A familiar tale

England international Andy Munro on a football tournament that has gone largely unreported.

England’s football teams usually flatter to deceive, falling at the first major hurdle, and the question was whether an inspired(?) band of Birmingham-based players old enough to know better could buck that depressing trend, at the Over 50s World Cup Masters in San Sebastian.

This international tournament featured four teams from England, four from Turkey, two from Spain, and other entries from Morocco, USA and Holland. Having failed to make progress past the quarter finals in previous tournaments, I had drafted in a couple of energetic ‘young’ fifty year olds given our aging profile…at 64, I had the dubious honour of being the oldest player in this year’s competition.

The first two days of the seven-a-side tournament were on a league basis when everybody jockeyed for a top eight place and a route into the quarter finals. At 15 minutes a game, this meant almost two hours of full on action over each of the first two days.

Unfortunately, our hope that we would start off with an easy tie were dashed when we found out that we were drawn to play Real Sociedad. No David Moyes in sight but they did field Alonso’s tad; their oldest player at 62. He told me afterwards that he used to play for Barca as well as Real Sociedad so it obviously runs in the family. One wonders if the likes of Rehman Sterling and Rooney will (a) be playing at 62 and (b) have the graciousness that Alonso Snr displayed in finding time for a chat (in English) afterwards. The game itself was a tight affair with Sociedad running out one-nil winners.

Unfortunately the loss was symptomatic of a pretty mediocre first day with just three wins recorded against one of the English teams, one of the Turkish and USA. We were also brought down to earth against Turkey Istanbul, losing 5-1 to the eventual winners. This was mainly due to their centre forward, who netted a hat trick as he started by giving me a five yard start which not even my usual ‘get out of jail’ slide tackle could stop. Our only consolation was that we found out, he was a regular scorer in his heyday for Besiktas in the Turkish premiership.

To make matters worse players started to drop like flies through injury, starting with one of our defenders who split his head open crashing into one of the steel pitch surrounds. In true Sunday football style,as he was being attended to by medics he was surrounded by fellow players tutting and making tactless remarks like “You’ll need a few stitches in that” and “Oooh, that’s a nasty cut” while I was trying to persuade him it was just a scratch to avoid any panic. Typically, despite repeated requests to all players before the tourney, he hadn’t bothered to get an EU card, assuming that his insurers would be happy to cover a 55 year old playing football in a competitive tournament. Best of luck with that one.

However, things began to look decidedly rosier in the evening as, in a manner that Gazza would have been proud of, we started to sink the Basque equivalent of San Miguel. By midnight we were ready to take on the world although surprisingly(?), it only seemed to be the England sides out on the town. Amazingly we got enough wins on the second day to secure a quarter-final place, beating Holland and another of the England sides despite losing another three players (including yours truly) to injury.

The refs had a far from an easy time and, in one match, one of the Turkish sides had a goal disallowed. The players surrounded the ref, knocking his pencil out of his hand. Unable to accurately identify the perpetrator, he was unable to produce a red. It was, on the one hand very unsavoury, on the other hand, you sometimes can’t beat a continental stereotype coming home to roost.

Typically, we were drawn against Real Sociedad again so I imposed a curfew of 11 pm although some of the players insisted on a few bedtime brandies. Next day, the inevitable happened and we suffered another reverse against the eventual finalists. 2-1 this time, which I suppose wasn’t too bad for a collection of players with sore heads and legs. Unfortunately, it was, in England football terms, a familiar tale!