departure, Pinewood excitedly undertook their inaugural rugby foray in the foreign climes of the Netherlands. With the first fixture due to take place under floodlights on the first evening, Pinewood tentatively cruised around the vast array of duty free shops and food outlets like a heard of cautious springbok before a lion’s evening supper. It’s worth noting at this point that prior to departure the coach had filled the inquisitive boys’ minds with stories of old, regarding the hard and uncompromising physical nature of Dutch rugby, that the game would be a brutal, tough affair and that the best advice would be to eat sensibly.
Upon landing in Schiphol airport or, as Messrs Barry and Tom ‘Thumb’ Fogden likened it, arriving in the ‘Land of the Giants’, we introduced ourselves to our 6ft 7″ guide and driver Alfred. Under his excellent stewardship, he calmly piloted us to our evening fixture in Eindhoven. The boys warmed up in a very professional manner. Even with the change in playing format and the possibility of encountering giant 13 year old boys, they demonstrated excellent maturity and skill to eclipse the opposition by quite a few scores to none. The highlight of the evening’s fixture was witnessing Pinewood enthusiastically joining in with the rugby club’s ‘Oktoberfest’ celebrations. Before complaints flood in, no, the boys weren’t chinking steins of beer, but tucking into copious quantities of Frankfurters, while watching the opposition sing songs, whilst dressed in lederhosen.
On the following morning, Pinewood travelled over to Dukes City Den Bosch RFC. Upon arrival Pinewood were greeted with the unexpected site of a brand new state of the art club house and 4g pitch facilities. Those who understand the term (4g) will identify that only Saracens RFC in the English Premiership can boast this kind of facility. The team (along with the staff) were keen to test their credentials on an unknown playing surface! Once again the team played outstandingly well. The sublime off-loading and support play prevented the physical and enthusiastic Dutch team from getting their hands on the ball. The added bonus of clean kit at the end of the match meant that it was not just the coaches who were happy, but also Miss Parris!
After the fixture, both teams traded pleasantries in a huddle before the opposition burst out and serenaded Pinewood in their club song. Not wanting to be outdone, it was chief baritone Ed Hartley and falsetto Robinson who responded in the only way they knew best by cajoling the team into a rendition of the Pinewood School Hymn ‘Teach me to…!’ With a cautious acknowledgement from the opposition and few raised eyebrows from teachers Fogden and Barry, the team headed for the club house to eat, drink and discuss rugby with their opposition counterparts.
On the penultimate day of the tour Pinewood were hosted by Oisterwijk RFC in the evening. In front of a sell-out crowd of around 200 adults and children, Pinewood put on their best performance. After all the bluster of winding up the team into a frenzy regarding the opposition’s strength and size, Pinewood actually encountered their toughest challenge. Oisterwijk were a better drilled outfit. The patriotic support fuelled them along in the first 5-10 minutes and Pinewood started to look vulnerable in the tight areas of the game. The scrum creaked and the line out grumbled. After a few home truths and adjustments, Pinewood roared into life and blitzed the opposition in an exemplary and skilful manner. With the game in full control it was decided amongst the coaches that in true touring spirit a mixed match between the two teams would be best served. The suggestion of “Let’s swap the back lines over!” was music to every Pinewood forwards’ ears. In the final 10 minutes of the fixture it was the Oisterwijk backs and Pinewood forwards who took the spoils with a break away Tulloch score from deep within his own half. After the fixture the team were superbly hosted by Oisterwijk RFC. They generously prepared food and drink for us, for which we were duly appreciative before we said our goodbyes.
Although the rugby on tour wasn’t the most challenging, the experiences and friendships made off the field will assist and develop the boys for later in life. It has been a pleasure to tour the Netherlands and witness such genuine friendship and hospitality with complete strangers. That is the real beauty of sports tours!