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Hawks Torcida - End of an Era in Portugal

Hawks Torcida embarked on their first overseas tour to North Portugal in summer 2022.

To mark the end of the Torcida's 13th and final grassroots football season before the players headed to university the team ended an era with an amazing trip to Portugal. 23 people including 17 players and a number from the original 2009 Hawks team made the trip of a lifetime to play 3 games on a Portuguese tour.

The trip was a year in the planning and was funded by parents and the club from fundraising and the Persimmon Homes Community Prize fund the team won in 2017.

In advance of the tour the club linked up with two professional clubs in Portugal (Rio Ave FC & Varzim Sport Club) and a local semi-pro club (ACDS Miguel de Laundos) to arrange a series of games, football and cultural activities on a 6 day trip.

Thanks to some amazing support, hospitality, generosity and help from the local clubs in Portugal the team enjoyed 6 incredible days staying in the beach resort of Povoa de Varzim just outside of the city Oporto in North Portugal.

Valtar Canossa, President of ACDS Miguel de Laundos contacted Hawks when he heard about the clubs plans in Summer 2021. He had played grassroots football in the UK and invited Hawks to play his u18 team at the impressive Laundos complex.

The idea of the tour was born and the Hawks committee of James Bambridge, Luke Doughty & Sarah Chandler put in place all the plans and funding. After lots of work and planning in the U.K and Portugal, the idea became a reality.

The team flew to Oporto in mid July 2022 for the trip. It was a long first day with a 2am start in Kettering travelling to Luton Airport for the flight to Oporto.

On the first evening thanks to Valtar's help with transportation the team made the short journey from their base in Povoa to Laundos, the beautiful suburb on the hill overlooking Povoa and the Atlantic Ocean. On a hot summer evening under the lights and near to the windmills of Laundos the first game of the tour took place.

A 9pm kick off, supported by a 4 man team of professional match officials all microphoned up and with a good crowd attending set the scene for a memorable evening.

Nobody left disappointed as Ashley York, led the Hawks out for the first game of the tour v Laundos.

The spectators were treated to an end to end and very exciting game, the first either club has played against overseas opposition.

Laundos established a two goal lead at half time playing some beautiful football and dominating the 1st half only for a quality 2nd half comeback from Hawks showing some "never say die" English determination. Finally, Jacob Pepper and Jake Chandler converted chances as the Hawks levelled the scores with 15 mins to go at 2-2.

A pulsating end to end final 15 minutes couldn't break the deadlock with Hawks coming close on several occasions only to be denied by some goalkeeping heroics from the Laundos keeper.

An exciting penalty shootout saw Hawks triumph in the end scoring all their spot kicks. Harley Watts, Jake Chandler and James Hurd stepped up first all scoring confidently. With the shootout in the balance, Laundos blasted a kick over the bar before Harrison Scott had made a vital and spectacular save to give the English side the advantage. Club stalwart Dylan Welch coolly stepped up converting the winner sparking the Hawks celebrations as they triumphed 4-2 in the shootout.

After the game both teams and the club and match officials enjoyed a long after game social event with Portuguese food, "bifanas" and drinks allowing everyone to make lots of new friends and admire the quality set up at Laundos and their impressive trophy room. Players of both teams exchanged shirts and souvenirs to commemorate the occasion.

The Tour continued on day 2 with an opportunity for Hawks to play one the academy sides of Sport Club Varzim, in the neighbourhood of Estela. Varzim play in the Liga Portugal Championship (Division 1) so the game was going to be a real test especially after the previous evenings hard fought game at Laundos.

Antonio Oliveira of Sports Club Varzim wanted a challenge for his incredibly talented U16 team who had just been promoted to the National Championship to play the likes of Porto, Sporting Lisbon & Benfica after a very successful season.

On a hot evening with a large crowd present in their neat stadium in Estela, it was Sport Club who dominated the first 70 minutes with slick passing and control.

They quickly established a 2 goal lead and it was looking like it would be very hard for Hawks to get into the game.

A tactical change to try and deny Sport Club possession in the midfield turned the tide.

With Hawks putting 6 men in midfield and a good old fashioned centre forward up front the game changed in dramatic fashion. The Portuguese team had to deal with a different style of play and high pressure outside their own penalty area which they found hard to adapt to.

With Varzim struggling to gain control of the ball and Hawks camped in the 15 metres outside their penalty area, Sport Club buckled under the late pressure from the very impressive Hawks team. It was a monumental effort, especially considering the heat as Hawks ran riot in the late stages.

