June 9th – the wonderful ProAct Stadium, Chesterfield, home of Walking Football.
England Over 50’s successfully competed in the first-ever European Nations Cup.
Only three nations had gone through a selection process to pick teams to represent their respective countries in what was a landmark event held at Chesterfield Football Club, where the modern version of the game was started by John Croot. Italy and Wales joined the hosts to serve up some excellent football played in great spirit and high levels of skill.
Italy v England was the first fixture, a 0-0 draw in Milan a couple of months ago meant that it was always going to be a tight affair. Chances were created early on as both Neil Evans and Mike Milligan went close to opening the scoring, before the 10th minute when Milligan produced a superb drive which went into the top corner as a fitting opening goal to this prestigious event. Rob Keating in the England goal was being kept very busy by the Italian forwards and pulled off a string of excellent saves. Ian Ward had replaced Neil Evans but only lasted a few minutes of the second half before a hard challenge led to him being taken off for treatment and this proved to be his only involvement for the day, a huge loss to the England team at such an early stage in the tournament. Shortly afterwards, Italy drew level with a smart turn on the edge of the box and an excellent finish. England knew they had a game on their hands with a slender 1-0 half time lead. England went close after the restart with Darren Bradley hitting the base of the post until debutant Dave Scotney from Boston United was introduced and excellent interchange play between Scotney and Milligan put in Captain Neil Brown who slotted home what proved to be the winner.
England’s second game against Wales was a much calmer encounter as goals from Evans, Milligan and Scotney’s superb finish saw them take 3-0 half time lead. Darren Bradley and Trevor Hanson in defence had been superb in keeping the Welsh attackers at bay, Rob Keating once again being totally assured when called upon. Hanson was replaced by Stroud’s Rob Pass who almost immediately inadvertently walked across his own box to give away a penalty which was dispatched with aplomb. England then stepped up a gear with Nick Morris hitting the post before Paul Walton linked with Paul Kirby and Scotney to slide the ball past the welsh keeper. With five minutes to go a long range pass from Milligan fed Walton’s Leggy Mambo’s teammate Evans who completed the scoring for a 5-1 win.
Qualification for the final had now being secured and all left to decide was who were going to be their opponents. Italy duly dispatched the Wales side with an identical 5-1 scoreline to leave them the daunting task of taking on the now full flowing England team.
After a long break the England team started refreshed after great work from their physio Heather Bradley, and played some exceptional one and two touch Walking Football. Firstly Neil Brown then Mike Milligan both laid on chances for Neil Evans who finished comfortably to put his side 2-0 to the good within 10 minutes. Italy then showed some true spirit as they pinned England deep inside their own half for the last 20 minutes of the first half and they were rewarded as on the stroke of half time they made it 2-1. Injured Darren Bradley was replaced by Trevor Hanson who was enjoying his best England performance and Scotney came on for goalscorer Neil Evans. Almost immediately the Lincolnshire duo of Scotney and Kirby combined to put in Neil Brown to once again put England two goals to the good. As the game opened up England played for long periods controlling possession but with 2 minutes remaining another brilliant strike from Milligan completed the scoring with a 4-1 victory.
After a brilliant day of Walking Football in superb surroundings, England took home the spoils, Manager Paul Murtagh was absolutely delighted and commented:
“It seems longer, but it was less than 2 years ago now, that me and my team were tasked with the job of selecting and coaching a team to win this tournament. During this time, I feel that we have been privileged to work with a group of players that have done the country and the sport proud. Their application and professionalism has been rewarded with maintaining their unbeaten record and bringing home the silverware for England.
In this relatively young sport it is important that we continue to strive to improve and to spread the word in the hope of inspiring others to give Walking Football a go. I am absolutely chuffed to bits to have been a part of this initial leg of the journey and would like to thank all of my backroom staff, the support of the over 60’s management team, the WFA and my players for making this such a success.”
England Over 60’s successfully competed in the first ever European Nations Cup.
England 3 Italy 1
Yes, slightly disappointing that only 3 nations were able to field national teams following selection from across their country, but all credit to Wales, Italy and England to be trail-blazers.
In the first match, hosts England faced Wales. England hit the post twice with good efforts from Steve Borrow and Peter Stacey before taking the lead with a clever low shot from Graham Collier. The excellent Steve Ashton, in goal for Wales, pulled off a string of fine saves and England had a number of good efforts go narrowly wide – in particular from Spencer Pratten and Alan Davies. The score remained 1-0 – and, as a result, the tension was rising in the England camp with such a narrow lead – until Captain Pratten found his range and fired home into the top corner 5 minutes from time to seal the victory. John Sykes, in goal, showed excellent delivery throughout what was, for him, a quiet game. England 2 Wales 0
Wales then played Italy and drew 2-2 – they went one goal down before taking a 2-1 lead . Italy pegged them back to 2-2 and then Wales had a penalty disallowed when the taker took several steps rather than the permitted one step.
England then played Italy – the first half was a very scrappy affair with no real structure or flow to the game – England received 2 blue cards which meant having to defend deep for periods of the first half. Steve Borrow opened the scoring with an excellent and instinctive shot which took a deflection into the top corner to give England a narrow lead at half time. England rang the changes at the start of the 2nd half changing the entire outfield team – James Trant had a fierce cross-shot which Tony Jones reacted extremely quickly to turn in to double the lead. John Hammonds had to make 2 excellent saves to earn his clean sheet for England and the Italian keeper made a number of spectacular saves, the best from a Roy Gladwell effort. England 2 – Italy 0
Italy and Wales finished the group games on the same points with exactly the same goal difference and goals scored – which meant that Italy qualified for the final on the Blue (sin bin) card rule as they had received one less blue card than Wales.
The final between England and Italy started very evenly with both keepers being forced to make good saves. England began to dominate and went close to taking the lead on 3 occasions – with Peter Stacey and Spencer Pratten hitting the post and Steve Borrow going just wide. They took the lead through and unlikely source – defender Graham Curry received a ball just inside his own half from Peter Stacey and strode forward and hit an excellent low shot into the bottom corner. England thought they had doubled the lead when Graham Collier collected a rebound, dummied the keeper and chipped the ball over him – with very little pace the ball appeared to spin back from over the line to settle against the post and was deemed to have not crossed the line, denying Collier what would have been the goal of the day. To make matters worse, within minutes, Italy were awarded a free kick on the edge of the area and equalised with a fierce shot into the roof of the net. 5 minutes later Italy were awarded a penalty when Borrow was adjudged to have played a ball when it was on the goal area line – fortunately Italy missed and the tide turned back in England’s favour and they ended the first half on top. The first 15 minutes of the second half was again quite even with few chances. James Trant was thrown into action and it was his deflected shot, 10 minutes from the end which restored England’s lead. This was followed fairly quickly with a Peter Stacey rocket shot to give England a 3-1 victory.
‘it is only 20 months ago since I was appointed – since then the management team has changed – I was tasked with selecting a team to win the European Nations Cup – and we have done it – we have a fantastic group of players – 5 of the 12 man squad have come up from the Shadow Squad and there are new players coming into the shadow squad all the time. It is only 13 months since the first ever international so a huge amount of congratulations need to go to the 3 countries for coming so far in such a short amount of time – we had hoped there would be more that were ready, but it was not to be. What we have achieved as individuals and as a group is sensational and beyond a dream. None of us ever thought we would get the chance to represent our country let alone winning the first European Nations Cup. We are all proud to be part of the WFA England Over 60s team and we are looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead – I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the players, the management team, our partners who support us, the many sponsors that help to make it all happen.’
Stuart Langworthy – Over 60s Manager