ROLLING HILLS ESTATES — There's not much difference between fields and pitches, stands and terraces, goalies and keepers--or between an American team and a British football "side."
They are all part of the same game: soccer. It just depends on where it's played, as 13 young American soccer players and 14 British youths have learned.
During a "cultural exchange" that ended last week, the two teams also discovered they have more in common than a game that has two names, and in the process they demonstrated that the sport--marred by violent clashes between fans in Europe--can be a vehicle of friendship and understanding.
For two weeks that ended Wednesday, members of England's High Wycombe and District Schools' under-15 soccer team were guests of the Spartans, an American Youth Soccer Organization team that draws from Rolling Hills Estates, Rolling Hills, Rancho Palos Verdes and other parts of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Began Two Years Ago
The exchange actually began two years ago when the High Wycombe team was host to the Spartans for two weeks in High Wycombe, 40 miles west of London.
The Spartans had won the AYSO Region 11 championship and were invited by the league to participate in an exchange. The invitation was offered more because of the boys' cooperative spirit than their winning effort, said Cindy Ryan, who assisted Pat Richter in coaching the team that year.
The Spartans raised money for six months before they and six adults traveled to England, where they stayed in the homes of the British team members, Ryan said. Their visit was so successful that the Americans invited the British team to California this year, she said.
For two years the boys from High Wycombe raised money through jumble sales and draws--what Americans would call rummage sales and raffles, said John Pratt, a retired teacher who coordinated the High Wycombe team's visit. They earned enough to cover air fare, insurance and some pocket money for 14 team members, 18 parents and siblings and three teachers. Food, lodging and entertainment were provided by the American families.
Moved Daughters Out
The Wesley Christiensen family of Rolling Hills Estates housed seven of the group in their 3,000-square-foot home. They had to send two daughters to live with friends because "we needed their beds," said Mike Christiensen, 16, who had stayed in the home of Damian Alexander when he was in High Wycombe. This trip Damien was a guest in the Christiensen home.
Mike's brother, Jack, also on the Spartan team, had stayed with Neil Hallett, now 15, in England. So when the British team came to Rolling Hills Estates the Christiensens housed Neil and Neil's brother, Ian, and Neil's parents.
They also made room for High Wycombe coach Keith Smith and his wife, Jackie.
"I've yet to meet a bad-tempered American," Keith Smith said. "Maybe it's the weather. It's sunny here all the time."
Tuesday marked the final gathering of the two teams and their families at a pot-luck dinner at Chandler Park in Rolling Hills Estates. Under the dappled shade of a California pepper tree the Christiensen boys and their guests took time out from an afternoon of volleyball, softball and soccer to talk about their experiences.
"I love L.A.," said Neil Hallett. The freckled, green-eyed youth said he had enjoyed Disneyland, Magic Mountain and the beach and he expressed little desire to go back to England.
There was talk of differences--how the waves are bigger at Torrance Beach than they are in England. "They're no good for boogie boarding," Neil said of the waves back home.
Damian said he was amazed by the number of lanes on some Los Angeles freeways. "I counted 14. In England there are six at most."
But mostly the boys spoke of the friendship that has developed among them and expressed the hope that one day they might meet again.
"It'll be hard," Neil said, adding that the expense of the trip would preclude most of the boys from reuniting anytime soon.
"Me and Damian, we'd sit at night and talk for hours," Mike said. "We talk about things . . . God, drugs, the drinking age, why people party.
Now Mike will have to limit his discussions with Damian and Neil to the telephone.
"I'm going to miss them both."