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Thursday, 8th February

When I told my parents about my trip before I came, they offered me some advice on overcoming jet lag. They have been to New York and Vegas before so have had a couple of attempts at combatting the fatigue. They said the best thing to do was to try and stay up as late as possible so that you have a normal night's sleep and therefore can adjust overnight as if you'd just had a really late night. I thought I would give it a go. So at 7:30pm LA time last night, I closed my eyes for a second just to relax a little after such a long journey. A quick 10 minutes and then I could last til at least 10. Cut to 3am, however, and I realised the forty winks had turned into deep sleep and I was now wide awake and ready for a bright new day. Fabulous. I had to bide time watching crappy TV until breakfast opened at 6 and then got myself ready for my trip to Rancho Cucamonga.

Coming from England, I had the naive idea that getting around America would be quite easy. Looking on a map of Britain, everywhere is pretty much easy to get to. Looking at a map of the US, I applied the same method. Therefore, I looked at the distance from LA to Rancho Cucamonga and thought, "Who needs a car? I could probably walk that!" It was only when I asked around and planned my bus route, change-over and train journey that I realised I had fallen in to the reverse of a stereotypical view of some American tourists. Whether true or not, there are plenty of anecdotal tales like the following. American meets Brit. American says to Brit, "Where do you live?" Brit replies, "London." American says, "Oh, I have a friend who lives in London, do you know him?" Brit laughs heartily at American's lack of understanding at size of London. (albeit laughing on the inside as Brits do not like showing over emotion. He would rather just take comfort in the fact that he feels considerably clever than the American he has just met and is already planning how he will embelish the story to make him sound even stupider..."Then he points at Buckingham Palace and says, "How quaint! Can I buy it?!"....cue much amusement round table at dinner party in Notting Hill where all the men look like Hugh Grant.) Still, I bet there have been very few stories of a Brit going to America assuming that he wouldn't need a car and could walk everywhere and thinking that everyone that supported the LA Galaxy in 'little ole LA' knew each other.

On a slightly different note, whilst I was waiting to catch my train to Rancho, I did my first ever interview. I loved it. First of all, when I was put through to the presenters I was so nervous that my throat tightened resulting in a greeting that sounds like it is coming from 'Shaggy' of Scooby-Doo fame. They also didn't get my joke about fat players being my heroes and then to top it all off I offended them by using a sentence that involved using the phrase 'a big number two'. Classic. You can listen to the interview here

Kev realises he had just mentioned poo on live radio

It didn't get better. I had been in contact with a man named, 'Art' , from Rancho via email prior to my arrival and he had said he could pick me up in Rancho and take me to his soccer practice after I had been into the school, Bear Gulch, I was visiting. He said he would be able to pick me up if I found a coffee shop or pub to hang out. Easy enough I thought. So during the train journey, all I was expecting when I got to Rancho was a sweet little village with a tiny row of shops including a pub and a coffee shop. In the pub, an elderly man would be playing piano and as I entered the pub a moustached bartender would be cleaning a glass before taking my order and sliding it down the bar to my expectant hand. In the coffee shop, a sweet old grandma would be brewing fresh coffee and the smell of fresh-baked apple pie would eminate through the whole of Rancho, filling small children with delight as they run home from their school, Bear Gulch. However, all illusions were soon distinguished when I arrived at Rancho and the first thing I saw when I stepped off the train was a car park bigger than the town centre where I live. Well done.

I walked for ages until I bumped into a woman who stared, wide-eyed as I proceeded to ask her where I could find a coffee shop, pub, Bear Gulch or ANY SIGN OF HUMAN LIFE. She told me to walk for a 'couple of blocks' in some random direction until I found something. Thanks. So I set off into the now scorching sun. You know when you are in an unfamiliar town you always walk with a purposeful look on your face, striding confidently to project the persona that a) you know where you are going because you have walked this way a million times before b) because you are so street wise nobody had better think about mugging you because you have walked this route a million times and, besides, you know where you are going and you have a purposeful look on your face. Well, imagine trying to project that persona whilst carrying a video camera, football kit and wearing an England shirt with 'Get me 2 the Galaxy' written on the back. Talk about blending in with the locals...

Finally I found the safe haven of 'Bostons' bar. The staff in there were incredibly friendly, gave me a free drink, laughed at my lack of planning for my trip and the fact that I had no address for Bear Gulch or any contact numbers for anybody I was supposed to meet, questioned my intelligence for wanting to visit Rancho Cucamonga in the first place and even ordered me a taxi to take me to the school as I apparently didn't know how to use a mobile phone.

Eventually, I arrived at Bear Gulch and met the first contact from the list I had gathered through the website. Dustin (or Mr. G as his class call him), seemed pleased but also surprised that I had shown up. This is probably because I hadn't contacted him for two days and the last email I sent said, 'Might see you Thursday!" with no indication of the time I might show up or the chances that I appear at all. So I guess it should have been no surprise that I turned up right in the middle of his class taking a test. Bravo. I hope that when he marked the tests he took into account the fact that some sun-burnt loon waving a camcorder had burst into his room and started disrupting his students.

