PELLA—It’s a return to the homeland for coach Garry Laidlaw and assistant Will Foskett as they lead the Central College men’s soccer team to England March 10-18.

An 18-player Dutch squad will play two exhibition matches against university squads and a third against a club team. The squad will spend four days in London and four days in Chester. In addition to sightseeing, the squad will see three professional soccer matches.

A trip highlight will be a training session at the Manchester United Training Facility with the Manchester United Academy coach.

“That’s going to be a treat,” Laidlaw said. “I’m going to watch and learn. We’re really excited about that.”

The team will tour professional soccer stadiums, including fabled Wembley Stadium, and spend four nights at the Ibis Hotel Wembley Stadium.

The trip is also an opportunity for Laidlaw and Foskett to show the squad where they were both first exposed to the game as each was born in England. Laidlaw lived near London until he was almost 10 years old. He then spent 18 months in South Africa before moving to Ontario in Canada, living in Toronto, Thunder Bay and Sarnia. He first came to the U.S. when he attended Eastern Illinois University where was a three-time all-region player and the Mid-Continent Conference player of the year. Laidlaw was named Central’s head coach in 1998.

Foskett grew up in Redding near London, and attended Bangor University in Wales, where Central conducts a study abroad program. He joined the Central staff as a volunteer coach in 2012 before taking over as varsity assistant in 2016.

“It’s going to be a special time,” Laidlaw said. “I’ll have my own family along to see where I was brought up and meet some other family members. And our players can gain an understanding of where my coaching style comes from.”

The Dutch will visit the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and Big Ben among other London sites. They’ll later tour Stratford Upon Avon, home of William Shakespeare, as well as the Beatles Museum in Liverpool.

It’s the second international trip for the Dutch under Laidlaw. Central journeyed to the Netherlands in 2015.

“It’s a chance for us to continue to band and gel and work tighter as a team,” Laidlaw said. “In some ways, it’s a reward for the guys for the hard work and time they put in. And it’s a chance to play high-level competition we don’t normally see.”

Because 15 of the traveling players are returning for Central next fall, the trip will also yield benefits beyond visiting tourist sites.

“It will allow us to experiment with formations and tactics in preparation for the fall season,” Laidlaw said. “It’s an opportunity for the players to be trained by some of the best soccer trainers in the world.

“We’ll have three of this year’s seniors on the trip but for the other 15, it’s a great opportunity to develop and grow into their roles for next season.”

But it’s also about more than soccer.

“Equally important is the opportunity to gain a gain a cultural education and see some of the most historic places in the world.”

Laidlaw made one bold promise about the trip.

“It’s a chance for the players to immerse themselves in British culture and get to try some of the best fish and chips in the world,” he said.

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