Old Boys'European Railways Tournament
Lloret de Mar, Spain
16-17 May 2014
SMALL SQUAD OVERACHIEVE IN EURO TOURNAMENT
The Old Boys’tournament is an institution. The event has been going for 21 years and Loko, who represent England, have won it twice and have been runners-up 4 times.
Preparations for this year’s edition in Spain were patchy to say the least, though. Only 12 players, the last of which confirmed his participation only 2 days before the tournament and only 5 regulars in the squad – so how would Loko/England fare?
The omens were not promising. On the morning of day 1, Ivan, Ismail, Morris and Captain Roger attended the managers’meeting and the tournament draw. Luck was not on our side as we got paired with title holders Italy, skilful Hungary and Eurostar, arguably the weakest team in the group but an outfit that caused us massive problems in Belgium 2 years ago.
After a briefing by the hotel’s swimming pool, Loko made their way to the tournament venue, which comprises a series of 10 pitches.
The joy on the players’ faces was there for all to see when surveying the superb playing surface whose turf comes from the same seeds as that of the famous Nou Camp.
Group B, Match 1
16 May 2014
England had a tough first match ahead of them. The Italy team have won more tournaments this century than any other teams in the tournament. They’re organised and have impeccable skills.
The whole game was played very cautiously. The heat was on and Hakim (Ismail’s son) even had to leave the pitch after only 9 minutes as he was feeling dizzy.
Scott, a tournament rookie, often had several opponents gravitating around him to stop him from shooting from distance. This included a freekick on the edge of the box that flew wide to the right of their goal. Said was twisting and turning on the middle of the park whilst Morris and Roger were trying to best to breach the Italian defence.
Up front, Andy was far too isolated to penetrate the solid Italian defence. But ultimately, both teams neutralised each other for most of the game. The England defence, in particular, were imperial. Ismail was like a Duracel rabbit on speed whilst Ivan was heading balls out of danger.
All in all, the smart Italians got very few chances and John in goal had relatively little to do. From an outsider’s point of view the spectacle was probably nothing to rave about but England didn’t care. We got our first point of the tournament against one of the tournament’s favourites so a positive performance all round.
Line-up: John – Rodney, Ismail, Ivan, Marcel – Said, Roger, Scott, Morris, Hakim, then Andre 9 then Hakim 27 mns – Andy
M.O.M (team vote): ISMAIL who rolled back the years. Special mention to Marcel, Ivan, John and Scott.
Group B, Match 2
16 May 2014
The second game of the day was vs Hungary, a team that beat us in the final in 2011. Unlike the very vocal England team, the Hungarians are very quiet but are quite adept at playing in triangles.
The Eurostar team had forewarned us about their nippy left winger and they were right. Supported by two young twins in attack, their number 8 was the main danger. Good job Marcel was on fire and would chase him like a dog after a bone for the guy was causing us constant trouble.
England were containing their attacks for most of the game except in the second half where their number 8 and one of their twins beat the offside trap and looked like they were going to open the score but John made a sensational save with his right leg – a turning point in the game.
Captain Roger realised that England didn’t create much vs Italy so he had a change of heart and reverted to a more conventional 4-4-2 for this game. As a result, England were playing much more offensively than in the first game.
Midway through the second half, John took a goalkick from his own box that flew down the middle of the park and reached ANDY on the edge of the Hungarian box. Our forward controlled the ball, turned his defender inside the box and despatched a low shot to the right of the keeper and into the far corner. A well taken goal that made the difference and secured a precious and deserved win.
Line-up: John – Rodney, Ismail, Ivan, Marcel – Said, Scott, Morris, Hakim (then Andre, 24 mns) – Roger, Andy
M.O.M (team vote): JOHN. Special mention to Ismail and Andy
Group B, Match 3
17 May 2014
The first game on day 2 in the tournament is usually a disaster for England. Why? Some of the players often find the appeal of a second successive night out on the tiles irresistible. And to compound the matter, the cheaper booze than back home often proves a major incentive, of course!
Credit to the players this year though - it was great to see everybody ready for action early morning and generally sober.
Eurostar caused us massive problems 2 years ago in Belgium and we were lucky to get away with a 3-3 draw then.
Again, the early exchanges made us all realise that it wasn’t going to be easy. Many of the players’ legs were heavy from the previous day and unlike the other teams who were able to draw on large squads, having only 12 players made rest impossible.
Eurostar were playing long balls into our defence who sometimes struggled with their attacks down the wing and in the middle of the park.
England were not creating much despite Scott and Roger shaking off their sluggish markers time and time again. On 19 minutes though, Andy ran down the right wing and passed across the box on to Roger who was now unmarked but our Captain's shot went wide.
