Players and staff from our Under-19s spent the afternoon at Aldershot Barracks last week as part of our UEFA Youth League Solidarity Project.
The scheme challenges all clubs involved in this term’s UEFA Youth League, the mirror competition to the UEFA Champions League for Under-19 teams, to participate in a community engagement activity within their local area and raise awareness of a particular cause.
In this centenary year of the First World War Armistice, it was decided the Chelsea cause should be to build on our strong links with the military town of Aldershot, colloquially known as the ‘home of the British Army’ and base for our development squad home fixtures.
Aldershot Town FC has hosted several of our UEFA Youth League knockout ties in previous seasons, most recently a 5-2 victory against Feyenoord in last season’s Round of 16 in which Callum Hudson-Odoi started and Ethan Ampadu opened the scoring.
The football clubs of Chelsea and Aldershot initially developed a strong relationship during the war period, playing each other often as professional football remained in limbo during the Second World War.
Lieutenant Colonel Colin Baines MBE welcomed the group at the barracks with a short presentation on the background of the British Army, explaining how personnel numbers have dwindled in recent decades and how the nature of warfare has evolved.
The team then took part in some basic close combat training, assisted by soldiers based at the barracks. Sharp shooting on the pitch was neatly switched for fine firing on the simulated indoor range, with the players tasked with target practise rounds before taking part in a mock patrol.
Aldershot Barracks also houses much of the British Army’s sports activities and the group spent the next part of their visit at the Army Boxing Club, speaking to those soldiers who have been able to swap military duties for a full-time role in the ring.
The final part of the visit took place at the Aldershot Military Museum. Housed in the only surviving brick-built barrack blocks left in the town, the museum tells the story of daily life for both soldier and civilian since 1854. There were tanks to admire and local historical artefacts to inspect as the group concluded their trip with a much greater appreciation of the town of Aldershot, plus the work and heritage of the British Army in general.
Our Under-19s have beaten Molde and IF Elfsborg in the UEFA Youth League so far this term and will discover their play-off round opponents when the draw is made in Nyon later this month.