HARWICH ─ To the players from the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, it's called football. To players on the Monomoy boys squad, it's soccer. No matter the name, however, on Aug. 25 when the two groups gathered at Monomoy Regional High for a scrimmage it was a chance to play a beloved game and carry on a unique tradition.
Every two years players from RGS travel to the United States to face teams around New England in exhibition scrimmage matches, one of which includes the Monomoy team. Not only is it an opportunity for the local players to get in a competitive game before their season officially starts in September, but it's also a chance for players from both countries to learn the differences between a similar but still quite different sport.
“This is the third time we've played them,” said Monomoy head coach Keith Clark. “We try to have a little cultural social exchange and a cookout.”
Clark said he appreciates the connections made between the players not only prior to the game, but also following the scrimmage at an informal dinner hosted by the Sharks. The game itself also allows each respective team to note the differences in play, which in the long run helps develop better squads.
“The football is the same,” said Clark. “It's the caliber of the players. They probably have a variety of talent available.”
Clark also looks forward to the cultural exchange between the two teams.
“I think it's always good when you can meet kids from other cultures and other countries,” Clark said. “I think it's good to do as many social cultural exchanges as you can with kids.”
“This is my first time here,” said RGS coach Ned Rispin. “We always get a really good welcome and a really competitive match, which is excellent.”
Rispin was impressed with Monomoy's facilities, including the front lawn practice field on which the game was played. He was excited about his team's ability to hone their skills by competing against Monomoy through a mutually enjoyed sport with universal appeal.
“I think it's the togetherness that being part of a team brings and working for each other within a team,” he said. “I think that kind of unifies across all teams and sports.”
Monomoy senior captain Ben Thomas said playing a team higher in skill is a welcome challenge.
“I like that we get to play a higher skilled team,” he said. “It's definitely interesting to play people from a different country. It's just cool to see how other styles of play are used, and it's definitely good for us.”
Thomas said that playing a team of such noteworthy skill is a bonus to Monomoy's players.
“I think overall just the skills in general when it comes to playing teams that are really up there in skill level, it definitely helps a lot with our defense and it really helps us get the pre-season going,” he said. “The last time we did this, two years ago, it was the same thing. We were all really rusty, but it's a good kickstart to the season.”
RGS player Nick Wharton said traveling to various venues and playing different New England teams is a plus for them as it helps get them prepped for the start of their own season.
“It's getting us fit for the season in England,” he said, adding that the scrimmage against Monomoy taught him to be mindful of his running game. “Being sensible with your runs. Playing in this heat makes you appreciate that. You've got to use your head and play it cool. It's important to keep the ball because if you lose it you're on the back foot and doing a lot more running than you should be and will tire out really quickly.”
Wharton said the rules between British and American soccer are quite different.
“The British game is much more physical and higher paced,” he said, noting that the summer heat has an impact on the pace. “You can't be tearing around for 90 minutes. You've got to be sensible. Also what might not be a foul in England is here.”
Following the game the teams met in the Monomoy cafeteria for a low-key cookout that allowed team members from both sides of the proverbial pond to talk about their shared sport, which, for Monomoy begins Sept. 6 at Sturgis West.
Last season Monomoy reached the playoffs, something Thomas feels the 2017 team can accomplish once again.
“I think we can definitely repeat the success we had last year,” he said. “We came in second in our league and I think we can do that again this year, if not win our league.”