A group of young South Delta soccer players left for what should have been a trip of a lifetime. Instead, they arrived overseas to a dramatically different world that would soon after send them home.
It was back on March 11 when the U12 South Delta United boys team travelled to England following a year of planning and fundraising. The week-long tour was to include three matches against school teams, training at West Ham and Tottenham Spurs’ academies, attending a pair of games and plenty of sightseeing.
It was while en route to London when the sports world was about to grind to a sudden halt.
Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz had tested positive for COVID-19 just prior to his team playing in Oklahoma City against the Thunder that evening. Not only was the game postponed, the NBA suspended its entire season. Other major sports organizations soon followed.
The South Delta team’s coaching entourage included SDU technical director and GM Mark Rogers whose playing career included nearly a decade in England. Upon arrival at Gatwick Airport on March 12 it didn’t take long to realize something was wrong.
“Gatwick was like a ghost town. It was actually eerie. In all my years of travelling (to England) I have never seen anything like it,” recalled Rogers. We did manage to get the boys to Trafalgar Square and there was probably 10 other people there.”
The team did play a game on March 13, but also learned that day the English Premier and Championship Leagues had been suspended.
As their itinerary began to vanish by postponement and closures, it became apparent getting back to Vancouver had to be the number one priority before further measures, including travelling restrictions, were enforced. That would be easier said than done.
Many of the families had planned extended stays in Europe over spring break, including Rogers, who along with his son Sam, was going to be joined by his wife and daughter for the second half of the trip.
Instead he and other parents were cancelling reservations and paying a premium to catch early flights back to YVR. Fortunately everyone had returned home by last Thursday.
Rogers and Sam have been in self-isolation in the basement of their Tsawwassen home since their arrival.
“It was such a disappointment in what should have been an amazing experience for these boys,” added Rogers. “I can’t say enough about the effort and time from (assistant coach) Tom Huggon in putting the trip together.”