As the clock struck 12pm, marking the end of the academic year, the Year 8 Water Polo squad met at the Medburn ready for the End of Season Tour to Belgium. Leaving as soon as possible, we drove via the Channel Tunnel to the small city of La Louviere, some 50km south of Brussels. Haberdasher's U13 team were the guests of the local league team "ENL La Louviere" and would be playing a two-match series of full length games, each one four seven-minute quarters. After a hearty pizza in town and an opportunity for some to practise ordering their food in French, the pupils headed to bed at our hotel mindful of the matches to be played the next morning.
La Louviere were fantastic hosts, and the matches were played in an impressive 50m pool right in the centre of town. Habs Head of Aquatics Mr Brkovic was nervous as he knew that ENL is a strong club with a tough reputation. In the first game, the Habs team showed immediately that they weren't going to be a push over. They stuck rigidly to their defensive plan, marking tightly and frustrating their hosts who were trying to push forward. Some of the Belgian players were bigger than their Habs counterparts, but Habs were tenacious and resilient - going on to score two on the counterattack and winning the first quarter 2-0. This was a great start and the Habs team relaxed into the match - from there, it was a backwards and forwards affair with great play on both sides, lots of shots and plenty of goals. After a pulsating final quarter where a Habs team, with fewer substitutes available, was starting to tire the final score was an 8-5 victory for Habs.
No time to rest on their laurels for players from either team, as there was only a twenty-minute break before the second match of the series began. Mr Broadwith was despatched to the local cash and carry to buy some emergency water supplies and then the team was back in the pool. Again Habs started very strongly, taking an early lead in the first quarter. However, tiredness was starting to show and they lost the second quarter 6-0. This was a tough blow and it was evident that heads were starting to drop. Fortunately, Mr Brkovic was able to deliver a rollicking team talk at half time, and the team responded - starting to get their heads back in the game and stick to their plan. They needed plenty goals in the final two quarters and that was going to take accurate passing and decisive finishing. Finally, the passes came together and some sharp shooting upfront (and brave goalkeeping at the back) meant that they were able to level the score in the dying minutes for an 8-8 draw and an overall series victory.
After the matches, our Belgian hosts took us to the nearby Central Canal where we were able to see one of the unique local boat lifts in action. Dating to 1888 these are impressive structures, working on huge hydraulic pillars. We then enjoyed some downtime in the local park where both teams played football together in the sunshine. Returning to the pool in the evening we held a joint training session and then played another couple of "mixed up" matches which was a great opportunity for them to spend time together and learn some Belgian names. Dinner together for both teams, accompanied by table football and pool was a great way to end the day with some new friendships forged.
On the Sunday, the Habs pupils were able to visit a local water park with flumes and rapids before driving to the coast and the beach resort at De Panne. On what turned out to be the warmest day of the year, they were able to enjoye some well deserved rest and recovery on the sand and along the promenade before the drive back to Elstree.
With many players excelling in unfamiliar circumstances, we were proud of the whole team for the way that they performed. In the "Player of the Tour" competition, the runners-up were Adam (8C) and Krish-Vir (8S). The overall winner, and recipient of the exclusive Belgium pin-badge, was Rohan (8S).
Many thanks must go to Edi Brkovic for conceiving of this Tour and liaising with the local club in Belgium. Many thanks as well to the U13 Head Coach at ENL, Tara and her team who were welcoming and generous hosts. Finally, thank you to Jenny Adams and Andy Simm for their support on the UK side, without whom this trip would not have been possible.