Annoyingly, a few of the England players (you know who you are!) spent far too much time arguing with one another instead of concentrating on the job.
Thankfully, the John-Andy pair came to the rescue in a carbon copy of the game vs Hungary. John cleared from his box and found ANDY who slammed the ball past their keeper with only 7 minutes on the clock.
Bizarrely enough, whilst the majority of England players were all smiles when the ref blew his whistle, a few were still….arguing.... Anyway, England had now secured their semi final slot!
Line-up: John – Rodney, Ismail, Ivan, Marcel – Said, Scott, Morris, Hakim (then Andre, 22 mns) – Roger, Andy
M.O.M (team vote): JOHN. Special mentions to Ismail and Andy
17 May 2014
France have come a long way since their underwhelming participations over the past 3 years. They’ve got new young players and strengthened their team and qualification for this semi-final was well deserved.
In the first half, Les Bleus were very dynamic and showing off their skills, especially their playmaker, number 10 Francois-Xavier plus their new number 8 whilst England were sometimes struggling to hold on to the ball.
However, once we did, our attacks were quite purposeful with Andy and Roger in particular showing great stamina and resolve.
France were always menacing though and on 26 mns a long range effort by their number 10 hit the crossbar. Five minutes later, John had to leap almost horizontally to his right to save from a shot on the edge of the box. John’s performance hit a perfect 10 when he saved what looked like a sure winner by diving to the floor and palming a ball away from danger that was going to sneak into the far bottom corner.
England were now having to muscle their way back into the game. On a few occasions Ivan had to shoulder their forward out of the way but got punished with freekicks against him.
On 41 mns, their number 9 escaped the attention of the whole England defence and was now facing John with a very high chance of putting France in to the final, however Morris made a fantastic last ditch tackle from behind and saved our skins.
This was followed by another incident where their number 11 was clearly fouled in our box but the ref missed it. It was meant to be our day.
Following a freekick on the edge of the French box, Ismail lofted the ball into the middle of the box and it looked like the ball was going to be cleared but it rebounded off Ivan and then onto Andy who scarpered down the right wing and crossed for ROGER who threw his body almost vertically like a tiger on amphetamines above everybody else and arrowed the ball into the back of the net with the help of his forehead. GOAL!
England now had their lead and protected it with admirable energy and determination until the final whistle.
Line-up: John – Rodney, Ismail, Ivan, Marcel – Said, Scott, Morris, Hakim – Roger, Andy
M.O.M: ANDY. Special mentions to Roger and John
17 May 2014
Butterflies in the stomach? What butterflies? Who would have predicted that, by all accounts, an understrength England team would make it to their first final since 2011?
True, England were now on their last legs but Captain Roger decided to stick to his 12-man strong commando rather than relying on external help, namely subs from Eurostar.
As the game got underway, it became abundantly clear that Spain fully deserved their place in the final. For the Spanish team, long ball is a dirty word and tiki taka rules. No long clearances for Scott, Morris or Ivan to connect with. Instead, the Spanish would pass from their defence to the midfield and their awesome frontline who were running rings around our defence.
Plus, with Andy having to come off early on in the game, our chances of scoring became rather remote now that Roger was having to front the line on his own.
On 22 mns, their number 9 beat our offside trap and ended up one on one against John, who for a moment looked like he was going to pull off mission impossible by saving the Spaniard’s shot with his right leg. However, with only Marcel left to help John, their number 10 followed up and slotted the ball past John. Cue furious expletives by John who, whilst exempting Marcel from any blame, rightfully slammed the rest of his defence for standing still and petrified instead of rushing to his help.
The second half was very much the same with England running out of steam and looking helpless whilst Spanish wave after Spanish wave were hitting our defence on the break.
Sure enough, a second goal came early in the second half when their left winger crossed to their number 10 at the far post who nodded the ball into the empty net. Game, set and match to arguably the best team to have ever graced the tournament.
Line-up: John – Rodney, Ismail, Ivan, Marcel – Said, Scott, Morris, Hakim – Roger, Andy (then Andre, 22 mns)
M.O.M: JOHN. Special mentions to Scott, Roger and Said.
The gala dinner took place at the Guitart Hotel and following a lovely seafood meal and panacotta dessert and entertainment in the form of a magician who came up with a few funny and quirky lines, the awards were presented by the Spanish contingent with the help of their pretty Russian (!) interpreter.
Following these celebrations and in our time-honoured tradition, the players were asked to vote for their player of the tournament.
The players who received votes included Andy, Roger, Ivan and Ismail but the overall winner was JOHN who completed a season double after his Loko player of the season award..
Next year’s tournament is scheduled to take place in Hungary from 22 to 23 May (dates to be confirmed)