Check this out: Ipswich's state champions kick on in Japan
WHEN Western Pride's touring party touches down in Japan on Sunday, it will be the next progressive step in the Ipswich football club's impressive development.
Nineteen Pride players and eight support staff are spending a week in the proud footballing country on a self-funded end of season trip to Nerima.
Apart from playing three matches in Japan, the NPL Queensland champions will gain valuable experience in other life aspects as young men.
Western Pride football operations manager and assistant coach Dan Burnell has played a leading role in organising the schedule featuring games against Tokyo 23, Ryutsu Keizai University and Tochigi.
With 11 years in the travel agency industry, Burnell used his extensive knowledge to work closely with Pride head coach Graham Harvey and the club's management to make the trip a reality.
"I love Japan,'' Burnell said, preparing for his fourth trip to Tokyo.
"The country offers so much and that was an important reason choosing somewhere like Japan as a destination for our young group.''
After Pride recently beat Moreton Bay United 2-1 to win their first state league grand final, Burnell said heading to Japan for three quality international games was a positive initiative.
"We are under no illusions. We understand that they are going to be incredibly tough fixtures,'' he said.
"But that is part and parcel of the experience.
"There's no point spending all of your football time in South East Queensland.
"We've proven consistently throughout the course of this season that we are the best in Queensland, with the winning of the grand final.
"Now it's time to take those experiences and push them further and really challenge our players to experience different cultures, to play in environments on artificial pitches where there is cultural barriers and language barriers. And really push them outside of their comfort zone.''
Burnell said Ipswich City Council had provided valuable assistance through the city's links to Japan.
"We are trying to create that type of arrangement between us and our sister city Nerima,'' Burnell said, keen to see matches between Pride and Japanese teams every two years.
"We're hoping to develop a relationship and establish the links with a view that not just for this year but in the years down the track, we can create opportunities for Nerima, or Japanese sides, to visit Ipswich and we become the host. And in alternate years, Western Pride go and visit Nerima.
"On the back of the wonderful success that we've enjoyed this year as a club, this has been 12-14 months in the making.
"We are really conscious of doing a wonderful job.''
The Ipswich-based NPL club ignited its international goals in May last year by hosting the New Zealand All Whites team at the Briggs Road Sporting Complex.
New Zealand's 2-0 win over the Pride combination was a vital part of the All Whites preparation for the OFC Nations Cup they later won in Papua New Guinea.
"Hosting New Zealand was the catalyst for us to open the doors to provide the opportunities for young catchment area footballers,'' Burnell said.
"Hosting New Zealand was a wonderful experience and a great opportunity and it enabled us to give our guys an experience that they wouldn't have had otherwise . . . to do that in their own backyard.''
Burnell said Pride's trip to Japan would take that a step further and build more club opportunities in the future.
"Once this current cohort of players have developed and have properly moved through the system, hopefully we can open the door,'' he said.
"We're creating a pathway so that our current under 14s, under 16s, under 18s - boys and girls - can be presented with opportunities to go on a cultural exchange in the years down the track.''
On next week's inaugural trip to Japan, the Pride players will receive sightseeing and cultural tours to broaden their football experience.
In his third year at Western Pride, Burnell was thrilled to see all but one of the grand final-winning team re-sign for next year's NPL season.
"We've worked really hard in creating a culture and an environment at Western Pride,'' he said.
"With success comes an attraction for other good young players, or players in the south east Queensland corridor are now drawn to a club like Western Pride.''
Key activities on Western Pride's visit to Japan.
Sunday: Arrive in Japan, settle into Tokyo House Inn (Shinjuku).
Monday: Morning team walk around Shinjuku; game v Tokyo 23 (club side).
Tuesday: Sightseeing at Shibuya Crossing, Imperial Palace, Ueno Markets, Government Metropolitan Building and Shinjuku.
Wednesday: Game v Ryutsu Keizai University (a team that plays in the leading metropolitan league).
Thursday: Sightseeing Meji Shrine and Harajuku shopping and night out.
Friday: Free day, Adidas Futsal Park and team dinner in Ginza.
Next Saturday: Watch J League game - Urawa v Sagon.
Next Sunday: Game v Tochigi (J3 League team).
Next Monday: Arrive back in Brisbane.