INTERNATIONAL football tours are usually the preserve of the Premier League big guns - but a tiny non-league Northumberland team will soon be stealing the show.
While the likes of Newcastle United, Manchester United and Manchester City all head to the US for their pre-season friendly games, Bedlington Terriers will be following suit in a glamorous stateside jaunt of their own.
The team’s profile has rocketed ever since it made global headlines last year – with the club even appearing on the front page of the New York Times.
The Journal told how American billionaire Robert Rich had become involved, sponsoring the team’s shirts and helping to promote their merchandise abroad.
Mr Rich felt an affinity with the Terriers after tracking down his ancestry to the area, and felt it was similar to his native Buffalo back in the States.
And his influence helped the club bring in much-needed cash by getting a top New York design firm to promote their shirts and other merchandise around his baseball franchises, as well as Bedlington Terrier dog clubs which are huge in America.
Now, the team will be heading to the US to help promote the brand, playing two matches against American opponents Erie Admirals and FC Buffalo, and meeting some of the biggest businessmen in the country.
The tour is generating far more media attention than the Premier League’s big boys, with CNN and the New York Times looking to cover the story. Even the British Consulate has taken an interest, and will be helping with business development.
It is simply a dream come true for chairman Dave Holmes, who said: “There aren’t many teams at our level to have even a mini tour like this. It’s more like Newcastle’s level before you consider going abroad.
“First and foremost we’re very fortunate. Bob’s given us the opportunity to go over there. It’s a unique opportunity we’ve got here in a very difficult world. We’ve got to keep pinching ourselves. There’s massive excitement out there. We’re going to be constantly in the media there and TV will follow us. We’re doing some coaching clinics with children and there’s also a new children’s hospital Bob’s involved with so we’re going to be visiting them.”
Dave’s personal highlight will be pitching the first ball at the Independence Day celebration match at the Buffalo Bisons baseball game – as well as meeting the lord mayor of Erie and being given the keys to the city.
Dave said: “I used to play cricket but I haven’t played for a few years so my arm’s not the best. I just hope I can reach the catcher or I’ll get a bit of stick for that!”
The tour has also been made possible thanks to help from HSBC and Air Canada. But the most important thing is to make the most of the trip and come back with contacts – and hopefully sponsorship.
Dave said: “We’ve got big plans at Bedlington to regenerate the grounds not just for football but for the community; perhaps rebuild the stand, with new changing rooms and a community room that can be used by schools and OAP groups. That’s my ultimate dream.”