For speaking out of turn in class, Kev is tied to the 'bear post' and left to burn in the unforgiving sun

The school day was really cool. I spoke to the kids, went for lunch at 'In and Out' (an American Institution I am told, so much so that I even have the T-Shirt) and then took a soccer session with the class at the end of the day that went on too long and made them late to go home. The kids were great. Two things stood out for me in particular though. First, I did a little Q&A session with the kids which ended with one kid putting up his hand and asking, 'How do you say 'Bye' in England?' and secondly, a little kid called Jesus who thought it would be funny to copy exactly what I did all day. So if I stood with my arms folded, he did too. If I walked in a funny way, Jesus was right behind me. I had great fun getting him to do anything, including picking his nose and sticking out his tongue. We were the best of friends. That was until in the soccer session when he went in goal and somebody hit a 'grounder' that bounced up and hit him in the face. There were no smiles after that I can tell you. No longer my buddy, he simply scowled at me as if I had prepared the ball bouncing up as part of my coaching. Another landmark in the 'Kev Payne Academy'. To watch my reaction after my radio interview and to see me arrive at Bear Gulch, click here.

 

After an hour-long seminar, the kids begin to offer their own ideas as to how Beckham missed that penalty against Portugal

After school had finished, Art and his two children, Binh and Sera picked me up from Bear Gulch and took me back to their place. They were incredibly polite and made me feel very welcome. When we went back to theirs, I finally got the chance to catch up on my email. This was a godsend. Before I left for LA I was supposed to make a list of all the names and numbers of the contacts I had made so that I had them all ready to go. However, the day before I left for LA, I also had the idea of making the 'Stocky Balboa' video so instead of planning for my trip, I spent the day filming and editing the footage to make my send-off video. I think I got my prioirities right. Anyway, I managed to write down all the numbers I needed, checked up on my forum and felt much happier with how things were going to go. I had great fun with Art, Binh and Sera. They showed me all their trophies and medals they had won for football, (a lot!) we played foosball, Binh showed me his new guitar and Art played me a brilliant song he has written for the riot squad. He even had a meeting with Alexi Lalas a while back about it but nothing happened. I hope to have a link to an mp3 file here on the site at some point. It is really good.

How great thou, Art

Later that evening, Art took me to his coaching session for the Rancho Cucamonga Flames U-10 girl's team. The facilities were very good. Floodlit pitches, temp goals etc. I met a few of Sera's friends and had a kick around with Binh for a bit before watching the coaching. I have to say that the standard of coaching was superb. The best thing about the coaching was that the girls were all being taught how to be comfortable on the ball. Every single one of the girls showed good close control and a real awareness of space. For me, these are two of the best skills to focus on and it really was a pleasure to watch them train. Often kids football is about kick and rush, flies round honey etc but Art has got them really well trained. His tactics were clear and all the girls understood their jobs and how to improve elements of their game. I joined in with some of the drills and then took Sera and her friend to teach them 'the Kev' turn. Actually, I can't take credit for it as I copied it from Bergkamp but I checked and he has no patent yet so I am staking my claim. I can't really explain it (it is far more complex than words could describe) but I will try and get Sera to record and example at some point.

Afterwards, Art took me to an awards ceremony for their local leagues. Unfortunately, Binh's team wasn't part of it but from speaking to Art it sounds like it should have been them. I couldn't believe what a big event it was. All the teams were gathered in a huge auidtorium and a loud PA system was used to announce each member of the team as they walked on stage. I certainly never encountered anything like this back home. Usually the awards ceremonies for youth football back here are held in musty old scout huts with rickety chairs and the kids run around like lunatics hyped up on crisps and coke. It turns out that this high school where the ceremony was held is the school that Carlos Bocanegra went to. Pretty impressive, but now they can also say that I went there too. Maybe we should both do a return visit at some point. I will contact Carlos and see wht he thinks. The awards ceremony, meanwhile, was the real deal and in some way made me feel uncomfortable that perhaps I wasn't taking the state of American soccer seriously enough. Either way, from seeing Art's coaching and going to the awards ceremony, it is very clear that there are fantastic foundations for the sport and my eyes were well and truly opened. More information aboutthe Rancho Cucamonga Flames can be found here.

The evening was finished expertly by a trip to a real Mexican eaterie where I had proper tacos. My goodness they were good. So good that when I go back to the UK I will not be able to eat them again because they will not compare. Dustin was also amazingly kind by giving me a lift back all the way to my hotel in Carson, this has been my first day meeting people and I am so grateful for the kindness they have shown me. Taking stock of the whole day, I am sure that eating burgers and tacos wass probably not the best way to prepare for an important athletic event but as they say, "When in Rome..." Before going to sleep, I vowed that I would go on a guilt-ridden run in the morning.

One taste of tacos and that's all Kev has eyes for

 

 

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