Belfast Telegraph

Winning team behind success of SuperCup -B&B owners, hoteliers, drivers, cleaners, cooks...

By Leona O'Neill

Almost 30 stone of pasta, hundreds of sausages and gallons of orange juice and milk will be consumed this week by teenage footballers on the Causeway coast.

This is SuperCupNI week. The prestigious tournament, celebrating 25 years of success, brings hundreds of young footballers from all over the globe to Northern Ireland.

Held in and around the Causeway coast, it has in the past played host to budding stars such as David Beckham and Ryan Giggs.

The teams, who this year come from across Ireland, the US, China, England, Ghana, Chile, Scotland, Japan and New Zealand, battle it out on the pitch in daily matches.

Behind the scenes there is an army of workers making sure the players are well looked after.

There are 300 footballers and officials staying at the Ulster University campus in Coleraine.

Eddie Menice is the university co-ordinator with SuperCupNI.

His job is to ensure that the 12 teams in his charge are cared for at the campus. Between dietary requirements, dealing with smelly football socks and language barriers, he has his hands full.

He said: "Football crosses all borders. The kids get on great with one another. They might not speak the same language but when they get on the pitch, the language is football.

"We all work very hard to make SuperCupNI run like clockwork. We book the pitches for training. We bus them where they need to go.

"The teams each send ahead what their dietary requirements are and we sort that. We look after the kits, smelly football socks and all.

"We haven't come across any hitches so far.

"The Chinese interpreter is away on a trip and the guys don't speak English, so they've been coming over to us with a translation app on a phone and we've been speaking into it.

"However, it doesn't understand my Ballywalter accent, so that has been fun!"

Ann Rodgers is the catering general manager for the Ulster University.

By the weekend she will have cooked 28 stone of pasta.

She said: "We are feeding 300 young people so we start preparing at 6am for the continental breakfast. We provide the meals all day based on their nutritional needs. We have gone through boxes and boxes of fruit, especially bananas as they are full of fibre.

"The food they eat is so healthy and has to do a job. It has to be their fuel and help them do their job on the football field. They eat a lot of pasta. We use 3kg bags and I would easily cook 10 bags a day.

"I never want to see pasta again! The guys also drink milk like it's going out of fashion.

"We could be doing with a cow on site."

Ann said the girls in the canteen sometimes mother the boys, some of whom have been coming to the SuperCupNI - or as it was previously called - the Milk Cup, for years.

Marissa Pena is the manager of California's US Strikers. She has been bringing young footballers to Northern Ireland for over a decade. But she said she will never get used to black pudding.

"We have had a chance to taste the real Irish menu and we are not used to that," she said.

"We had porridge, and I think it's called blood pudding, for breakfast. We didn't really like it. But we loved all the other stuff. The organisers asked us what Americans would like to eat and we gave them a few pointers. They have made us delicious chicken and pasta and all the fruit we can eat in the morning. We love the potatoes here. They are creamy and sweet. They are not like that in the States at all."

Rangers FC Academy coach David McCallum added: "We come for a good challenge. We are here to win. The badge carries a weight, there is an expectation as a club that we have to do that."

Frazer Robertson is a Scotsman who manages the Ghana team, Right To Dream. He said his team have been coming to the tournament for three years and enjoy the hospitality.

"The guys are really enjoying it. They are well travelled, so are familiar with European food.

"They haven't been partaking in any Ulster frys. We wouldn't encourage them, as professional athletes, to eat stuff like that.

"We didn't really have to ask for special dietary requirements as such, but we have some Muslims in the squad and they can't eat pork," he said.

Cleaner Rosemary Doherty explained just how busy her day can be. "We wash over 150 towels a day and we vacuum and clean over 200 rooms. There was seven of us working flat-out to sort all the rooms, changing the beds and sending the sheets to the laundrette." Cloadagh Scott is the accommodation manager at Ulster University.

She said: "It's all about planning and communication. The camaraderie between the players is brilliant to see. They love it here and want to come back every year.

"I remember years ago we had some issues with young ladies coming on campus, chasing the players, looking to become the next Victoria Beckham, but there is none of that now."

Away from the university, Alva Wilson owns Prospect Guest House in Portrush, one of the 11 hotels and guesthouses that accommodates the players.

She said: "I have to make breakfast for 24 footballers every morning, the same at lunch and at dinner.

"These guys are typical teenagers and could eat you out of house and home.

"They are away from home and their parents. This is a family-run business. We like to keep it nice and friendly and provide a homely environment for all of the boys.

"If they lose a game I do feel for them and sympathise with them. Being a mother myself I would speak to the boys if they are annoyed about not winning, but the staff are very good at keeping their spirits up."

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