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🌋 Ten years ago | An ash cloud, a stranded Academy tour and community that came together

All flights were suspended in and out of Europe, so Charlotte rallied round the Royals ten years ago...

16 April 2020

Remember a time when we thought an ash cloud that had brought a temporary halt to European air travel was an emergency like no other?

By comparison to the COVID-19 crisis which continues to impact billions of lives across the world, the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull - a volcano in Iceland - now seem like a minor inconvenience.

But for a squad of budding young Reading footballers, it was a worrying time. Until the community came together.

A squad of Under-18s and Academy coaches and physio staff had flown out to North Carolina in the United States of America to share best practice and coaching knowledge across the Atlantic whilst taking part in a tournament hosted by Academy partner club Charlotte United.

The cloud of ash which had spread across European skies following the eruptions in Iceland brought a dramatic halt to flights in and out of the UK and 20 other countries in Western Europe - meaning the squad of Royals were stranded stateside.

Without any booked accommodation beyond their scheduled stay, the squad were homeless. But an appeal in the local area was answered emphatically.

At times like these, evidence of the community coming together is so important. And this situation a decade ago provided the perfect case study. Within hours of a call for help for our young stars, hundreds of offers had flooded in to rally behind our tour party.

The group, which included the likes of Academy Honours Board graduates such as Jordan Obita, Dominic Samuel and Lawson D'Ath, were offered free accommodation for as long as needed by a local hotel.

The group were fed by local residents or businesses, free boots were given to the boys as gifts, and every one of them were invited as guests to a Charlotte Bobcats’ basketball play off- game, to the Quail Hollow PGA Championship, to see the Charlotte Knights baseball team in action and on a tour of the Carolina Panthers American football team stadium.

Eamonn Dolan, who alongside Lee Herron and first team striker Noel Hunt had led the tour ten years ago, put the community reaction they received in real perspective when he wrote a letter which read, "On behalf of the Reading FC Academy I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Charlotte community.

“At first we were very unsure and worried due to the uniqueness of the situation. We felt vulnerable.

"But little did we know about the Charlotte community. Whatever human spirit is all about, the good people of Charlotte have shown it to us over the last few days.

"We are relative strangers to you all, yet still the love in your hearts has shone through brighter than the sunshine in your state. We are overwhelmed and humbled, truly, by your humanity.

"There are so many problems in the world and what you sometimes don’t hear about is people joining together for no other reason than compassion for fellow man. Thank you."

The group flew home once the ash in the air had subsided a number of days later. Ten years on, a lot has changed. But these memories still live long for so many. And perhaps there are small lessons to be learned from that crisis which we can take into this one.

“My old manager at West Ham John Lyall used to say, ‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice'," Dolan's letter ended.

So please be kind to others, take care, stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.


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