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Saint Ignatius Soccer Coaches Travel to England Over President's Day Weekend

By Joe Ginley '12 , 02/19/20, 4:15PM EST


The Wildcats' soccer staff met with Chelsea FC and attended several games in England.

What did you do over President's Day Weekend? Catch up on sleep? Watch some TV? Get some errands done?

Odds are, the Saint Ignatius soccer coaching staff enjoyed a more adventurous weekend than you.

The Wildcats' soccer coaches traveled to England over the long weekend, soaking up soccer knowledge and best practices from one of the best soccer clubs in the country, and taking in all of London's beautiful sights.

Mike McLaughlin '85 is not afraid of traveling. The Wildcats' head coach has led his teams on trips to Jamaica, New York City, Denver, and St. Louis in the last few years. Following an uber-successful 2019 season that ended with state and national championships, McLaughlin hatched an idea. Why not travel to England to learn and get even better?

So, McLaughlin hopped on a flight to England last Thursday with his fellow coaches: varsity assistants Dan Crew ’99 & Joe Popelka ’84, JV A coaches Jim Brennan ‘85 & Dr. Darren Keefe ‘87, and JV B coaches Dr. Anthony Fior '02 and John Rowell '11. The seven Saint Ignatius coaches entered the trip with an eagerness to make every minute count, determined to learn as much as possible. The goal was to soak up knowledge on coaching and training to bring back home. 

The trip began in earnest on Friday with a trip to St Ignatius College, a Jesuit secondary school for boys ages 11-18 in Enfield, London, England. The school's prominent alumni include famous film director Sir Alfred Hitchcock and Sir George Martin, commonly known as the "Fifth Beatle" for his involvement with each of the Beatles' original albums. The school celebrated 125 years in 2019. 

"The greatest memory of the trip was visiting St Ignatius College," McLaughlin said. "There are so many Jesuit schools around the world, and I've been lucky to visit some of them. It's neat to see what our brother schools are doing, and how different they are, but there is a similar spirit that exists in all of them. We saw the boys walking around the hallway of the school with AMDG ties – they're just like the kids here."

McLaughlin and the coaches had the chance to interact with many of the students, faculty, and staff, forming new relationships.

There's even a possibility that St Ignatius College students may visit Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland one day. 

"The students were great. Most of the kids in the school were African-English, and they have relatives from either Africa or the Caribbeans. It was neat to encounter them," McLaughlin said. "I gave them one of the pennants from our bookstore. The kids couldn't believe there was another Saint Ignatius. It was neat to see the smiles on the students' faces. It was great to develop nice relationships with them, and now they want to come to Saint Ignatius in Cleveland. That's what we're all about, in terms of sharing our experiences in this Jesuit world."

After the trip to St Ignatius, the coaches visited Covent Garden in London's West End, as well Trafalgar Square, both significant London landmarks.

Saturday proved to be just as eventful. The Saint Ignatius coaching staff visited Chelsea Football Club's training ground at Cobham. This experience turned out to be one of the best of the trip. 

"Our experience at Chelsea Football Club was unlike anything I've ever done before," McLaughlin said. "We were so lucky to have that experience. When we walked in, on the smartboard, was our school logo and Welcome to Chelsea. Darren Keefe, through a connection of his, a fellow by the name of Mark Heffernan, arranged that. We saw things that most people will never see. We got to see the 30 fields, the business room, training room, medical room, cafeteria, and what is beyond their philosophy, as well as their methodologies and goals. We got to see an in-depth look at what they do."

One similarity between Saint Ignatius and Chelsea FC is the focus on player care, or as the Jesuits call it, cura personalis. 

Chelsea FC has one person with the title of Player Care, solely focused on helping the young men in the Chelsea program. 

"A lot of what we do here is player care, and looking after kids," McLaughlin said. "That's what makes our program unique – there's a holistic approach to this person that is a soccer player but also a student, son, and many other things. It was cool to see their emphasis on that."

The Wildcats spent over two-and-a-half hours meeting with the Chelsea staff. The hosts were certainly gracious with their time.

After the Saturday meeting, the coaching staff took a train to Fulham and enjoyed lunch at Temperance. The Wildcats then watched a Fulham FC game (Fulham competes in the EFL Championship, the second tier of English football) vs. Barnsley. They then enjoyed some culture, splitting up to go see Wicked and Mamma Mia. 

On Sunday, the coaches did something very important – attend Mass. They went to Mass at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in the heart of Covent Garden, a famous area. McLaughlin described as "a wonderful Catholic, British Mass."

Following the Mass, the Wildcats hit up two famous spots in London – Buckingham Palace and the Oxford Circus. After a lunch at the Prince of Wales, the coaches headed to an Arsenal FC (Premier League) match vs. Newcastle.

"Seeing the professional games was great," said McLaughlin. "To be part of a culture where soccer is such a passionate part of what they do was wonderful. We all wore Ignatius gear everywhere we went, and people were looking at our crest. At the professional games, people were staring at us, and asking us about our crest. It caught a lot of people's eyes."

After the contest, the Wildcats ran into a familiar face. That old saying is right – you can't go anywhere without running into a Saint Ignatius alumnus. 

"We're walking down the street at Arsenal, and there is Kevin Callanan '17, one of our former players and alumni," McLaughlin said. "He's in Ireland for the semester, and just happens to walk down the street and bump into us. Later, we ran into Luke Blades '11 at Heathrow, as he was landing in London and we were going home. It's an awesome thing."

The coaching staff later wound up at the Lamb and Flag, famous for being a favorite spot of Charles Dickens. Founded in 1623, the pub was a good spot for dinner. 

On Monday, McLaughlin got in a 4-mile run along the Thames River in the morning, before heading to Heathrow Airport with his fellow coaches. 

"We did as much as we possibly could. It exceeded our expectations," said McLaughlin. "It was action-packed. From the moment we landed to the moment we took off to come home, we burned the candle at both ends. We got the most out of the experience."

At the end of the trip, McLaughlin is grateful for the school for allowing him and the coaches to take this trip to London. The Wildcats will be better for it.

"I'm grateful that the school allowed us to do this, and allowed us to experience what others do," McLaughlin said. "Ultimately, this was a great experience to be with the other coaches and to spend time with them, and to see all kinds of neat things. We've been good friends forever, and this is a trip of a lifetime that created memories that we'll cherish for a long time."