Clarets achieve international success
After last year's very creditable 7th position, Chelmsford went this year with a stronger team and determined to achieve a top four finish at the very least.
Generally, the initial group stage is a chance to give the squad of eight valuable game time. However, this year, teams seemed to be harder to break down. All three of the teams we played in this group stage seemed to park the bus, to use a Jose Mourinho expression.
First up were Borne Blijft Fit. Two goals from Mark Elnaugh settled the early nerves. Then, with perhaps their only attack, Borne pulled one back. It was left to Spencer Pratten to put them to the sword with a finely taken third goal.
The host team, Gold Stars Heracles 2, were Chelmsford’s next opponents and they opened the scoring. One of their founders, Ben Hulshof, had died while playing walking football and The Ben Hulshof Fair Play Cup was introduced this year in his memory. It was surprising that Gold Stars argued with the referee after Spencer’s fierce shot had hit the crossbar and, in the referee’s judgement, crossed the goal line. Two Heracles players were sent off. Spencer promptly added two further goals. There was further controversy when a Heracles player restarted the game from the sideline while Chelmsford were making a substitution. This resulted in a goal, but City held on for a 3-2 win.
Final opponents at this stage were Senior Army Genk 2. Again, Chelmsford dominated the game, but it took a goal from second half substitute Mark to seal a 1-0 win. Chelmsford topped their group with a 100% record.
The positives for the day were the emergence of Kevan Anderson as our last defender / goal minder, David Clarke getting plenty of game time, making a very useful contribution, and the team had not used too much energy and had no injuries.
So to the business end of the tournament. Two German teams – Werder Bremen and Bayer 04 Leverkusen -and one Dutch team, Feijenoord, stood between Chelmsford and the top four. There was no margin for error, as only the top team in the group went on to the top four and the semi-finals.
First opponents were Feijenoord. This was a hard-fought contest and a goal from Spencer gave City a 1-0 win. Werder Bremen were weaker opponents and Chelmsford had a comfortable 3-0 win, helped by an own goal and goals from Spencer and Bill Sedgwick.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen were a big, powerful side with some fine physical specimens of the Arian race. This was Chelmsford’s toughest match so far and a hard-fought contest ended in a 0-0 draw. The tournament organisers were consulted as both teams had identical results in the group. A penalty shoot-out was the answer.
As there are no goalkeepers in the tournament, each player had to score in the 3-metre-wide empty goal from the half way line, 20 metres away. City won the toss and asked Bayer 04 to take the first penalty.
The first two penalties were converted by both sides, Spencer and Kevan coolly hitting the target. Up stepped a big, blond German to take the Bayer 04 third penalty, and promptly missed. As each team has only three penalties, the conversion of the last City penalty would give City a semi final place.
The Manager and Captain, Mark Elnaugh, had quite rightly taken the responsibility of the third and crucial penalty. Not many Englishmen can say that they have had the honour of beating the Germans in a penalty shoot-out, but Chelmsford City WF joined that elite bunch as Mark lodged the all in the back netting, straight in the middle of the goal.
After all this emotion, Chelmsford had little time to recover before taking the field for their semi-final.
Opponents Hav UK had been finalists in 2016 and winners in 2017 so this was the ultimate test. In their team was the player who scored a hattrick in the recent England over 60s international against Italy at Brighton. Chelmsford were truly feeding at the top table of international walking football.
Hav UK were a talented team that employed a simple strategy of passing the ball straight down the centre of the pitch to a striker, who held the ball well, and had a player on either wing coming in to him. As hard as Chelmsford tried, their opponents always seemed to have a spare player in space.