Home, sweet home. Nick Cushing and his squad have set foot back on English soil, having spent the past week in the United States for the prestigious Women’s International Champions Cup – and what a week it’s been.
Unbelievable – if slightly unbearable(!) – weather, fantastic facilities, intensive training, a warm welcome and the toughest of opposition, City’s trip to North Carolina has been packed with fun and games; smiles and sweat; fitness and friendships – and it’s been absolutely wonderful.
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It’s always a pleasure to travel away with the team and it’s been a privilege to have been able to study the squad in close quarters, as the English cup double-winners ramp up preparations for the new, eagerly-awaited 2019/20 Women’s Super League campaign.
Well, I say that… in truth, I basically spent the entire week being terrorised by mischief-maker Georgia Stanway. Honestly, one World Cup and these whippersnappers return full of cheek and disrespectful of their elders!
Genuinely, I was tormented throughout. A predator off the pitch as well as on it, the lethal Lioness pounced at every opportunity, seemingly everywhere I turned.
Her pranks included jumping out and frightening the life out of me, shouting my name and then turning away, and calling out my apparent lack of ‘banter’ on social media when I criticised an unimaginative Instagram caption, (correctly) deeming it a zero out of ten.
Apparently, to survive on Pre-season Tour, you need to be armoured with this concept called banter. Who knew?
Pah, kids today. Although, I’d have the last laugh, as Karma kindly produced a gratefully-received moment of payback on a light-hearted CityTV video shoot* with our Barrow Baiter and the ever-cheerful sharp-shooter Janine Beckie.
As Producer Cameron and I readied the task in another room, co-stars Georgia and Janine talked amongst themselves. All was sailing smoothly along until… BANG! Concerned, Cam and I rushed into the room to find Georgia on the floor, underneath the chair she had been sitting on before it fell backwards as she rocked.
With Janine laughing hysterically and Cam scampering to help Georgia up, I stood frozen as terrifying visions ran through my head of difficult conversations with manager Nick. How do you tell a manager his superstar forward has injured herself during a CityTV content capture, whilst discussing the subject of Space Raiders?! Panic button activated…
Well, that was inspiration struck and I realised the camera had been rolling throughout to capture that glorious moment. Suddenly, a smile crept on my face as my concerns were interrupted with one wicked thought: REVENGE.
And so, Miss Georgia Stanway, here is payback! I hear revenge is a dish best served cold via the medium of Twitter. ‘Top bantz’ as you kids say, right?
In all seriousness, the squad were in excellent spirits throughout the trip, clearly enjoying the weather and the chance to bond, particularly the new players – of which there are six: Aoife Mannion, Laura Coombs, Tyler Toland, Lee Geum-min, Matilde Fidalgo and Ellen White.
Sadly, Ellen (and goalkeeper Karen Bardsley) were unable to travel due to injury, but it was great to discover more about our new recruits and there are plenty of characters in the squad, I tell you.
None more so than South Korean international Lee Geum-min. Although the forward is currently in the process of learning English for the first time, she has certainly made an impression on the team… because she’s absolutely crackers!
Honestly, she’s had us all in stitches throughout, especially on the first night when she – amongst others – was required to officially announce her arrival into the team with an initiation dance.
I don’t think anyone in the room could have predicted what would unfold when Lee coolly stepped into the spotlight but she absolutely blew us all away, bouncing into a flawless routine of BTS’s Boy With Luv. Sensational.
The 25-year-old has impressed on the pitch too with cameo appearances in our two games, and a lovely backheel flick in training. Cushing highlighted Lee’s flair when she signed for the Club and if this trip is anything to go by, there’ll be some special moments to come.
Equally, the rest of our new recruits have slotted in seamlessly both on and off the pitch. The team have bonded very well and it’s been pleasing to witness new friendships and partnerships unfold.
The training has been rigorous but there has also been plenty of time for fun and team-building. The squad were awarded a day off on Friday and on Wednesday, we enjoyed alternative sporting ventures, heading out to Duke University.
The venue proved a source of real inspiration and we were thrilled to meet the College’s women’s soccer team, before trying our hand at basketball and baseball in their exceptional facilities. It’s safe to say that some adapted better than others during swing practice(!) but there were some superb shots and skills on show – most notably from our Head of Women’s Football Gavin Makel. A hidden talent!
Prior to the trip, manager Cushing had discussed the benefits of testing ourselves in difficult conditions and against top-level opposition in preparation for the new campaign. It is hard to imagine more challenging circumstances than those in which City battled through, with incredible humidity levels, an intense training schedule and the toughest of opposition – but the team stood up to the task.
In addition to the unbearable heat, the weather also tried its best to spoil proceedings, as thunder and lightning struck in an almost daily occurrence.
Unfortunately, it thwarted our planned open training session on Tuesday and caused a delay of more than an hour in the latter stages of our opening game against tournament hosts the North Carolina Courage, which turned out to work in the home side’s favour.
Admittedly, the conditions were quite a sight to behold, as the sky flashed with forks of purple lightning – even without our beloved rain!
Young shot-stopper Ellie Roebuck was the star of the show that night, producing a quite remarkable performance with saves of the highest quality.
Her display was all the more impressive with the knowledge she is currently City’s only available goalkeeper – that’s some pressure to put on a teenager’s shoulders, but she accepted the situation with a maturity beyond her years and concluded the tournament, having cemented her status as one of the brightest young talents in the world.
The youngster shone again in the Third Place Play-Off clash against Atletico Madrid – again in inspired form to keep City in the game, and her contribution proved crucial, as City rallied to net two late efforts to snatch victory in the final ten minutes, completing a stunning comeback and finishing the tournament on a high.
A fitting conclusion to a thoroughly enjoyable and useful trip, which has provided the ideal preparation for the new season. Focus now turns to the Super League opener and what a game we have in store to kick things off: a first ever professional Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday 7 September.
Excitement levels have ramped up several notches this week, especially after the last-gasp triumph over Atletico – and I cannot wait to see those flags flying at the home of the Fourmidables, as City make history once more with the fixture in which the league, players and fans have craved for so long.
Roll on September… Come on, City!
*By the way, stay tuned for some fun and exciting content from Tour in the coming weeks!
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