So the time had finally arrived. After nearly six months of high expectation and excitement we were ready to go. The competition included 28 teams; 19 from the Netherlands, 6 from the UK, 2 from Belgium and 1 from Germany. Our first international competition. All the teams were dressed very smartly, none less so than us. We were proud to be wearing the Chelmsford City kit.
We would be playing in the Polman Stadium, the home of Heracles Almelo, who finished sixth in the Dutch Eredivisie (their equivalent of our Premier League). It was a beautiful setting. The artificial pitch was a high-quality surface and we relished the opportunity to compete on it.
The teams were divided into seven groups of four. The winners of each round-robin group plus the highest second placed team would compete for positions 1 – 8. We were grouped with 3 Dutch teams – Vitesse, ADO Den Haag, and NEC. They all comprised players over 60 years of age. Matches were of 20 minutes duration.
Our first match was against Vitesse. Our players quickly piled on the pressure and by the mid-point we were winning 6-0, with a hat-trick from Terry, a brace from Alec and a goal from Ashley. The Vitesse attack was simply no match for Jim, Gerry and Charles, who between them frustrated the very few attempts mounted by our opponents. The extra “Almelo” sessions we had held back at Chelmsford were clearly paying dividends. Terry had suggested before the tournament that at “half-time” we should change our whole team to make sure that everyone enjoyed the same amount of playing time. So we duly adopted that strategy and it totally confused Vitesse. It was pure genius. The substitutions had no detrimental effect whatsoever on our performance. A further hat-trick scored by Peter and a goal from Brian saw us run out winners 10-0. We were over the moon.
Our rich vein of form continued into our second match, against ADO Den Haag. Great midfield play by Dennis, combined with confident defending by Gerry and Gary, and goals from Charles and Ashley meant that by the mid-point we were winning 2-0. Once again the whole team was changed at half-time but it did not upset our rhythm. Jim and Bob marshalled our defences strongly and excellent support play by David helped Terry to score yet another hat-trick and seal a convincing victory 5-0. We were definitely on a roll.
Our opponents in our final match, NEC, had clearly been taking notes and proved to be a stronger challenge. However they had to resort to a number of illegal challenges to keep down the score. We were not to be deflected from our objective. Goals from Terry and Dennis meant that we had collected full points from our three games and we secured the top spot in our group.
We entered day 2 on an extremely high note, although we knew that we would be facing teams who, it appeared, were comprised players mainly under 60. The lowest position overall that we could achieve would be eighth but we were confident that we would do better than that. The other three teams in our group were HASUF UK, Chesterfield, and Iserlohn (Germany). The matches were of 15 minutes duration. Our first match, against Iserlohn, proved to be very tough. They were a very physical team. In spite of great defensive work by Gerry, Jim, Gary and Bob, we were unable to match their youth (some of their players did not even appear to be 50 years old) and were beaten 4-0. This did not however dampen our spirits and we kicked-off our next match, against HASUF, which included an ex. professional player, full of hope. They were a very skilful team (which finished as runners-up in the competition) and in spite of solid midfield play by Dennis, Charles Alec and Brian, our strikers had very few, clear goal scoring opportunities, although HASAF had to resort to unfair challenges to deny us. We lost the match 3-1 and our lasting memory of this game will be the goal scored by Chas, which he swerved into the top right corner.
Our last game in this round-robin group was against Chesterfield, who had felt that the referee had been unkind to them in their previous two matches. We knew that if we won this game we would finish third in our group and would meet the team that finished bottom of the other round-robin group. This was a very tight match and chances for both teams were few. At the mid-point the match was still goalless but in the second half David popped up with a great goal to ensure that a Chelmsford victory was secured.
After a welcome lunch break we took to the field to play our final two matches. These matches would decide positions 5-8. Our first game was against Rood Wit, a Dutch team. Although it was a tight game, we were on good form and our resilient defence, Jim, Brian, and Gerry, combined with the creative partnership of Gary, Dennis, Chas and Alec, helped Terry and Peter to score two goals and secure victory 2-1. So we were now guaranteed to finish fifth or sixth. The result of the other match meant that our opponents for this accolade would be Chesterfield. Chances for both teams were few and far between and Chesterfield scored the only goal of the match, securing fifth spot for them and sixth for us. All our players received a medal to recognise the team’s achievement.
The outright winners of the competition were Herne Bay, who received a trophy. Four of the six UK teams finished in the top six.
What a great tournament and advert for walking football it proved to be. The Dutch organisation and hospitality could not be faulted. Roll on next year!
Written by Peter Osborne