Hawks unleashed non stop attacks to score 6 goals in the final 15 crazy minutes turning the clock back to days gone by. A James Hurd hat trick in 7 minutes and strikes from Harley Watts, plus two goals from Jacob Pepper secured a 6-2 win in style. The boys left the ground tired but ecstatic with 2 wins out of 2 games on the tour.

Mark Bambridge one of the original Hawks described the game "That night v Varzim was just an iconic Hawks performance - we rolled back the years with that comeback and the goals. We were unstoppable. We really battered them in the last 15 minutes. I will never forget that final part of the game."

The tour continued at fast pace with 2 trips on the two following days.

The team made the short trip to the neighbouring town of Vilo do Conde, the home of Rio Ave FC who play in the Portuguese Liga NOS premier division.

Marcela Schacht & Rui Fernandes from Rio Ave FC had supported Hawks with organisational and planning help ahead of the tour. This included the opportunity to play the Rio Ave U17 Team, tour the facility and stadium complex and the chance to meet and watch the Ave first team play and train.

The team had a stadium tour and were allowed access by the Rio Ave management to watch the first team train as they prepared for the new season.

The team was invited back to Rio Ave's home, Estadio dos Arcos the following day to the VIP area of the stadium to watch a behind closed doors pre-season friendly as Rio Ave played Pacos Ferreira.

After the game the team met some of the Rio Ave players including Fabio Ronaldo the new young superstar of Rio Ave.

The hospitality shown and help was amazing as Rio Ave really rolled out the red carpet treatment to Hawks. It was a real gesture of friendship.

Harley Watts, one of the Hawks players said "Everyone in Portugal has been incredible. Nobody said No to anything and just went out of their way to make us so welcome and the trip so special".

Rio Ave now have lots of new English Fans and the club shop did a roaring trade in Replica Shirts.

The final game of the tour and for the Torcida team saw them play Rio Ave Under 17s at the main stadium complex. What a finale and place to finish their 13 years together is was.

An 11 o'clock kick off meant a hot one and with Rio Ave fielding 3 Portuguese U17 internationals plus other players hoping to break into the first team it was a huge test for the Hawks.

The difference in the two teams and the heavy game schedule meant it was a bit too much for Hawks as the Ave ran out 9-0 winners. What an experience it was for the boys to play on a main Portuguese Premier League ground and against a club that only last year played Europa league football beating Besiktas and loosing out to AC Milan on penalties.

All the players gave their all and their were exceptional performances from Karl Balmer, Jacob Pepper, Adam Doughty, Mark Bambridge & Ashley York who all played a full 90 minutes on the pitch in the blistering heat. In goal, Harrison Scott had a massive game making a number of fine saves. This was all noted by the opposition team and their management as the Hawks showed real fortitude and resilience throughout the game. Everyone left with smiles on their faces after this opportunity of a lifetime.

The local news paper "Terras do Ave" and national sports paper "O-Jogo" covered the story of the Hawks in Portugal as news of the tour spread amongst the football community in Portugal.

For the Hawks Torcida team this was the end of a 13 year era. The game at Arcos v Rio Ave was the teams last ever game together before the players headed to university and further education.

The team that formed a club, the only one to complete all 13 seasons of grassroots football in the local league and with an impeccable discipline record had came a huge way.

The team started aged 6 in the Kettering & Corby Weetabix League and finished in Portugal 13 years later playing professional teams at a Premier league stadium. They returned home proud with 2 wins, 8 goals. lots of new friends and memories of a lifetime. Some of the players who played in the original game in 2009, who had remained at the club throughout finished on the pitch in the last game after a lifetime of service, dedication and commitment to Hawks.

Harley Watts commented "the night in Laundos was the best of my life, I felt I was floating around the pitch. I live and breath football but the whole experience , the set up, the professional refs, it was the most memorable game of football I've ever played in."

Fin Sturges, another Hawk said "This was a opportunity of a lifetime to play here in Portugal on this amazing trip and with my mates"

Everyone at the club should be proud of the boys. They were true ambassadors in Portugal and a class act for Hawks on and off the pitch.

The club wants to wish all the boys the very best for their future and hopes to see them at Hawks when they return from university and maybe even a Portugal 2023 tour.

They are forever welcome at a place they have called home and did so much for.

This was the end of an era, but it ended in style in the Portuguese summer sun.

The club would like to thank Valtar Canossa, Marcela Schacht, Antonio Oliveira, Rui Fernandes, Moises Ferreira, Hotel Luso Brasileiro, ACDS Miguel de Laundos, Sport Club Varzim & Rio Ave FC for their support and help in Portugal.

If any clubs would like to find out more about the tour and its planning then please contact us.


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