On Friday August 3rd London Falcons headed to Paris to take part on the tenth Gay Games.
As one of only two members of the squad who had taken part in the Gay Games previously, I was really keen to get the boys out there as I knew they’d have an amazing time. In this current version of the Falcons where most of the players arrived in the past two years, hardly anyone had been on a club trip outside of the UK before so there was a great feeling of excitement.
Our plans were disrupted by poor Jack Webb suffering a bad injury in a friendly five weeks before departure. However, he was always going to be there to cheer the squad on. The disappointment was tempered by the arrival of Jack Dodd, Lewis and Steffen to the Falcons in June and they signed up for the trip straight away, taking us up to an 18-man party. We were also joined by Nicky (Birmingham), Jordan (Nottingham) and Frank (Romans) who were eager to go to Paris with their own teams not attending.
Most of us departed on the Eurostar having made it through check-in and security with surprisingly few problems. We were pleased to sport our new Falcons polo shirts, kindly provided to us by Emerald Life who have supported us for the past year. After a quick stop at the hotel, we headed riverside for accreditation. On learning that there was a rooftop bar open, it would have been rude to not enjoy a few drinks, right? Several beers and a waterfight later, we had a quick change before taking in some of the Paris nightlife.
Day two allowed for a bit of sightseeing before heading to the opening ceremony. It’s fair to say that the meetup time I gave wasn’t the best piece of advice I passed on all week, leaving the boys standing outside the sunshine for hours. Imagine their delight when they also discovered the beer had run out! Finally, we made it through to the stadium and enjoyed a tremendous welcome as we walked through and took in some of the entertainment.
By now you’re probably wondering about the football. That began on Monday and, with Ben, Rob and Kieran having arrived late on Sunday evening, we had a full 17 man squad to start the week off with. Unfortunately we were given a tough group as the original format of two divisions was abandoned in favour of eight groups of four teams. This meant the inclusion of Dublin Devils and Minnesota Grey Ducks who would go on to do tremendously well in the competition.
It's safe to say Day 1 didn’t go wonderfully well and there were a few dejected faces as we went two games without scoring any goals or taking any points. That said, there were grounds for optimism as we hit the woodwork in both matches which led us to hope it was only a matter of time before the goals did come.
Those goals started in game 3 on Tuesday against FTSC from the US. Chris bagged a first half goal before Lewis scored his first for the Falcons after persistent work from Frank. The result put us into the Division 3 knockout stage with a quarter-final on Thursday against the combination of gMadrid and Samurai Japan. This was a very comfortable fixture but we didn’t half make hard work of it! In the end, Nicky got the goal he desperately wanted to get us through to the Friday semi-final against one of the hosts, Panamboyz.
By now it was clear we were coming up against the best team in our division as the home team played some very good football and dominated the possession early on. With a bit of frustration creeping in, we switched off just before half time to go into the break 1-0 down. However, we certainly came out firing for the second half and it took just a couple of minutes for Frank to even the score. Falcons absolutely dominated the second half but, failing to make the most of our chances, we inevitably got suckerpunched and Panamboyz went on to win 2-1 before winning the division.
That just left a 3rd/4th place playoff against Jet City Strikers. Although the match was used to give those who hadn’t played as many minutes some game time, this was another match we dominated and it was clear the opposition were playing for penalties from half time when they made arrangements to have their spot kick specialist go in goal shortly before full time. Again, we couldn’t find the net whilst before incredibly solid at the back, and so we went to penalties. Conal has been our saviour on so many occasions in the past but even he found his limit at three saves when we missed one too many and lost out 5-4.
So, ultimately there was final day disappointment but there needs to be some perspective on our achievement. If you’d have offered me a top four position in the original division 2 format I’d have been really happy. With just a bit more luck and composure in front of goal we may have even won our knockout stage but it wasn’t to be and for our development as a club the experience was every bit as important as the results.
This just left the final day in Paris and we certainly left our mark in the evening, with everyone on the team being sure to wear good pants on a night out in the future! We arrived back home on the Sunday with a thousand great memories and a ton of new friends to take with us.
Immediately the attention turned to Rome in 2019 and the planning has already started. I was nervous about my first experience of managing abroad. I thought it may have been stressful and hard to keep everyone happy. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This was the best football trip I’ve ever been on and I can’t wait for the next one.